South Africa


In desperate gasp for relevance, Malema threatens to introduce his ‘fighters’ to the already chaotic situation

Leader of the EFF, Julius Malema. (Photo by Gallo Images / Alet Pretorius)

It’s not clear why Malema didn’t step in to offer his leadership to tell the looters to stop. Possibly he could score more points by tweeting — and there is also the risk of the looters not listening to him should he address them directly. 

One of Julius Malema’s favourite sayings in the latter part of his ANC Youth League presidency was that “nature abhors a vacuum”. Another was how the people from Alexandra would move through Sandton en route to the Union Buildings and “just open the fridge and get the cheese”. In the same speech, delivered exactly a decade ago during the youth league’s last proper conference in June 2011, he warned that this would be part of a “leaderless revolution” that would unseat “white monopoly capital”.

Fast forward to Monday, the third day of out-of-control looting in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng after the imprisonment of former president Jacob Zuma, and Malema was on Twitter with some Leadership 101 lessons for his former ANC elders. He tweeted that it was wrong to “start with” the police and the South African National Defence Force as the first port of call for calming the rioters.

“The question should be: Where are the leaders to speak to their people? Are they scared of their people? And if the answer is yes, the next question should be: why are the[y] leaders in the first place?” 

Seeing that Zuma is in jail and Twitterless, this is most likely directed at President Cyril Ramaphosa. Earlier in the day, Malema tweeted with fury after it emerged that the army would be deployed after all.

“No soldiers on our streets! Otherwise, we are joining. All fighters must be ready … they won’t kill us all. We need a political solution to a political problem, not soldiers. #NoToSoldiers”. 

It’s not clear why Malema didn’t step in to offer his leadership to tell the looters to stop. Possibly he could score more points by tweeting — and there is also the risk of the looters not listening to him should he address them directly. 

At a press conference on Monday, ANC Deputy Secretary-General Jessie Duarte half acknowledged that ANC faction fighting sparked the riots, but also admitted that this was overlaid by tribal undertones and criminal elements, and increasingly out of the party’s control. 

Duarte herself didn’t want to comment too much about the possibility of Malema getting involved in directing the looters too, other than saying these acts should be reported to the police. Possibly this was the leaderless revolution Malema had prophesied years before.

EFF leader Julius Malema tweeted that it was wrong to ‘start with’ the police and the South African National Defence Force as the first port of call for calming the rioters. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

What was clear on Monday night after Ramaphosa’s sombre-faced televised address to the nation, however, was that, if anyone can coax the marauding mobs to leave the malls and go back to their lives as mostly obedient, law-abiding citizens, it won’t be the president. Even as he spoke, groups of people were finding new places to loot.

Ramaphosa also announced he would be meeting opposition parties to try to rope them in to find ways to quell the violence. 

Covid-19 lockdown regulations haven’t presented Malema with too many opportunities to campaign with the crowded rallies he loves to do, so there’s his opportunity to appearing to be on the side of ‘the people’.

“It in part arises out of a leadership vacuum,” says political commentator and broadcaster Lukhona Mnguni. “Remember how he intervened in Marikana when not a single leader could go to Marikana?”

Ramaphosa has not set foot in the troubled North West mining town and even Zuma avoided it for a while after police shot and killed more than 30 protesting miners there in 2012. It was the worst government-sponsored atrocity in democratic South Africa.

“That was a fermentation of that space as a no-go zone for those not seen as being on the side of the people,” Mnguni said. Marikana was also where Malema officially launched the EFF formally as a political party in October 2013. 

Populist leaders could have their place in a situation South Africa finds itself in. “You do need popular and populist leaders to help you absorb the irrational and seemingly outrageous emotions and tempers and agitations of people,” Mnguni said. “They tend to listen more to those they feel they can identify with, those they feel they can defer to, because they understand their struggle and they have been champions of their struggle.”

He said part of what fuelled the protests was a feeling of alienation from the state, and anti-establishment sentiments. When triggered, these could quickly turn against establishments that didn’t supply jobs or pay wages, so that the poor cannot afford to buy the goods that they are selling or manufacturing. 

Mnguni said the only pushback Malema might encounter from his supporters would be if the army and police began to use force.

“People are ambivalent with the army on the ground, and they are scared to be caught in the crossfire,” he said. 

While Malema stands ready to find new relevance, it remains to be seen if his supporters will have the courage to follow. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Brian Cotter says:

    Malema’s town of Polokwane are saying no looting, we are not Zulu’s, not our fight. Taxi drivers are laying the law down. Some common sense being acted out there.

  • Stef Viljoen Viljoen says:

    Oh what a beautifully written article. Straight to the point, reading the situation perfectly, kicking butt on more than one side of the political divide, highliting the poor quality of leadership. Carien raises some very valid questions regarding the people that are considered leaders. Slim pickings indeed.

  • Kanu Sukha says:

    The only part of Mnguni’s philosophical take on the issue that is misleading is the latter (capitalised) part of ” … because they understand their struggle and THEY HAVE BEEN CHAMPIONS OF THEIR STRUGGLE.” What that fails to clarify or explain is the ‘champions’ interest in doing so … is to cement their personal access to power, for personal benefit – in most cases. Not because of any altruistic concerns. A typical example would be the recent ex-minister of health who must have sworn allegiance to the Hippocratic oath … and then swallowed the hypocracy pill .

  • Kanu Sukha says:

    The one reason Juju cannot and will not call on people to stop the looting … is because he has personally (with the help of colleagues) been involved in looting in the VBS scandal ! Even the looters of mattresses as seen on TV (apparently for JZ to sleep more comfortably in prison) would know the hypocrisy of such a call ! The looters seen on TV are not that stupid !

  • John Bestwick says:

    Bring it on Malema. We know you wont be in the front line. Why is he not charged with the Dudu twins and Manyi for insurrection and treason.

  • Alan Mitchell says:

    Does he command fighters ? Well is that not a force to be categorized as mercenary ? That should be enough to arrest him for treason ! The double speak that has kept him an inch away from serious trouble continues unabated. He too will eventually be held accountable for his actions, I hope !

  • Johan Buys says:

    I look forward to seeing Julius lead his fighters from the front, not his mansion in the leafy suburbs. Nice bright easy to spot red beret please.

  • Dr Know says:

    It has been 2 days, any sign of Juju’s red berated farters?

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