William Saunderson-Meyer
William Saunderson-Meyer

The long, slow exit of Julius Malema, the media’s secret darling

He’s in. He’s out. No, he’s in again. Out again. Half in, half out. Suspended, then rehabilitated, and now finally expelled.

Whether the political career of expelled African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) president Julius Malema is over or not, much of the media will continue to provide surreptitious life support whenever it can. His ability to generate headlines and hence sales is just too enticing for Juju to be allowed to fade away without periodic attempts at resuscitation.

Over the past four years not only did Malema heap abuse and threats on settlers, boers, coolies, coconuts, and bastard journalists en masse, but he was also always happy to name names. Botswana president Ian Khama was a “foot stool of imperialism”; Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi was a “factory fault”; Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Helen Zille was a “cockroach” who “danced like a monkey”; DA parliamentary leader, Lindiwe Mazibuko, was the “white madam’s tea girl”; while no “normal man” would marry former Independent Democrat (ID) leader Patricia de Lille.

Malema was equally forthright about his supposed comrades in the tripartite alliance. His ANCYL rivals were told to voetsek; former president Thabo Mbeki was a “coward”; the South African Communist Party’s (SACP) Jeremy Cronin was a wannabe “white messiah”; Gauteng’s former premier Mbhazima Shilowa “didn’t know how to use a knife and fork until he joined the AN”’; minister Naledi Pandor had a “fake accent”; and President Jacob Zuma was a “dictator”.

Diverting stuff for the headline writers and rather than outrage, at times the press — giggling behind its hands and providing oxygen to bigotry rather than nurturing any real political debate — seemed to revel in the schadenfreude of it all. The temptation being all the more irresistible since the provocations came from the man whom Zuma had once punted as the country’s future president and on whose behalf Malema, in turn, promised to kill for.

On reflection, though, none of it was really as funny as it seemed. Now that the excitement is over — until Malema, like the Vampire Count, rises again from the grave — South Africans can tote up some of the cost of Malema’s fascist forays.

The Malema years hurt the ANC badly. In such a broad church that the organisation is, the challenge has always been to reconcile the widely differing views of how Nirvana is to be attained.

Nelson Mandela managed to do so because of his iconic stature within the party. The aloof Mbeki, brooked no contrarian views but lacking the reputation of Mandela ultimately alienated the ANC rank and file.

Malema, who had been Zuma’s crowbar to get rid of Mbeki, afterwards, became the president’s ever-ready truncheon with which to intimidate rivals. It was only when Malema foolishly turned on Zuma, that his reign of terror was brought to an end.

So Zuma has re-established leadership control, at least for now. But the ANC will be reeling from the realisation that a vociferous, aggressive minority almost succeeded in hijacking and holding to ransom the entire party. They will be determined not to let that happen again.

It was unfortunately not only the ANC that suffered. South Africa, too, was harmed and not only by the vulgar coarsening of political dialogue and in ethnic tensions, fear and loathing.

There was a hefty economic price to pay for perceptions of growing political uncertainty, in reaction to the ANCYL’s call for nationalisation of the mines and the redistribution of land without compensation. The Malema clique’s rhetoric — the racism, the abuse of “white bitch” journalists and of farmers who should be killed — have also seriously further tarnished the ANC government’s waning reputation in the outside world as tolerant and inclusive.

Malema’s legacy is however not all bad. The ease with which the young tenderpreneur millionaire was able to harness the anger of disaffected, unemployed and marginalised youth is a timely reminder to all — including the sensation-surfing media — that jobs must be created, education and skills must be improved, and socio-economic inequalities must be eradicated.

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