The ANC Youth League closed its media conference on Thursday before any questions could be asked about a call for restraint. But, not before Julius Malema provided the right-wingers with plenty of ammunition.
Just 24 hours earlier Gwede Mantashe, the secretary-general of the ANC, had sat in the same chair behind the same desk in the same room, and called on members and structures to show restraint while the country remains tense after the murder of Eugene Terre’Blanche.
But Youth League leader Julius Malema was having none of that.
“I’ve got no respect for Terre’Blanche,” he told a packed media conference (not long after throwing out a BBC journalist). “It is unfortunate that he died before he could change his racist ideas.”
Once he warmed to his theme, Malema provided plenty of sound-bytes that are sure to enrage supporters of the former Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) leader. Like the one about his horse throwing him, and that being proof that not even animals could stand the man.
But Malema also expressed sympathy with Terre’Blanche’s family, denounced his killing and said, several times, that violence has no place in politics, or in South Africa.
Malema said he would continue to sing the song containing the phrase “Kill the Boer”, except with that (court-banned) phrase excised. Outside the borders of South Africa, however, he intends to sing the entire thing.
Then he praised the black community of Ventersdorp for standing up to AWB supporters outside the court in that town on Tuesday, in the process taking a swipe at the leadership of the ANC – including himself – for being too cowardly to provide them with leadership at the time.
In perhaps the most obvious flouting of the guidelines laid down by Mantashe on Wednesday, Malema also brought up the issue of why a 15-year-old was working for Terre’Blanche, asking why the media was not focussing on the issue of child labour. (Just a day earlier Mantashe had said that such questions should wait until after Terre’Blanche had been buried, in the spirit of the African tradition of respect for the dead.)
Mantashe made clear that any inflammatory statements or songs could be used by the likes of the AWB – or just individuals acting on their own accord – as an excuse. An excuse for either verbal retaliation, or perhaps something more serious. By doing so, we had thought, Malema had been manoeuvred into a position where restraint would be required as a “disciplined cadre of the revolution”, a favourite phrase of his. Perhaps Mantashe had thought the same thing.
Mantashe would not say how the party would react if its request for restraint was not honoured, nor whether the ANC proper could sanction members of its sub-structures. But with just 24 hours to go until Terre’Blanche is laid to rest – in what is already feared could be considered a trigger event by radical right-wing rights – he’ll surely be pondering those questions behind closed doors.
By Phillip de Wet
Photos and video: The Daily Maverick