Malema’s economic freedom lecture: Swansong or come-back hit?

By Osiame Molefe 15 October 2011

Announced publicly on Friday morning and supposedly cancelled a few hours later, ANC Youth League president Julius Malema’s “Economic Freedom Lecture” at Wits University went ahead anyway despite the vice chancellor’s office having told the organisers to cancel or postpone the event. Such was the turnout that Malema had to deliver back-to-back lectures to two halls of eager young fans. By OSIAME MOLEFE.

“I came here after being told that our event has been cancelled because the management did not approve,” a healthy-looking Malema said at the start of the first lecture.

Malema said a Metro FM headline announced he had been stopped from entering Wits at the exact moment he was entering the campus. He went on to evoke Nelson Mandela, Solomon Mahlangu and Chris Hani to defend the right to assemble freely. Wits management, acting as a “friend of the enemy”, had used its access to power to suppress free political activism, Malema told the students.

But according to Shirona Patel, communication manager at Wits, the dean of students had approved an event called the “OR Tambo Memorial Lecture”, which was organised by the ANCYL at Wits and was to be attended by university’s students and staff only. A 350-seater venue was booked for the closed event. Permission had been granted on condition no external marketing of the event would take place, Patel said.

On Friday morning, Sowetan ran a story quoting ANCYL spokesperson Floyd Shivambu that Malema would be addressing “a rally at Wits University”. And just after noon, Shivambu sent out a press release inviting Wits students, workers and members of the media to attend the “Economic Freedom Lecture”. Shivambu said, without noting the contradiction, the public seminar was not open to all members of the public.

As the nature of the originally approved event had changed from a closed meeting to a public rally, Wits management met with the organisers on Friday morning and told them to cancel or postpone it. Management cited a number of health and safety concerns.

In the more public form it took “overnight”, the event was not presented to the City of Johannesburg’s joint operations committee either, nor were arrangements made for emergency medical services, sanitation and additional security. Wits vice chancellor Loyiso Nongxa endorsed his management team’s decision to cancel the event.

But the lecture went ahead anyway, peppered with Malema’s usual rhetoric.

He cautioned “sell-out” revolutionaries who, once elected, suddenly become unable to pronounce the word “nationalisation”. He said these “comrades”, instead of transforming institutions, have been transformed by institutions. 

“Those who have put you in power, they did not put you (in power)because you are beautiful or you are a good dancer or you dress smart. They put you there because they want change, and you must deliver that change,” Malema said.

To be true revolutionaries, Malema said the students must turn the tables on the first day they arrive in institutions. They must announce immediately “it is no longer business as usual”.

With his million-rand mansion featured in international current-affairs programme, his now-infamous Breitling nowhere to be seen, Malema cautioned the students about materialism. He told them magazines like True Love, which are cheap, affordable and “only show nice things”, will create a society of illiterate people obsessed with material wealth.

“We have only attained political power, and that political power too is highly contested. They want to take it away. Because, among other things, political power meant you can sing your revolutionary songs freely without fear,” Malema said.

Getting into the main topic of his lecture, he denied that the Youth League intended to take mines for itself or was being used by black business to “bail them out. There is no black business which owns a mine. If they do, it’s not them. They have been financed by the bank. Who owns the bank?”

He added that white monopoly capital was so “ruthless” it had even closed out white females. He said the economic struggle the Youth League was waging also sought to liberate white females.

“When it comes to ownership of the means of production, we must share equally. If you are owning 1,000ha, you can keep 200 and give us 800 to share,” Malema said, sounding like a fire-and-brimstone preacher. He again blamed the willing-buyer-willing-seller principle for the failure of land reform in South Africa.

“Investors are here. I am not benefiting anything, so what difference will it make when they’re gone?” Malema said on the possibility that nationalisation was putting off foreign investors. He said investors do not understand the situation of the poor because “the investor is in London having a good time”.

Polarising and populist Malema may be. But whether it is love or hate he evokes, the decisiveness of the feeling makes him magnetic.

There were some clues many of the students were there purely for entertainment, not out of adoration for Malema. Three girls stood outside venue’s reception area trying to coax their friend (who was peering into the lecture hall’s open doors) to leave with them. “Wait,” she said, “I’m really curious.”

Another clue was how, while some students burst into rapturous applause in parts, others sat with arms crossed, bemused at what they were witnessing. Malema’s appeal, for those who aren’t die-hard revolutionaries as he purports to be, was perhaps summed up best by another female student at the end of the lecture who said, “Uyangi caza (he amuses me). He’s like a clown.”

So it goes. In the land of the phone-in pop stars, the amusing youth leader is king.

Absent from Malema’s lecture was direct mention of his disciplinary hearing, which is set to resume on Saturday. He alluded to it by again comparing himself to Nelson Mandela, who was also at one point called a disrespectful youngster. With Tokyo Sexwale having recently said Malema could be reformed, the seemingly foregone conclusion of his suspension from the ANC now appears less than certain, albeit slightly. One way or another, Malema will define the South African political landscape for many years to come. DM



Fudging, obfuscation and misdirection hobble the route to the nitty-gritty of expropriation

By Marianne Merten

"Joyfully to the breeze royal Odysseus spread his sail and with his rudder skillfully he steered." ~ Homer