HANNIBAL ELECTOR: Julius Malema & The Rally That Rocked
- Richard Poplak
- South Africa
- 04 May 2014 (South Africa)
Pity the fools stuck in the ANC’s Siyanqoba rally, dancing to the same old songs and listening to the same old speeches. In Pretoria’s Atteridgeville, Julius Malema threw a party to end all parties. It was an EFF-ing blast, and it should serve as a reminder to the country: Juju is going nowhere, and he’ll be making kings, if not wearing the crown himself, for many, many years to come. By RICHARD POPLAK.
Let’s see if we can stop time for a moment and grab some close-ups:
Up above, a chopper circling in a flawless autumn sky. A sign is raised on the concrete balcony of the Lucas Masterpieces Moripe Stadium that reads: Diepkloof Ward 125. A wooden coffin is borne aloft by ten dancing Fighters, and inside an effigy of Jacob Zuma. A butternut skewered on a long stick—another representation of the President. (His head is said to resemble this tasty vegetable, which has turned out to be something of a boon for the nation’s cartoonists). A young woman stuffed into EFF coveralls sits on the back of a Triumph Daytona sport bike, staring out at 28,000 red berets. Five large men wearing shades—always with the shades—lean against a late-model Range Rover, smoking cigarettes, looking like extras from a large-budget HBO series depicting a liberation movement in an unnamed African country, right before all the white folks are hacked to death and dumped in a pit.
The EFF have arrived on the scene.
But that’s a cliché, and an unfair one—they are the damn scene. Almost all of the excitement (as opposed to the bitterness, disappointment, boredom, outright despair) generated by this election has belonged to Julius Malema and his Fighters. If the ANC’s closing Siyanqoba rally was enormous and dull, the EFF’s rally is medium-sized and cool. If the DA’s two weekend productions were slick and empty, the EFF’s is pumped up and loony. This is politics on steroids, politics as pageantry, politics as performance art.
“We feel inspired, ready and confident,” EFF communications commissar Mbuyiseni Ndlozi tells me as we find a spot away from the noise to chat. Ndlozi is a small young man with a revolutionary goatee and a singing voice that is Boyz II Men jaw-dropping. It fades a little in the low notes, but this is a minor quibble—Ndlozi is a world-class entertainer, a first class MC, and an ice-cold revolutionary. When he looks you in the eye, he’s sizing you up for the frontlines of battle, or the gallows, with no in-betweens.
I’ll leave it to you to guess where I’d land.
Both Ndlozi and Alexandra ward organizer Kim Heller tell me that numerous busses have been delayed by the traffic, and they’re waiting for about thirty or so to arrive, even though the 28,000-seat concrete behemoth of a stadium appears to be near capacity. “We can always have more,” says Ndlozi, as if fire and safety regulations will become meaningless in an EFF-run South Africa. Thirty thousand crushed souls are, after all, but a small price to pay for Revolution. As we finish up our conversation, a painted portrait of Julius in the aspect of Mao is paraded by, chased by about 400 photographers, in turn chased by 400 red berets.
Photo: An Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) supporter carries a painting of party leader Julius Malema in Atteridgeville, Pretoria, South Africa, 04 May 2014, during the EFF party's final pre-election rally. South Africa is to hold its 5th general election since the end of Apartheid on 07 May 2014. EPA/STR
“You see that?” asks Andile Mngxitama, the party’s Ideologue in Chief. “That’s Mao-lema.” I laugh. Mngxitama doesn’t. I shift nervously on my feet. “Mao-lema is the symbolic concentration of Julius’s new project,” he says. “The biggest mistake the left has made is to be terrified of the Stalinist revolutionary concept. A revolution without ideology turns on itself. We saw that in Egypt. You need a unifying symbol. A unifying leader who serves to bridge the concept and the people. But the left is terrified of this. Capitalism has its symbols, just look at Coca-Cola”.
So can we expect a cult of personality built up around Mao-lema?
“I don’t think so,” says Mngxitama. “Look, I’m not a politician. The foundations of this party are deep. The movement is deep. If the EFF goes to parliament and we pause, we’re fucked. We have to harness this energy after May 7. We’re not a political party. We’re a revolutionary movement. Expect some disruptions, my friend. Expect trouble. We must not fear leadership, but pursue a politics that holds leaders accountable. Julius is our best gift.”
Is he really though?
Mngxitama looks me in the eye. “My friend, in 1994, I did not celebrate, I did not cheer. I knew it was a sellout. I have gone through about 20 years of depression. This is my 1994. My moment is this one.” And Mngxitama waves his hand toward the stands of the stadium, thousands upon thousands dancing in unison.
Photo: Richard Poplak
It’s now afternoon, and Gauteng Premier hopeful, Dali Mpofu has finally arrived. He gets the crowd riled up, hopping about in his EFF overalls, beret, and red designer specs. He can move for a big man, and he’s sadly not the only zillionaire lawyer who likes to play at being a workingman on the weekend. “This is a revolution, this movement,” he says, clapping his hands over his head. And then, predictably, “Viva, Julius Malema, viva!”
