South Africa

TRAINSPOTTER: Julius Malema vs the Shuffleupagus

By Richard Poplak 18 October 2017

The thing about Economic Freedom Fighter press conferences: the main course is ChesaNyama. The dessert is haute cuisine. By RICHARD POPLAK.

Julius Malema may be a political savant, but his primary art form is much simpler and much, much older: he’s a gossip. He’d probably be the last to agree with this comparison, but he’s our great purveyor of political intsomi – storytelling. An Oom Schalk Lourens who works the halls of power, rather than the empty expanses of the North West.

Mostly what this means is that the substance of his press conferences – which is to say, the press conference part of the press conference – is filled with the usual banalities. And yet, on a very, very busy Monday, filled with a near impossible pitch of political cacophony, Malema still managed to pull a crowd for his presser.

The main theme: The country is fucked.

Yeah, thanks. We’d picked that up.

As it happens, Malema admitted that he’d called the press conference to inform us that a Cabinet shuffle was looming. Sadly for him, the shuffle was announced two hours before we gathered at EFF HQ in Braamfontein at noon. (We need not go over the specifics of the reshuffle here, except to say that idiots now reign supreme.)

David Mahlobo as Energy Minister? The dude dreams in Russian.

Malema read his actual press release in a dead monotone, and reserved much of it to crap on Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba. He was, in fact, unrelenting on this point: “Gigaba is personally responsible for the collapse of state-owned enterprises”, he droned. “He is the architect of State Capture.”

That’s quite a statement, but Malema press conference are often studded with astonishing accuracies. He’s blathered to the press in these forums for four years, and his ANC intelligence is, frankly, second to none. There are two possible reasons for that.

A) He’s a “keep your enemies close” type fellow.

B) The EFF are still the ANC, so why wouldn’t he know this stuff?

I’d argue that both are true.

As far as Malema is concerned, the Svengali behind all our troubles is Malusi Gigaba, even if the Wizard behind the curtain is the indomitable uBaba. And it was only going to get worse.

The capture of the National Treasury also includes attempts to redirect government workers’ pensions under the management of the [Public Investment Corporation] into bailing out failing state-owned companies,” Malema said.

The SABC was still captured, he insisted. He welcomed the recent Supreme Court of Appeals ruling against “the criminal suspect Jacob Zuma”. It was all a gong show not worth the effort of raising one’s voice about. He even resorted to paraphrasing Yeats via Chinua Achebe – “The centre is not holding, things are falling apart.”

Business as usual.

But no one comes to an EFF press conference for the main course. Question period is where Malema generally shines, and where he reveals himself as a true African artist, a storyteller who weaves the phantasmagorical into the banal – and all of it ends up being true.

There was literally no one in the country that Malema failed to crap on. He unleashed on Maritzburg College, the high-end toff school that tried to circumscribe the free speech of three EFF-loving students. He was unrelenting regarding ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe, who he clearly feels is a lower life-form worthy only of contempt.

Anyone who listens to Gwede is bound to fail,” he said. His contention is that Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa’s ANC presidential campaign is being derailed by the crappy advice he’s receiving from Gwede. “Gwede is leading him” – and here, Malema punched a fist into a palm with a wet splat – “straight into failure.” Malema’s contention is that to win an ANC electoral conference, a candidate requires the backing of one solid province. Premier David Mabuza of Mpumalanga had one of those, and was prepared to hand it over to anyone willing to make him Deputy President. But Gwede loathes David Mabuza, and was therefore leading Ramaphosa away from him.

Ramaphosa, thusly, was screwed.

In rides the dark horse: the ANC Treasurer General Zweli Mkhize.

It was also Malema’s impression that David Mahlobo, that morning promoted to Minister of Energy, had in fact retained his old position as Minister of State Security. (Mahlobo appeared to be winning the State Capture sweepstakes over a whole load of clever folk, which doesn’t say much about the talent in the ANC.) “He is now minister of both,” insisted Malema. “Bongani [Thomas Bongo], the new Minister of State Security, is a nobody. He’s just a little boy. Bongani admires Mahlobo. Mahlobo looks after Bongani.”

And so it went, a grim little coda to a grim little day. The Shuffleupagus was, of course, the winner – he always is. But Malema dropped a clue here and a clue there – he is still very much of the ANC, and inside the ANC, even if he isn’t ANC. It pays to listen to him. After all, as the pioneering American journalist Walter Winchell once noted, “Today’s gossip is tomorrow’s headline.” DM

Photo: Julius Malema (C), leader of South African opposition party Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), laughs during a question and answer session with president Jacob Zuma (not pictured) in Parliament, Cape Town, South Africa, 31 August 2017. EPA-EFE/NIC BOTHMA

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