In Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Marc Antony says, “I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him”. Our own Julius has suffered the demise of his political career, but few are praising him. Around the world, Malema has been described as an unlikely spokesman for the country’s disenfranchised who may have survived a little longer if he could, but live a life less lavish. By KHADIJA PATEL.
The Wall Street Journal typifies international coverage of Malema’s expulsion, describing the young lion as “a firebrand politician who advocated nationalizing the country’s mines and taking back white-owned farmland”. One aspect most international stories on Malema’s expulsion stress is the test of Malema’s street power. Malema’s expulsion will perhaps be the first real gauge of the great power he is thought to wield over the poor. “The decision, which removes a harsh critic of the nation’s leadership, also risks conflict with the legions of largely jobless youth who supported him,” Devon Maylie continues in the WSJ.
In a blog for the Los Angeles Times, Robyn Dixon says Malema’s appeal to the headlines has been unrivalled. “In his short career, Malema attracted more headlines than anyone else in South African politics,” she says. “His abrasive populism and pointed jibes at white South Africans made for volatile politics. He infuriated most whites, but struck a chord with the alienated sea of unemployed black youth, many of whom can expect to never get a job.
He also took on the ANC’s sacred cows, attacking leaders who he said had failed South Africa, taunting government ministers and calling for nationalization of mines and banks – to the alarm of government ministers and foreign investors alike.”
The Voice of America quoted Eusebius Mckaiser on Malema’s expulsion as an unequivocal rejection of a cult of personality.
“There is no negative impact that [will] be felt within the ANC internally, nor on the ANC’s brand within society in South Africa or abroad as a result of the expulsion of Julius Malema. If anything there will be a positive impact because one of the messages that comes out of this disciplinary (hearing) is that no member of the ANC is above the constitution of the ANC,” Mckaiser said.
The New York Times’ new Johannesburg bureau chief Lydia Polgreen depicted Malema as a transformational threat to the ethos of the ruling party. “In tone and style, Malema tried to transform the ANC, which was formed as an explicitly non-racial organization, into a party espousing a muscular black nationalism,” she said.
The Christian Science Monitor, one of the most reliable sources of international news on web, points out that “Malema’s expulsion marks a turning point of sorts for the African National Congress, which has struggled for years to balance its competing missions of maintaining an atmosphere of tolerance and racial harmony on one hand, and seeking economic empowerment and justice for South Africa’s historically deprived black majority.” Scott Baldauf and Savious Kwinika, emphasise that this “young, underemployed majority” of the country are significantly unrepresented in the political arena. “Even if Malema does depart from the political scene,” they say, “this young, underemployed majority will still smoulder with frustration over the slow pace of progress in the townships where they live, and they will find another leader to give voice to those frustrations. If the ANC doesn’t manage those frustrations, it will have another Malema to deal with.”
In a blogpost, TIME’s Alex Perry cuts neatly to this succession debate – not in the parent body of the ANC time, but rather Malema’s successor as the guardian of the poor and disenfranchised. “The African National Congress’ expulsion of its enfant terrible, Julius Malema, answers one question: Yes, the party of Nelson Mandela, the party which overthrew apartheid, still finds racism and hate speech intolerable. But it also poses another: Who now proposes to lead South Africa’s millions of poor, young and unemployed?” Perry asks.
Perry goes on to say Malema lacked the necessary credentials as a spokesman of the poor. “As someone who purported to speak for the poor and young, but who conspicuously enjoyed the high life himself, Malema was never a true champion of South Africa’s marginalised. But his departure only serves to underline how no political figure in South Africa truly speaks for the millions of black South Africans who find themselves living in the same townships, and enduring the same poor educational systems, housing and health services that their parents experienced under apartheid.”
Perry stresses as well that South Africa is not unique as a home to a restless, unemployed young population. “It’s that same dynamic that drove the Arab Spring, and is currently fuelling anti-government movements from Nigeria to Occupy Wall Street to Senegal. But the question of how that energy will be tapped and brought to bear in South Africa is as yet unresolved.”
