What to make of Malema

Jeremy Gordin says we're lucky the ANCYL leader ran with the wrong issues

I have been thinking in the last few weeks about Julius Malema, known to me as "Little Julie", and to others as Juju.

I know that at my age and stage I ought to reject such masochism and should be cogitating instead on the sexy woman who showed up at shul for the first time last Friday night or maybe on philosophy.

Anyway, I have been thinking about the former president of the Yoof League in two connections.

The first is an article that was run in Business Day by Caroline Southey in June, in which she wrote: "A group of erudite intellectuals and a rabble-rousing politician with coruscating political ambition may, on the face of it, make strange bedfellows, but there is a great deal in common between the diagnostic reports delivered by Trevor Manuel's National Planning Commission and Julius Malema's closing speech at the recent African National Congress Youth League conference. 

"Stripped bare - the reports of their academic elegance and the speech of its bombast - both home in on the fact that race-based inequality threatens to push the economy and, indeed, the entire society over the precipice. Manuel and Malema are giving us the same message."

Second, a few weeks ago I took part in a seminar on "how to handle the media" for Cosatu's senior leadership cohort (everyone was present except Zwelinzima Vavi) at the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism.

The organiser was Graeme Addison, a journalist who is both veteran and wise (the two words aren't necessarily synonymous).

Now, as might be expected, I was gaaning aan about how to handle the media and was saying - at the risk of generalizing, in which I specialise - that my audience needed to understand that the young folk in news rooms nowadays don't necessarily have leftist sympathies (au contraire) and might not be especially interested in the Struggle or in workers (known in Seffrican parlance as whuckers).

I was continuing along these lines, saying that the events in North Africa, for example, were pretty foreign to this country - when Addison interrupted to say that this was not so.

The thing, he said, was that Juju and his followers - and all the young poor folk in mainly rural townships and the like - were to a large extent the same constituency as those young people in Tunisia and Egypt (and Syria?).

The difference was that here they hadn't really (yet) flooded out on to the streets, mainly because their government (i.e. the ANC government) was supposed to have fought a war of liberation to free them and was supposed to be, under the suits and ties, a merry band of revolutionaries. (Of course this might not actually be so - but the perception had kept the under classes more or less well behaved.)

Is all of the above pretty accurate - I have been wondering - or is Little Julie merely a pain in the proverbial who has taken to wearing a pannekoek beret that would have had him locked up in detention barracks for three months in the old SADF?

Well, the two points - Juju's a pain in the tochis and his constituency is potentially a bunch of lumpen revolutionaries - are not, I suppose, mutually exclusive. In fact, I guess us bourgeoisie Seffricans have been lucky that Juju has been so devoted to the ANC, as well as so greedy, and, above all, has chosen his issues so foolishly.

Let me be more precise.

Today, Wednesday - [I am writing this last night] - 100 000 people are supposed to march under the aegis of Cosatu against the new e-tolling system. Cosatu have of course messed this up a great deal by (a) saying the march is really about labour brokers (most Seffricans are deeply annoyed about the e-tolls but don't really give a shit about labour brokers) and (b) by rejecting the Democratic Alliance's desire to march with them.

But imagine if 100 000 - imagine if 50 000 - imagine if 30 000 folk actually show up today. Cosatu is actually seriously - for the first time in a long time - thumbing its nose at the government and telling Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, who did this embarrassing little sycophantic pirouette about e-tolling on budget day, to go and get knotted.

If the march today is successful, the government could have some serious problems on its hands, because ordinary Seffricans are pissed off about a great many things - all the things that whack them in their wallets, from e-tolling to petrol and food prices.

I'm not suggesting that Beyers Naude Square is about to turn into Tahrir Square. But if things go "well" for the marchers, we might soon be getting some serious and overdue consumer and other social activism in this country.

So imagine, then, if Juju and the boys had chosen some serious issues over which to go to war - not rubbish such as the nationalisation of mines or the other stuff that Juju barely understood anyway.

Another thing that has happened in the last 48 hours:

On Monday night Juju told a radio station that he couldn't understand why he had been targeted by the ANC leadership. After all, he said, he hadn't ever been charged with rape and corruption and nor had he held factional meetings or done things that had benefitted his family.

Whoops. This is serious shit, as my Yeoville dope dealer used to say. Juju has really insulted Zuma - his elder and the chief of the beloved republic. But I don't think Juju gives a damn - and nor does the rest of the Yoof League. Seven out of nine YL provincial reps said today that Juju would remain their president - the mother body could do what it liked.

Now what will happen if Little Julie and the boys don't vacate their posts? Will Gwede call in the cops? Will there be scuffles in Luthuli House?

Suddenly Zuma and the fat cats aren't looking so secure; suddenly we seem to have shifted a few centimetres closer to the Mediterranean basin.

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