Looking for a magic eight-ball to decipher the quickly decaying election narrative? Look no further than Wiekus Kotze, Julius Malema’s White Economic Freedom Front Guy. RICHARD POPLAK paid him a visit.
The 2014 election narrative has so quickly slid out of the realm of intelligibility that I figured in order to make sense of things, I should probably go in search of its original meme. So I drove south, deep into DA territory, past Alberton, past Albertsdal, and stopped at the booms blocking entry to Meyersig Estates. A sea of ticky-tacky exurban homes, straight out of a misinterpreted version of the America Dream, circa 1950. Within, a dude named Wiekus Kotze.
On the first Saturday following the Christmas break—just as South Africans were rubbing December’s beach sand or MDMA residue or tear gas from their red-rimmed eyes—the Saturday Star broke the story of an “Afrikaner who is fighting for Malema”. Wiekus Kotze stared up from the paper’s front pages, round face and regulation mustache squeezed into a red beret. The story was the incongruities—here was an Afrikaner stumping for a politician who has Robert Mugabe tattooed on his butt cheeks, and whose favourite Karaoke number is “Shoot the Boer”. Kotze came off as a slightly confused buffoon with a chronic case of jungle fever—he was married to an “African queen”, he told the papers—at war with die volk, all of whom wanted to see him swinging from the nearest blue gum.
But Wiekus Kotze is not a buffoon. When he emerges from his house to greet me, he moves with the brisk efficiency of a high school principal. At 40, he has grown soft and wide, but there is a sharpness to his face that suggests his head has been Photo-shopped onto his body. His home is the sort of modest set-up that would be described as middle-middle-class if such designations still applied. When we enter, his three-year-old daughter Shiedre is on the couch watching cartoons. Sick day, she informs me.
As most of the reports noted, Wiekus hails from a farming community that lies between Brits and Hartebeespoort Damn. “From birth,” he tells me, after we sit at a glass-topped dining table, “we were raised very well.” His parents were not directly involved in the Struggle, but harboured the odd political fugitive, and left chunks of the farm to long-term workers when the property was finally divested. His political activism began at the University of Pretoria. He arrived in 1992, slap-bang between the end of Apartheid and the first democratic elections, a fervid period if ever there was one. Tukkies has always been a complicated place, and folks like Wiekus Kotze complicated it further—radical voices immediately caught up in the intricacies of the CODESA dialogue, and drawn to the optimism of the ANC. Kotze signed up for Mandela’s party, and so began a 16-year-long affair that was destined to end tragically.
“I was a big Zuma fan when he was down and out and dusted,” he tells me. (Kotze is a man, I should note, preternaturally attracted to leftist firebrands). “I went one day to a function where he was the keynote speaker. And I said to my comrades, ‘He’s gonna be president of South Africa. You watch.’ You get caught up quickly in his presence—he’s a people’s president. But obviously, it didn’t translate. He failed on every one of his promises, but especially on the ANC youth league.”
Kotze believes that Julius Malema was thoroughly boned by the National Executive Committee when he was kicked out of the ANC Youth League in 2012, and he’s on record as opposing the decision at the time. “The ANC actually doesn’t make sense anymore, does it?” Kotze asks me, cocking his head, his eyes hardening. “At 102 years old, are they still relevant? I don’t think so. They won’t be in power in ten years, I don’t think. Two elections,” he says, holding up a representative number of boerewors-thick fingers, “and they’re gone.”
One of the important things the early Kotze stories failed to emphasise is the fact that he has two decades of experience as an on-the-ground political organiser, working in Gauteng’s maligned communities both as a township teacher and a political operative. He understands cadres and structures and how power moves through a party down to community activists, who are critical in mobilising voters. He’s spent years in the trenches in Ekurhuleni politics, but eventually got chewed up by the rats. As if sent from the heavens, Mamphela Ramphele’s nascent Agang got in touch.
“It took a lot of thinking, a lot of introspection,” he says, “but eventually I thought I’m going to throw my forces behind them.” He dug Ramphele’s bona fides, and she talked a good game. But the experience went south from the get-go.