Across the pond, the BBC’s Andrew Harding neatly encapsulates the meteoric rise and fall Malema like this: “Julius Malema – the swaggering, articulate, comic, bullying, Hugo Chavez of South African politics – had come to believe his own hype.”
Harding believes Malema’s stubbornness was particularly threatening to a ruling party seeking desperately to institutionalise its power. “In a country led by a party that, by trying to hog almost every corner of the political spectrum, often seems to stand for nothing, but the preservation of its own power, Malema stuck to his ideological guns. No wonder President Zuma – a consensus politician who seems genuinely alarmed by the prospect of trying to end a policy debate – found Malema so threatening,” Harding says.
As a successor to the original “bloody agent” Jonah Fisher, Harding takes the liberty to assure President Zuma of a second term in office. “It is too early, of course, to know whether Malema will be found guilty of abusing his position, cheating (on) his taxes, or any of the other allegations which Zuma’s friends have been aggressively briefing the media about. But the battle is over. Zuma is virtually assured of another term as president,” he says.
Harding too reflects on the possibility of the birth of another Malema who may once more ruffle the feathers of the ANC. “And yet, Zuma must surely wonder – what if Julius Malema had been less swayed by the lure of quick wealth?” he asks. “What if he had emerged as an unstoppable political force? And what will happen now if someone less absurd, less hypocritical, picks up that baton and runs, hard and fast, at the head of an angry crowd?”
It is apt then that the Guardian’s David Smith points out that “Malema has become arguably (one of) South Africa’s most divisive politicians.”
In Australia, The Sydney Morning Herald also picks up on the potential effects Malema’s expulsion may have on Manguang. “His exclusion may help Zuma win a second term as party leader in December as it sidelines one of the President’s biggest critics. The ANC Youth League had dropped its support for Zuma after helping him oust Thabo Mbeki as ANC leader in 2007. Zuma has failed to back Malema’s push for the ANC to adopt a policy of nationalising mines.”
Media in the Far East have been far less effusive of Malema’s expulsion than the Americans. Chinese news agency Xinhua carried a brief report on the latest instalment in the Malema episode, intimating that it was Malema’s calls for nationalisation of the country’s mines and financial institutions that had ultimately cost him his ANC membership. “Malema called for nationalising mines to use the benefits to serve the vast majority of people who still live in poverty after nearly 20 years since apartheid was brought to an end,” Xinhua concluded.
In the Anglophone media in Africa, most dailies relied on wire copy to report Malema’s political demise. Agence France Presse (AFP), took a maddeningly sensationalist approach to events in Seshego. “Fighting in S(outh) Africa after ANC expels Malema,” their headline screamed. AFP though also quotes Dirk Kotze, political scientist at the University of South Africa in Pretoria who believes Malema’s political career is over. “I think it will be the end of his political career, at least for the foreseeable future,” Kotze said. “Malema without the ANC is nothing… The tradition and the history of the ANC, he needs that in order to be able to make his point. Without that he’s very much isolated.”
Bloomberg quoted independent political analyst Nic Borain who similarly believes the end of Malema’s political career has arrived. “Outside of the ANC is the wilderness,” Borain said.
The Associated Press takes a different approach, weighing in on Malema’s support base within the youth league. “Youth league members had vowed to stand by Malema no matter what the ANC said, but others are reportedly vying to succeed him.”
Whatever his support within the youth league itself, there are few journalists praising Malema – either locally or internationally. All have come to bury the young lion. What Malema now needs is a Marc Antony of his own – someone to sway the public cheering his political demise. A pity then that Floyd told the Daily Maverick he wouldn’t “ever” be speaking to the media (again). DM
Photo: Very few journalists worldwide feel any pity for Julius Malema and the death of his political career. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko.
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