Take a deep breath, put your shoulders back and look through the frenzy.
Reading the Democratic Alliance’s Diane Kohler Barnard pour scorn on the “rotund” and “Idi Amin-like” Julius Malema I couldn’t help but think that she is leaving herself as few choices as J.M. Coetzee leaves his fictional characters.
Julius Malema is a powerful contender for future ANC leadership – and is already a powerful politician. I think his rise to lead the ANC and possibly the country may be unstoppable. I fear that Barnard’s feisty and admirable rhetoric leaves her, and those she represents, no paths upon which she might ride her high horse back, when this is all over.
Barnard, recounting how Malema allegedly attempted to bully his way through a traffic violation with : “Don’t you know who I am?” arrogance, says:
[Julius Malema is] the man who believes there is one law for South African citizens, yet another law for him. He is the man who will slap a neighbour who has the temerity to ask that the music at his housewarming be turned down at 3 in the morning. He is the man who has turned hate-speech into an art form […]
Barnard’s anger is palpable as she sneeringly reminds us that Malema has said he would fire Thabo Mbeki and any ANC parliamentarian “should he get the urge”
Malema’s ego and contempt for the law the rest of us must respect, is unparalleled […] Is this, to quote the President, someone you honestly believe is a ‘leader in the making – worthy of inheriting the ANC”?
Well, is he “a leader in the making”? Is he “worthy of inheriting the ANC?”
The answer to the first question is: “yes” – more about that below.
The answer to the second question is irrelevant. Could we agree what this historical artefact: “the ANC” is; could we agree on what its characteristics and values are? Could anyone make this judgement call?
Frankly, history can give a fig whether you or I think Julius Malema is worthy of inheriting the ANC – or, quite frankly, whether the ANC is worthy of inheriting Julius Malema.
This is not about what you or I think or believe or hope for; it is also not about what Diane Kohler Barnard and the Democratic Alliance and those they represent hope for and hope to accomplish.
This is not, unfortunately, about how things aught to be, or about what is fair and just in the moral universe.
This is about how things are; this is history as a raging torrent.
A de facto leader
Assuming “leader” is neither complimentary nor derogatory – the word can be either or neither – it is clear that Malema more than fits the common sense meaning of the term.
- Malema has been hot-housed as a boy in ANC training institutions and groomed for leadership after joining the organisation at the point of its unbanning in about 1990;
- He has led the two key feeder organisations, the Congress of South African Students and the ANC Youth League;
- He has become the crucial port of call for politicians and individuals hoping to build support for any initiative that requires ANC support;
- He personally played an important role in the rise to dominance of the faction that backed Zuma for president;
- He is the only ANC politician – aside from Jacob Zuma – who has a significant and deliverable mass base; both numerous and militant;
- His rhetoric (in my opinion) is closer to the views of the core constituency of the ANC than the publicly expressed views of any other South African politician;
- His name/face recognition is almost unparalleled.
Julius Malema was born in the Northern Transvaal (Limpopo Province) and raised, like Jacob Zuma, by a single mother who worked as a domestic worker. This is the hard school of South African life and these kinds of credentials are still highly valued in the ANC.
In the last few weeks Julius Malema has come over all statesmanlike:
- He acknowledged Thabo Mbeki’s key leadership role – of the ANC and the country;
- He declared the rector of the University of the Free State “one of our own” – thereby helping to defuse growing racial conflict on that campus.
This is deliberate marketing, evolving the brand [firebrand to Dollar Brand …] while the news media, opposition politics and certain dinner table discussions remain obsessed with each new Malema gaff or his latest confrontational tirade.
It is striking how similar the Julius Malema story is to the Jacob Zuma story.
The human need is to normalise the inevitable or the inescapable present. Three years ago media and dinner table sentiment about Jacob Zuma was almost identical to the sentiment held by the same groups of people about Julius Malema today.
The central dilemma in J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace.
Is accepting – and trying to get your head around – the present and future leadership role of Julius Malema the moral equivalent of the choices made by J.M Coetzee’s Lucy, the daughter of main character David Lurie in the 1999 novel Disgrace? Lucy (who is white) is raped and ends up seeking and receiving protection (and more) from Petrus (who is black) who is closely associated with those who raped her in the first place. Even if you have not read Disgrace I think you can understand the dilemma.
Is Julius Malema the Great Defiler – of our constitution, of the bill of rights and of our hopes for non-racialism?
No more than that previous rape accused, Jacob Zuma.
It sometimes feels that Julius Malema is deliberately teasing; upping the ante to cause his opponents to shriek ever louder and sound ever more shrill.
I have no idea whether he has the sense of humour or sense of the absurd to be deliberately inviting the kind of scorn he receives from those Dianne Kholer Barnard represents – and a smattering of those she hopes to represent.
But I have no doubt that it will be Julius Malema who laughs the longest.