Julius Malema has always presented himself as a man of the people and the voice of the voiceless. After it became certain on Saturday that the ANC Youth League firebrand would be suspended from the party, GREG NICOLSON took to the streets to gauge his support and the reaction to the ANC appeals committee ruling.
Leaning out of a taxi window at the Noord rank in Johannesburg, David Masako defended his leader. The ANC elites have been enriching themselves, their families and friends, and Malema was exposing the truth, said Masako. His suspension was handed down for political score settling rather than for the betterment of the party. Beside Masako’s taxi was a road flooded with stinking water and garbage. Look around, said Masako, people are still jobless, they are starving and we’re still waiting for equal economic rights. Malema has been speaking the truth about what’s been happening, or more correctly, what hasn’t been happening in South Africa. Democracy in SA, he said, is apartheid under another name.
Malema, whose guilty verdict on charges of ill-discipline and sowing party divisions was upheld by the ANC disciplinary appeal committee on Saturday, would have loved it. His call for “economic freedom” to complement universal political freedom has earned him a devoted following, willing to walk with him to Pretoria and riot when he faced the disciplinary committee last year.
But most of the people I spoke to yesterday were critical of Malema and supported his suspension. In Diepkloof, Soweto, six boys, all under 12 years of age, were crowded around a spread of pirated movies when I asked them their thoughts on the appeal verdict. Malema disrespected the ANC and has to go; there must never again be a post for him, they said. We need a new ANCYL leader that doesn’t always want to fight everyone.
Across the road, three men at a spaza shop agreed. They said Malema has been acting like he runs the country and insulting anyone who disagreed with him. He should have apologised, said a man in his fifties while sharpening a toothpick with a pocketknife. He’s a youth leader, not a leader of the whole ANC, and he should have known when to back down. The disciplinary and appeals committees were both fair and Julius has to accept them, he said.
Across town, Malema was getting just as hard a time from those I spoke to in Alexandra. Thato, 24, from Tembisa, and Cleo, 22, from Alexandra, called him stupid because of how he speaks and because he dropped out of school in standard two, they said.
Bongani, 40, also from Alexandra, said Malema wasn’t a good role model because his only answer is violence and he has an attitude. But, he said, it wasn’t fair for the ANC to suspend him because Malema is a youth leader and needs guidance rather than punishment. He won’t learn from this, said Bongani.
While some people at Noord taxi rank in Johannesburg, Diepkloof and Alexandra who I spoke to agree with Bongani’s sentiment – a young leader should be taught and not punished – the overwhelming majority of those who knew about Saturday’s announcement, agreed with the appeals disciplinary hearing committee that Malema was sowing division within the ANC.
A surprising amount, however, did not know Malema’s charges were being appealed or had been rejected by the appeals committee. That may come as a disappointment to the media fraternity that spent a sweltering Saturday tweeting from Luthuli House. For one man in Diepkloof, that common disconnect explained why Malema is able to garner support. “There’s one thing we can’t understand: people follow him like papers blowing in the wind. It’s stupid. They are young.”
Going by the vox pop, Malema seems to have little support around Johannesburg. It’s hardly a proportional representation of South Africans, but could be a sign of his weak support in urban areas or a drop in popularity since he has been brought to heel. DM
Photo: Julius Malema. The majority feeling in Johannesburg is that good ol' Juju's days are numbered. REUTERS.