Thursday, December 5, 2013

Phoenix Malema

A few weeks ago I wrote about the Goldman Sachs report on South Africa twenty years on from the election of the new government.  Much has changed for the better, but the young and the poor – and especially the young poor – remain marginalized in the new society.   Much of the school system remains in disarray, and the graduates of these schools, and in some areas, those of colleges and universities as well, essentially don’t have the skills to be employable in the twenty-first century.  South Africa needs the growth rate of a China to make headway with jobs for these people; currently it looks as though 2% is the best we can expect.  That’s enough to create some jobs, but far less than the number of new job seekers entering the market every year.  It’s clear something needs to be done; the problem is deciding what to do and then getting it done.  Recently the government approved a youth wage plan (which is basically a subsidy for first time youth hires) in the teeth of the trade union movement’s vehement objections.

Julius Malema at the launch of the EFF
Enter Julius Malema from stage left – far left.  He worked himself up to the powerful position of chairman of the ANC Youth League and set about enriching himself.  He once famously said that the people don’t mind if their leaders are rich.  And he seemed to be right.  Trusts and companies appeared from nowhere and he started building mansions and buying fancy clothes and cars.  All would probably have been well if he’d settled back and enjoyed that while wowing his followers with rhetoric.  But he had ambitions way beyond that.  His eyes were on the presidency.  All he had to do was to persuade the party that he was the popular leader and the heir apparent to the tarnished President Zuma.  And he was following a pretty good example.  Zuma pulled that off against the previous president - Thabo Mbeki.  Characterising Mbeki as out of touch with the people – which he was – Zuma paraded in traditional dress, dancing and singing his anthem “Bring me my machine gun” to the delight of his followers and the horror of white South Africans.  Once Mbeki was off the scene and Zuma was president, the machine gun was retired along with the song, and everyone got on with the important business of making money.

President Zuma doesn't seem too concerned...

What Julius didn’t understand was that there was much behind the scenes manipulation which went into the unseating of Mbeki.  Zuma is much too wily to fall for the same trap.  So when Julius tried the same sort of tactics, he was firmly slapped down.  One of the charges against Malema was that his “Shoot the Boer” song was hate speech.  (Do we detect a theme here?)  When he ignored the slap, he was expelled from the party and hit with corruption charges.  Now he claims to be penniless and living in the tiny house where he grew up. He claims his expulsion from the party showed that the ANC “has become a pig and is eating its own children.” He went on to say that Zuma “removed me because people said to him, ‘Remove Malema and white people will be happy.’ ”

Having failed in his takeover from within, Malema’s strategy has moved to a takeover from without.  Launching his new party –Economic Freedom Fighters - at Marikana – site of the miners’ strike where more than 30 people died – he appeared in Hugo Chávez red beret and called on his followers to complete the revolution which, he claims, stalled in 1994.  “We must restore the dignity of the black majority,” he declared to a crowd of thousands. “Now is the time to deliver on the promises of 1994.” His policies include such tried and tested economic recipes as seizing white owned land and nationalizing the mines and banks.  These have worked out so well in Zimbabwe that it makes absolute sense to do the same thing here.  Well, sarcasm will get me nowhere, but promising to do something – anything - tangible for the poor may get Malema a lot of votes in next year's general election. 

People tend to treat him as a joke, and the EFF as a paper tiger with no purpose but to restore Malema’s fortunes.  That’s as may be. History is littered with people who were laughed at and went on to overturn the world.

The EFF expressed "disappointment" at somesupporters displaying racist posters at its launch

 Michael – Thursday.


  1. I'm anxious to hear your take on how today's (Thursday's) death of Nelson Mandela impacts all of this.

  2. Yes, it's a good question. There has been a feeling here for some years that part of the loyalty of the ANC followers was generated by their respect and affection for Madiba. It was impossible to vote against his party; it would be an insult to him. That will be gone now or at least much reduced. My take is that Malema will benefit on the left and Rampele in the center. The people we're talking about would never vote for the official opposition which they see (rather unfairly) as a "white and coloured" party. Rampele -despite impeccable "struggle credentials" (she was Steve Biko's partner) is also an intellectual, a previous deputy president of the University of Cape Town, and director of the World Bank. I think the big winner is likely to be Malema.

    What does the business world think? All a bit of a non-issue; the South African currency strengthened today.

    But everyone you talk to here feels one thing: South Africa mourns a great man.