But now, ladies and gentlemen, I must ask you to brace yourself for the single best entrance by a politician in the history of South African democracy.
The security gates swing open, and a line is formed by Fighters in white golf shirts and men in ersatz military uniforms. A Mercedes sedan zooms into the stadium, and then a Mercedes Viano van, followed by about thirty bikers on screaming hogs and sport bikes, red-lining their engines to a slaughtered-pig squeal of mechanical agony. Malema hops out of the van, looking like a Teletubbie in his EFF onesie, and is immediately surrounded by bodyguards and photographers. He walks the length of the oval running track, waving to the screaming Fighters in the crowd, who rear up in the stands and roar as he passes by. The high pitch of the bikes battles with the music and the vuvuzelas and the yelling. The exhaust fumes bathe the whole scene a sort of messianic half-light.
This is the Beatles in America. This is Thriller-era Michael Jackson. Somehow, the big woman on the back of the Triumph is poised enough to check her phone through all of this mayhem. “Juju”, yell the Fighters. And Juju stares back at them as if they’ve always been there.
Photo: Richard Poplak
When we make it back to the stage, Ndlozi leads us in singing Nkosi Sikelel’—“not the national anthem,” he reminds us, jettisoning the hoary Mandela-isms “but Nkosi.” Then little kids dance around on stage in t-shirts that read, “I’m jealous of me.” Dali reads from his regular playbook—“Down with the regime of Buffalo-man Ramaphosa, down!” and “We have answered the call of Julius Malema. This is not a Mickey Mouse organisation. It is an idea whose time has come! Don’t be told that any organisation liberated you. The people of South Africa liberated themselves.”
A cardboard e-toll gantry is then ripped by men in fluorescent vests. The singer Busi asks, between breathless verses of an awful song, “Who wouldn’t love a party that guarantees you jobs?” Juju is dancing his rhythmic non-dance, shuffling around on stage like it’s a night club, except for the fact that its daytime, and there’s no bottles of Johnny Walker Blue Label being passed around. That I can see.
And while Jacob Zuma has just cleared a stadium of 100,000 people with his oratory, Malema is about to rip it up, throw it down, own it all.
“Remember,” he says, in a voice that is a mixture of cigar smoke, dark Lindt chocolate, and raw steel, “that we were officially launched in October in Marikana. We went from Nkandla to Mitchells’ Plain to everywhere in South Africa. This is a festival of the poor of the poorest. We want to thank you for being brave. We want to thank you for saying no to the status quo.”
He has the crowd howling in laughter over the course of an hour-plus-long speech. He skewers Zuma. He skewers Zille. “London must know that we’re not scared of the queen. Therefore, we shall not report to London. We will report to the people. The people of South Africa will decide how business is conducted in South Africa. We are taking everything.”
Juju goes strolls leisurely through the EFF manifesto, deriding those who call their policies ludicrous, even as he gives away bigger houses, free education, larger child grants, land, mines, and banks, all the while taking away credit cards, cars and houses from politicians. “We pay you a salary,” he reminds parliamentarians, “buy your own cars.” He lays out the manifold differences between his party and the ANC/DA duopoly. “Where will the moneys come from? Nationalisation. And the second moneys will come from politicians.” No more middle men. No more botched tenders. No more houses without a breadwinner earning less than R4500 a month—a veritable fortune for most of those in the stands.
Mao-lema raises his fist in the air and says, “They said that we are a joke, but now none of them will sleep without mentioning the EFF. The future looks bright. The future looks bright.”
Photo: Richard Poplak
Indeed, on stage, the future is so bright that the EFF commissars stare out at their people behind their shades, lounging back in their Big Man love seats. There is, it must be said, a tinge of Mobutu Sese Seko about the proceedings; if Juju hurled a bottle of fake blood into the crowd, ala Mengistu during the Red Terror, I’d remain unsurprised. After a while, the enormous sunglasses start to tell their own story, and one doesn’t need to be a psychologist to parse their meaning: these people are not what they say they are. Sure, if this is a revolutionary movement—and one that manages to stay untamed by parliament and power—then it will not be pleasant for many in the country, and that’s fair, because the pain will eventually need to be shared. But the policies that Julius Malema is promising the crowd have never, ever worked before, and there is nothing to suggest that this bunch will render them workable. Because none of them have actually done anything.
There’s a bit too much noise. A bit too much red. A bit too much bling. We know how this HBO series ends.
“Victory is certain,” continues Juju. “No one will defeat EFF. Let us deliver victory on the 7th of May.” But whatever happens, Malema has already won. Six months ago this party was a punch line.
Now, it’s the only party that can throw a party.
Minutes later, Malema is back in his van, breathing deeply, wiped. The bikes roar to life. The security converges around the vehicle And the revolution sweeps off, into the future. DM
Main photo: An EFF supporter climbs on top of the peremiter fence of the Lucas "Masterpieces" Moripe stadium in Atteridgeville, Pretoria as party leader Julius Malema greets the thousands in the stadium. (Karabo Ngoebe/Sapa)