Imagine yourself as a youth in the June 1976 Soweto riots. You are young and you have dreams; selfish dreams about yourself as a free man (or woman) and a full citizen of a free nation. Desperation, pain and death surround you. You realise that you have only two options: freedom or death. Death, in any event, is the ultimate freedom. All you have in your hands is a large rock that you wish to throw as close as possible to an apartheid officer. If luck has it, you’ll make him bleed. This is not a death wish; it‘s your contribution to humanity.
You spot an officer. He is aiming a rifle at you; not the perfect target but he will do just fine. You raise your arm to throw the stone. You are certain that he won’t hesitate to shoot you down, but before he shoots you … he must feel the wrath of your stone.
Now freeze this black and white frame (pun intended). The officer is on one knee aiming a rifle at a youth who has a stone raised at him (this is surely one for the museums). Look again at the picture and ask yourself: what drives this youth?
At some point in our history the liberation movement depended on such youth. These youths were the fearless bulldogs of the guerrilla movement. They were sought out and injected with the liberation venom which induced their thirst for freedom. They were baptised with necessary hatred of “whiteness” and “white privilege”. The principal pillar of their order was loyalty to the liberation movement, its leaders and its ideas. The ideas were cast in the liberation movement’s bible: the Freedom Charter.
The international financiers of apartheid became alarmed at the apartheid regime’s bill and they shut off the money source. Oppression does not come cheap and the apartheid regime crumbled under the financial distress. So it changed its method, put down its guns and called the liberation movement to the table. It was time for a different battle fought with pens, paper and intellect. The guerrilla youth became obsolete.
After their absolution the guerrilla youth became toxic waste, not just for Tutu’s pretend “rainbow nation” but for the ANC’s own mandate. Their bible, the Freedom Charter, became worthless. Overnight, their mortal enemy, “whiteness” and “white privilege”, became a national aspiration. Everything else was shelved. At first the ANC cared enough to pretend. It adopted the reconstruction and development programme and was mum about nationalisation. The pretence stopped with growth, employment and redistribution policy.
The issue becomes more complex. Before 1994 South African wealth — be it private or national wealth — was regarded to consist of illegitimate spoils from the plunder and oppression of the black masses. One central pillar of the liberation movement was the recapture of wealth. This is precisely why the Freedom Charter provides that: “The national wealth of our country, the heritage of South Africans, shall be restored to the people; the mineral wealth beneath the soil, the Banks and monopoly industry shall be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole; all other industry and trade shall be controlled to assist the wellbeing of the people.”
The liberation movement did not bother to amend these provisions. On one hand the ANC has consistently reaffirmed its adherence to the Freedom Charter; on the other hand it has vehemently rejected its provision of nationalisation of wealth.
Thus, while wealth (private or public) became legitimate in the eyes of the elite, which participated in the negotiations and can now participate in the new liberal economy, the old guerrillas were left to sustain themselves by other means — corruption (literally: abuse of their power).
The problem is compounded by the fact that pre-1994 Bantu Education was not “education for education’s-sake”. It was education for sustenance. Thus, here was the old guerrilla youth, without skills, poor but politically capable. Capitalism says use whatever capital you have to make wealth. Their capital was political power.
Julius Malema is, in my view, such a youth. Reports say he joined the ANC at the age of nine or ten. He speaks the liberation movement’s vernacular and he acts with the liberation movement’s temperament, but the liberation movement no longer has use for him.
Malema is not just one man because there are many like him. Say we take Malema down; we burry him in tax laws and corruption laws … what then? Do we expect that a Harvard graduate with a silk tongue and Victorian manners will take his place? No. Not that there are no black Harvard graduates, but they are too busy cleaving black economic empowerment benefits to care about youth politics. Another Malema will come up in Malema’s place and we can’t silence them all.
The solution is harder and needs more effort, something politicians are not fond of. It requires the ANC to be honest about its position on the Freedom Charter and to be honest about its economic, political and social policies. Further, the solution requires that the ANC train its youth with something more than Tambo, Sisulu and Mandela sing-along songs.