ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema has been impossible to ignore. Even in student politics days he was grabbing headlines. This means that you’ll be very hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t have an opinion on him. SIPHO HLONGWANE asked a few people what they thought of the man who once appeared so formidable, and may now be gone for good from politics. These are their unedited thoughts.
The ANCYL and Julius Malema have often claimed to be speaking for the poorest of the poor in South Africa. Their calls for the nationalisation of mines and the expropriation of land without compensation, free higher education and other policies they tried to push are ostensibly supposed to help the poor. The Freedom Charter, which the ANCYL repeatedly claimed to be championing, is a pro-poor document.
Malema’s ideas, had they become ANC and government policy, would have had an effect on the lives of many middle-class people. An unstable economy resulting from the exodus of foreign investment would pinch the middle-class far quicker than it would the poor.
Many people were energised by his comments on race – it isn’t very difficult to polarise on the issue of race, and Malema was a master at it. His high profile in the ANC made the race noise (sometimes erroneously referred to as a 'debate') that much more shrill. The idea that maybe, just maybe, his views would sway the ANC was scary for a lot of people. It made them feel that they had a responsibility to shut him up.
Most of Malema’s outright supporters are to be found in rural areas or townships. He had a scattering of supporters among urban professionals as well, but most urban people who had anything positive to say about him pointed out that he had tapped into the growing resentment among the poor about their unchanging circumstances, despite the promises of democracy and a new South Africa.
We asked a few young people who live in cities what they thought of Malema’s ideas, and also what they thought of the ANC’s decision to sanction him. Here’s what they had to say:
Janine Jellars, 27, magazine editor:
Malema's such a fascinating person. I don't think we've ever seen 'the real Julius' (despite the thousands of column inches dedicated to him). He is the quintessential political bulldog, media bogeyman, rabble-rouser... I doubt he even had a clear understanding of what his mandate was. I was always intrigued by him/his persona. I don't know what you mean exactly by “his message”, but I certainly think that through the controversy and media antics, he did raise certain things that were largely ignored. I do wish he spent more time and used his platform to discuss issues that are actually important to SA youth... What was his position on education, for example? Instead of using his platform for political grandstanding and king-making, there were things he could've used his influence to achieve.
[On a question of whether Malema was any good for young South Africans] I really dislike that 'good/bad' thing. I'm not a black + white thinker. I don't want to seem overly diplomatic, but I think he was both. Good because he was so influential and he was a one-person news-generating machine. If there's ever an example of how one young person can own the public consciousness, Juju was it. Bad because, as previously stated, he was a youth leader, but I don't feel as if youth issues were close to his heart. He didn't use his platform to advocate for the true concerns of SAfrican youth.
I'm concerned with the way a dissenting voice was axed from the party once he'd 'outlived' his usefulness. I don't think the YL should be a mini-ANC, agreeing with everything the mothership says or does.
Zama Ndlovu, 29, Youth Lab director:
Julius Malema may be a polarising man, but he exists because our democracy has failed to address issues of development for the greater majority of its people, the youth in particular. The policy direction that the ANC has chosen has been largely ineffective on the ground, and Malema articulated the growing discontent and anger that many feel.
Yes [he was good for South Africa], warning signs offer you the opportunity to address a situation before it’s too late. Although the bulk of the media attention was on Malema’s personality, and finances; no one in government, private sector and society can claim to be unaware of the problems which continue to worsen. The circumstances that gave rise to Malema have not been removed, they may have cut Malema but until the ANC effectively addresses the youth concerns, Malema v2.0 will grow, with all the necessary upgrades. South Africans should consider themselves thoroughly warned.
It was important that discipline be applied decisively and effectively on the Youth League’s leadership because frankly, it let its 'god complex' gets in the way of its mandate. That said, if the ANC’s disciplinary processes are only exercised on lesser umbrella bodies and not to its corrupt cadres within the mother body, then this action will be seen as to silence dissent rather than truly a good step towards fixing a damaged party.
Vacks Phupheli, 32, media company COO:
As a young, black, ambitious South African, I have always felt that Julius’ message was misdirected. Mindful of the kind of influence his position holds (or held), I strongly believe that he could have used, and indeed channelled that influence to better causes that could benefit the youth of this country. There is no denying that Malema sometimes raised some very pertinent issues, albeit in a controversial manner, but I have often wondered how some of the those messages would benefit my fellow young men and women (aka the youth), back in rural Venda where I originate.
That depends entirely on your outlook of the country and from which vantage point you are looking at. The struggle that young South Africans are faced with now is that of education and unemployment and I cannot recall any initiative that sought to address those challenges.
If you raise a baby tiger as a domestic pet, you can almost be certain that one day, that tiger will turn on you, and possibly attack you and maybe kill you. The ANC created a monster (metaphorically speaking off course), and allowed the monster to wander off without a leash. The ANC will do well not to repeat the same mistake again going towards Mangaung, and possibly beyond. I think the ANC may have recovered some credibility by demonstrating that no one individual is bigger than the organisation.
Bojosi Morule, 19, student:
I have to admit, I almost enjoyed Malema. Like many people, I liked his pro-poor rhetoric, regardless his personal agenda. I think Malema resulted in more engagement on matters on race. Although, our engagement as citizens tended to be brash and ill-though out, it was good for young South Africans because it led to some post-’94 introspection. I don’t think his overall character had much of an effect on the youth. Well, it did not have much of an effect on me because although I could relate to some of his ideas, I could not relate to Julius-the-man at all. I think the ANC will essentially be the same party. It (the ANC) will continue to draft the same type of policy as it has in the past. Therefore, the discussion on matters like nationalism is over, which makes me worry about who will be championing the interests of the poor now that Julius is out.
Siyabulela Sekeleni, 31, freelance IT technician:
As much as his message could be seen as fighting for the future of the youth, the delivery eroded that sentiment. I feel he could have focused on the issues at hand instead of playing firebrand for the disgruntled South Africans. I believe his ego got in the way, leaving him feeling invincible. There was ANC before he could lift a fist and he seemed to think he was the ANC; past, present and future. That's where the wires got crossed, in my opinion. As for the ANC without him, I don't think there will be much difference. Zuma is still the president – service delivery will remain slow – preferential treatment will still be given to those affiliated with the party. All the Malema saga has done is gain them a bit of respect, we now know that they won't be bullied by one member. Well played. I believe in the big master plan or conspiracy. DM
- Street poll on Malema: we support the verdict in Daily Maverick.
Photo: Will Malema v2.0 grow? We'll have to wait and see. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo.