Julius is The Man
- Jacques Rousseau
- 25 Mar 2010 06:52 (South Africa)
How then are we to make sense of his self-proclaimed solidarity with people who struggle to feed themselves? South Africa remains a country of great inequalities and class distinctions linger. Are three houses and five cars required to escape the label of “working class”, instead of Malema’s two houses and three cars (according to reports)?
All that Malema seems to have in common with what StatsSA’s categorisation of the working class in South Africa’s is that he is black and has a poor education. While he seems to have the financial means to resolve the latter, the former is neither a problem, nor something he can change. Given that it cannot change, any argument that Malema is working class devolves into the claim that blackness equals working class, which means that Ramaphosa, Sexwale and many others are, by Malema’s definition, working class.
And, of course, they are not.
Nor would they attempt to make the absurd claim that they are. What Malema presumably means is that he identifies with the working classes – that he emerged from such circumstances, and that he knows, and feels for the struggles experienced by the poor and otherwise “disenfranchised”.
This identification, if backed up by consistent action in defence of working-class interests, would usually be a laudable thing. South Africa has a history, well known to all, of the powerful classes (historically, and to a large extent currently, populated by whites) abusing the interests of the less powerful. White capital and political power were the tools “The Man” used to keep the rabble in check, and to make sure that The Man’s interests were served at the expense of the majority of the South African population.
The Man was often oppressive, brutal and unconcerned with equality. He was arrogant and complacent. He had certitude about his policies and principles and little sympathy for arguments that pointed out the short-sightedness of his policy for the long-term sustainability of the welfare of the country in which he lived. Most of all, he did not tolerate dissent and created educational and media structures that reinforced and consolidated his position of power. The silencing of critics was, of course, essential when your arguments were unsustainable.
In other words, the oppression and abuse of South Africans who were non-white (the term is efficient here, in that privilege accrued mostly according to race) was made possible by the obvious weapon of capital, but also by the more subtle tools of ideology, propaganda and censorship.
Malema seems to have capital and the power that accompanies it. Despite what he claims his income to be, his possessions and lifestyle offer us irrefutable evidence of access to goods that far outstrip those afforded by a salary of R20,000. Whether or not he has acquired that capital legitimately is a matter for SARS to resolve, but assuming he has acquired it legitimately, I cannot argue with his right to exercise the power it affords him in a manner of his choosing. He can buy flashy and tasteless jewellery, palatial mansions with monogrammed gates and fancy imported cars to his heart’s content.
“Can” and “should”, though, are entirely separate matters. Malema’s conspicuous consumption is understandable, as Thorstein Veblen pointed out in The Theory of the Leisure Class, as a manifestation of his newly-acquired social power. And for all the opportunities this power allows him, such as drinking R800 bottles of Moet et Chandon champagne while berating “left-wing leaders who drink red wine”, the inconsistencies between claiming to be working class while living like upper class or even royalty should result in some deep soul-searching by the man personally. And should also result in a significant loss of faith in Malema on the part of those he claims to represent.
But this is not proving to be the case. At least not yet, and surely not as quickly as one might expect. While there have been some media criticisms of his lifestyle, as well as of his public pronouncements, his popularity seems undiminished.
It appears, therefore, that Malema’s wealth presents little obstacle to his being able to sell the idea that he is working class, or to his continued enjoyment of the support of many who can only dream of running water, rather than driving though monogrammed gates.
Which brings me to the other tools of oppression – ideology, propaganda and censorship. Malema’s wealth is not a problem, because he keeps telling us it isn’t. And he tells us this in rhetorically powerful ways, reminding us of old (and current) scars relating to racial oppression and violence.
He tells us this while associating any critic with something negative, or perceived to be abhorrent, such as being a Satanist for Helen Zille, not being “a real woman” for Patricia de Lille, and being an aristocratic snob who drinks red wine for Blade Nzimande. He and the ANC Youth League reinforce these attempts at deflection by treating the press with contempt and attempting to smear and discredit journalists via investigations into their finances, while simultaneously providing incoherent information about Malema’s finances.
These sorts of statements and actions discourage dissent in that critics are aware that any statements critical of Malema and the ANCYL will be met with a forceful response, and one that taps into an existing – and even justified – frustration with the continued suffering of the working class by way of service delivery, poverty, education and a host of other factors of which any South African is well aware. They also depend on defined logical fallacies, such as guilt by association and poisoning the well.
But they also indicate contempt and a cynical attitude which permits the exploitation of those frustrations, and which permits callousness towards other forms of suffering. Suffering such as that of the victims of farm attacks, where a memorandum about the victims of such attacks can be trampled on by ANCYL officials, or the suffering of victims of rape, where insult can be heaped upon abuse, and pain trivialised through what the courts recently agreed was hate speech.
Oppression and abuse of the interests of the working class is no doubt a bad thing. It happens through abuses of the power that accrues via capital, and it happens through our words and deeds. In South Africa’s past, The Man who perpetrated much of the abuse was white South Africa, and they are still far from blameless. But the abusers of power can be of any race or political persuasion, and can emerge from those same working classes.
And such is the case with Julius Malema – The New Man.
- Homophobia and the politics of outrage
- Please look after the place while I’m gone.
- Parliament – where dead sheep savage one another
- ‘Catholic’ and ‘Muslim’ South Africa
- Free speech doesn’t guarantee an audience
- So atheists are people too?
- A culture of dying
- Deciding when to die
- Minds are what brains do
- So what are universities for?
- Mantashe wants to help you 'Know your DA'
- Hey, teacher, leave them kids alone!
- UCT, race, and the seductive moral outrage machine
- The sound and fury of sanctimony
- Burn the witch!
- Not even Madiba can turn anecdotes into data
- Pornography is coming to eat your children
- Do you know what’s good for you?
- #We Say Enough
- Talking about risk-mitigation is not (always) victim blaming
- Can Frankensalmon triumph over uninformed ad-hoc opinions?
- You can leave your hat on
- If performance-enhancing drugs are bad, let's ban high-fibre cereal too.
- Blood deferrals: Too important to take personally
- The world according to Zuma - and the trouble with 'culture'
- A free market in false choices
- I, for one, welcome our robot overlords
- Debate is the key
- Been there? Got the T-shirt? Think carefully before you wear it...
- You are what you tweet
- Body language: Freedom confronts respect in Body Worlds human forms
- Choose wisely: Mourdock, rape and targeted outrage
- Birds of a feather...philosophise together?
- So who owns oppression, really?
- Help, not demonisation, will stem child abuse
- More about trolls
- Please do not feed the trolls
- Affirmative action: Equity does not come with voting rights alone
- SAA's cadet programme: The sky isn't falling
- South Africa: Why do you make me hate you?
- SA & religion: Eyes wide shut
- Freedom of speech & freedom of abuse
- Is free speech fried in Chick-fil-A debate?
- Colorado killings: there's no comfort in the absurd
- Let's try to avoid drive-by charity on Mandela Day
- First do no harm
- The cutting edge of religion
- Public holidays: positive discrimination?
- The new discrimination – against men
- Censorship: The chilling effect
- Health Warning: You may not smoke, but you can eat yourself to death
- 'I see a red door and I want it painted black'
- Freedom of speech; oh, perish the thought
- Homophobia trending among traditional leaders
- How to meat friends and influence people
- How to meat friends and influence people
- Still hunting, still gathering
- Dogmatix isn't only a canine in the Asterix comic books
- Exactly Whose Humanity is Vanishing?
- Tim Noakes on carbohydrates - fad or fact?
