Malema’s mission amid misery
The title of this book was at first to be The man with the Breitling Watch, but the Swiss watchmakers were horrified at the thought of such an association and the publishers had to settle for the apt title above.
The author tells the Malema story in racy and engaging style but some readers might find the way the narrative jumps back and forth in time disconcerting. Julius Malema’s popularity with the ANC has waned as his defiance of its disciplinary code becomes ever more outrageous.
Yet he promises to be around for some time to come. His rapport with the 25 million dirt-poor South Africans on the outside looking in appears intact.
His baleful influence could yet turn South African politics upside down – and the country with it. Some commentators discount the Malema factor in our politics. The writer of this book does not agree.
As she argues, Malema sees opportunity in the miserable conditions of life of half of the South African population. He takes a line that favours the masses and he presents himself as one of them. He likes to pose as a socialist and advocate of the national democratic revolution.
He is nothing of the sort.
The author, an Irish journalist steeped in South African history and politics, sees Malema as a neo-nationalist and a national corporatist at heart who is pushing for a closed political system in which the state would increase its control of the social and economic life of the country and steadily shut down what is left of democratic space.
She believes that his goal is to take over the ANC, exploiting his huge potential constituency among the poor masses. He plays a cunning double act, she says, telling the poor exactly what they want to hear.
When Germany was struggling economically in the years between the wars, Adolf Hitler exploited the situation to gain political power, blaming the Jews for the country’s ills, and imposing state control on every aspect of German life.
If the author of this book is right, there are ominous parallels between Germany then and South Africa now as Malema blames the whites for the unhappy lot of the poverty-stricken masses.
It is a complicated and paradoxical situation, though. In spite of service delivery protests across the country, which become ever more violent by the day, and the manifest anger of the poor, people continue to vote for the ANC.
The poor and the unemployed youth are kept on side by welfare grants. The latter yearn for the good life as lived by their role model, Malema, and the rest of the ANC elite.
This elite, like him, have used politics as the royal road to wealth, as tenderpreneurs and taking advantage of the black economic empowerment opportunities which are open to the politically connected.
And they show scant concern for the lot of the poor.
The author gives us a sympathetic picture of the young Malema, who was born on March 3, 1981, in a tin shack at Disteneng, in zone 1 of the town of Seshego, north-west of Pietersburg, now Polokwane.
There were seven children and the family was desperately poor. He was reared by his mother and grandmother and at the age of nine he was drafted into the Masupatsele, the children’s social wing of the ANC, and steadily worked his way up, becoming president of the ANC Youth League in 2008.
At 25 he was part of the movement to get rid of Thabo Mbeki as president of the ANC and replace him with Jacob Zuma, who was later to hail Malema as the “future leader” of South Africa.
Malema is now working to oust Zuma, starting with a campaign to replace Gwede Mantashe in the key position of secretary-general of the ANC.
His candidate is his friend Fikile Mbalula, a former president of the youth league and currently minister of sport, who gave the Springboks a rousing send-off to New Zealand.
The Malema-Zuma tensions will come to a head at the ANC’s elective conference in December next year. Can Malema succeed in hijacking the ANC?
The author does not venture predictions.
Much will depend on the current disciplinary proceedings against him.
If he is suspended, he may well lie low for a while. If he is kicked out of the ANC his departure will spark an upheaval and, in time, will split the ANC.
Anyone should read this book who is keen to understand South African politics and its probable course between now and the next general relation in 2014.
The next two or three years will be crucial. Only one thing is certain: the outlook will be dark if the independent judiciary and the free press do not survive the government’s drive to undermine these fundamental pillars of constitutional democracy under the law. – Cape Times
September 9 2011 Review By Gerald Shaw published in Cape Times
Shaw is a former deputy editor of the Cape Times.