“If you don’t do things her way, you’re fired, finish and klaar,” Kotze tells me. “In building a party from the grassroots, you need smart politics. If you build structures without power, the whole house comes down. She did not want to decentralise power, even though we told her it would end in a train smash. She’s a dictator for me. She has absolutely no respect for the next person’s opinion.”
In describing Agang, Kotze conjures up one of the more extreme political vanity projects in the course of human history. Ramphele, in his telling, comes off as an asshole in the Shakespearean sense of the term, although there are no discernable skills to go along with the tragic flaws. “She was the worst party leader alive,” says the man who has worked for both Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma. “The money was spent on paying the salaries of useless people. I told her, this is not a business; it’s politics. In politics, you consult.”
It wasn’t long before Kotze received his suspension notice via SMS, and minutes later, phone calls started coming in from comrades who’d moved over to Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Front. He went to a rally, and that was that. “On every single point, I agree with how they’re going to do it,” he says.
It’s been a rollercoaster ride; he’s become a meme; the good people of South Africa send him death threats on very social media site created by man. “You must see at the EFF rallies,” he says. “People went nuts if they see me. My following is quite huge. Seems like I’m winning South African Idols.”
In a sense, he is.
“Look,” he says, “we have to change this country in a proper legislative way. Without people taking things for themselves. We are five minutes from an Arab Spring,” and now, five thick fingers are raised. “Five minutes. And people have died. People ask for water, and what they get is killed. So it’s become now violent.”
Certainly. But how is Julius Malema helping, besides staging the usual acts of political theatre at which he is so adept? Isn’t he stoking the discontent and unrest?
Kotze offers a vinegary smile. “Better for him to speak about it—the truth! Better that, than keeping quiet about it. And give the people an alternative.”
The alternative being a 32-year-old tax-evading tenderpreneur with more ex-cons in his iPhone 5S contacts list than a mafia lawyer?
“If you look at what happened with Malema and corruption charges,” he says, “the timing for me is very funny. Even the prosecution authority is confused on how to charge him. Their plan was to put this boy in prison before the elections. And they’ve failed.”
Okay, but won’t the last laugh be on you, when your head appears on a pike as a prelude to the genocide of South Africa’s whites? I mean, isn’t this literally written into the EFF narrative, as per Andile Mngxitima, the sharp end of EFF’s intellectual spear—a Black Consciousness radical who acknowledges the “impossibility of reconciliation”?
“You must know that when Andile talks,” says Kotze, “it comes from deep psychological scars. People are struggling to buy a loaf of bread in this country, and you’re crying about getting killed on farms?” he asks of his imaginary kinfolk. Kotze has not seen any attempt in the mainstream Afrikaans community to deal with the wrongs of the past. “You see, they have to admit that it was wrong. When they do that, then they can come to the party, and say, ‘What can we do to help resolve the problem?’” If that doesn’t happen, says Kotze, and the discourse continues as it has, he’s willing to empathise with his more radical comrades. “Even me, I’d say chop their damn heads off.”
Time to shake the magic eight-ball, and get a prediction. The way Kotze sees it, 2014 is the hinge on which the future of the country swings. The ANC will drop below 55 percent. The DA will pick up votes; EFF will have an impressive—perhaps even shocking—showing. In Gauteng, Malema and Company will be kingmakers, and the ANC will have to crawl over, tail between legs, in order to form a governing coalition. “That’s politics,” he tells me. “No one is friends forever, and no one is enemies forever.”
I point over to Shiedre, a mixed race child who is the physical embodiment of reconciliation, if you’ll permit me to get as Disneyfied as the Mickey cartoon she’s watching. What about her in all this?
Kotze takes a long moment to answer. “In every generation, there has to be a group of people standing up for what’s right. I’m living nicely. I don’t have to do this rubbish. But I do it for her, for my kids.”
And so Wiekus Kotze will go to war for the EFF. But if the scowling neighbours who offer a hard stare as we walk back to my car are any indication, it’s going be a rough ride. Funny thing about winning Idols. Not everyone ends up a lifelong fan. DM
Photo: Wiekus Kotze – a screen-grab from an SABC programme.
"Man is by nature a political animal" ~ Aristotle