- Mind over matter – and knowing the difference
- Don't PIN your freedoms to Icasa's apron strings
- Killing the messenger never silences the message
- The unbearable rightness of maybe being wrong
- The worrisome worth of foregone conclusions
- The tyranny of labels
- Staring into the abyss of ‘special privileges’
- Twitter censorship, the Streisand Effect and three fingers pointing back
- Free speech is good - but not in my back yard
- Abortion - the great conceptual conundrum
- Killing live animals to talk to dead people is bull
- Stalking votes with over-the-counter vetoes
- Always look on the One side of life
- Get Tested: Get off the entitlement horses and give it a chance
- The Lotters, Harry Potter and SA's judicial system
- The haunting of Helen Zille
- The Great T-Shirt Debate that went horribly wrong
- M&M & the media – playing the ball or the men?
- Twitter - fast food for ever-fattening egos
- How Occupy Wall Street became Pick a Protest
- Steve Jobs was just a man
- What are you?
- Who did ET really call? Woo-woo fest at Wits might have the answer
- How to strut like a slut and itch like a bitch
- The world according to reader feedback
- To judge or not to judge; that is the Mogoeng
- 'A Boy Named Sue' and a victim named 'slut'
- How to bake the perfect humble pie
- How to win friends and influence the irrational
- See what I mean? Or maybe you don't...
- Separating sense from nonsense
- Racial nationalism - the silliest disease of them all
- Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can rip my soul
- Just catch the next feminist wave
- That's right - tertiary education is a privilege, not a right
- The conundrum of university - level remedial education - where do we start?
- The immense value of the egghead
- If ridicule be the right remedy, mock on
- Racism, put on your ballot-proof vest
- It was the lizard on the grassy knoll
- Of unenclosed toilets and enclosed ballot booths
- Our responsibility to build a better 'Bill'
- It's the Singer, not the Song
- Trapped in an abusive relationship? Dial 0800-VOTE
- Hate speech and hateful words - there is a difference
- Why the Bill of Responsibilities doesn't make the grade
- Natural selection and principled prejudice
- The Orwellian horror of a world without grammar
- Beware the Jabberwock
- Ya don’t learn nuffink by shutting others up
- U2, Brute!
- Unfollowing the defriended is like delisting the unlikeable
- There's something fishy about Kenny and his critics
- Astrology - the gullible's travails are written in the stars
- Dr Woo and the Silicon Snake-oil Bangle Sellers
- Life, liberty and the pursuit of dignity
- Who wants to be African anyway?
- The Beatles warned you, Mr President
- Annelie Botes, racism, moralistic awards 'n all
- The silence of the racists
- The proof of the pudding
- Freedom is a fragile thing
- The conditionality of morality
- Of guillotines, smoking, kissing children and scientific proof
- Why moral absolutism hasn't done so well
- The moral arrogance of relativism
- The dilemma of being special in a world of special people
- Of burning closets and closed minds
- Is Internet making us stoopid commenters?
- To be, or not to be serious
- Stepping into greyer shades of grey
- Books and beliefs and other burning issues
- Talking of Hawking and thinking of God
- ‘You may be wrong for all I know, but you may be right’
- The unbearable triteness of best-selling BS
- The struggle for true freedom is with us more than ever
- It’s silly to take a penknife to a gunfight
- Tell me lies, tell me sweet little morally questionable falsehoods
- I think therefore I am … at least I think so
- First, do no harm
- All rights are equal – or should be
- Beauty and the beastly behaviour
- Afrighana versus United States of North America – a continental dilemma
- Of shoes and ships and sealing wax – the multiple tasks of multi-tasking
- Blow the vuvuzela and blow the cultural argument
- Roll up! Roll up! Welcome to the World Cup!
- Thought police, never a good thing
- The redemptive nature of offence
- Potholes or profits – the modern dilemma of corporate social responsibility
- Too many cows, too few tuna and too big an appetite
- Press freedom’s value is in our capacity to take part
- Of uncertainty and the opinions it spawns
- Just another brick in the wall
- Playing the authenticity card
- The dangers of tolerance
- ‘Twas Easter and the slithey toves did gyre and gimble on the roads
- Julius is The Man
- Beware the orthorexics as you chomp down on your boerie-roll
- Freedom of (Multi)choice
- Let's talk about our moral code