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Flip-Flopper-in-Chief — Malema’s bouncing (in)tolerance of homophobia spotlights political opportunism

Flip-Flopper-in-Chief — Malema’s bouncing (in)tolerance of homophobia spotlights political opportunism
Professor Patrick Lumumba (right) and EFF leader Julius Malema during the party’s 10th-anniversary public lecture on 24 July 2023 at UCT’s Sarah Baartman Hall. (Photo: Gallo Images / ER Lombard)

As the EFF celebrates its tenth birthday, the party has tried hard to define itself in a particular way and for a particular constituency. However, its hosting of a homophobe to deliver its 10th-anniversary lecture provides its critics with evidence that it flip-flops on major moral issues. This may be an important stumbling block in the party’s efforts to prove to a properly defined constituency that it stands for a particular policy and has moral consistency.

On Monday evening, the EFF hosted Kenyan academic Professor Patrick Lumumba at UCT to deliver its 10th-anniversary lecture.

Lumumba is an expert on pan-Africanism, one of the central themes of the EFF’s identity. But he also holds homophobic views, and told a Kenyan television station that he believes gay and lesbian people can be “cured”. There is no factual or scientific basis for his views, which are grounded only in prejudice.

He has also voiced his support for the Ugandan government’s decision to pass legislation that would see people being jailed for homosexual acts and even facing the death penalty for the made-up offence of “aggravated homosexuality”.

In April, Julius Malema led an EFF protest outside the Ugandan High Commission against the very same bill.

And yet, Malema and his party were happy not just to allow a homophobe to speak, but to provide him with the platform to speak.

Monday evening’s event, at a university, occurred during a heated debate at many institutions of learning and social media platforms around the world about who should be allowed to speak and who should be “de-platformed”. 

UCT itself has a history of this. Its former vice-chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng had to apologise for taking part in a seminar in which a medical doctor said that being “intersex is a condition that is potentially life-threatening”.

Also, like many other universities, higher education institutions, and organisations in general, many at UCT would be offended that their institution was hosting Lumumba for the EFF’s anniversary lecture. Some may feel that hosting a homophobe is wrong or that hosting anyone who consistently displays prejudice is immoral.

For Malema, there are several issues that his political opponents will now raise.

The first is that he is, once again, flip-flopping on an important issue.

He has a long history of this. He opposed former president Jacob Zuma, then supported him (and appointed the spokesperson of Zuma’s foundation, Mzwanele Manyi, as an EFF MP). He claimed in 2017 that Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe was a “rotten potato”, and then proposed him for the position of Chief Justice.

Also, as this timeline from News24 makes clear, the EFF first supported the appointment of Busisiwe Mkhwebane as Public Protector, then called her a “Gupta puppet”, then demanded her resignation (while claiming she was related to the “Gupta Minister of State Security”), then supported her court action against Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, and then said that they would not allow her to be removed “without a fight”.

It’s about prejudice and homophobia

However, this latest flip-flop is different. It is not about the shifting seas of politics and Malema’s position reflecting changing strategic choices.

Rather, it is about prejudice and homophobia.

In the past, Malema has been at his most powerful when fighting anti-black racism. This is because he has been morally correct, and had an immoral enemy to fight, which was basing its arguments entirely on prejudice and not on fact.

This allowed Malema to claim he is the only SA politician defending black people from white racism, a powerful message in a society still defined by racialised inequality.

But this time, he is on the immoral side of the argument. He has given a platform to a prejudiced person. Some may even ask if homophobia and racism are not different elements of the same thing, as both define another human being as less than a person.

All of this is for no apparent immediate political benefit.

While the EFF defended its right to hold the event, it gave no explanation why Lumumba was chosen and why it was so important for him to speak.

What is clear is that Lumumba was invited because of his study of pan-Africanism.

Malema and the EFF have, sometimes at great political cost, preached the value of pan-Africanism in our society during a time of rising xenophobia against black African people from other countries. As he put it last year, “I don’t want to be a president of people who hate black people. I want to be a president of black people who love themselves and other black people.”

Other politicians, keen to race to the bottom for votes, have taken another stance, fanning the flames of xenophobia.

However, while his stance on migration may have cost Malema, voters respect a politician who takes a stand on an issue despite suffering a political cost. In the longer run, sticking to moral positions can earn a politician respect and even legitimacy.

However, Malema has tried to define his version of pan-Africanism. As any politician knows, if you can define the argument or the term, you then determine the ground on which ideological battles are fought.

But, by having a self-proclaimed pan-Africanist delivering this lecture, Malema may now have opened the door to people who oppose this definition of pan-Africanism.

As the LGBTQI+ activist group Iranti’s Nolwazi Tusini put it on SAfm on Tuesday morning: “A pan-Africanism that deliberately and violently excludes a huge sector of the African population is a farce and a lie. There cannot be a conversation about a united Africa and a pan-African conversation fundamentally led by a person who agrees that African people must die because of who they are. That cannot be the scholar that we must be looking to for new ideas about Africa’s future.”

This suggests that Malema’s version of pan-Africanism, as espoused by Lumumba, is going to be contested. And less prejudiced definitions of pan-Africanism are likely to hold sway.

It is still not clear why the EFF decided the event must go ahead. There would have been virtually no political cost to the party had it simply cancelled Lumumba and said it was because of his homophobic views. This could have won the party some respect in certain constituencies.

Absent any explanation, some will speculate that this was a decision driven by ego, that Malema felt it would be a humiliation to reverse course, or perhaps the EFF can never be seen as having made a mistake.

What is clear is that the EFF was happy to contradict itself, and while its leaders may think that there is no cost to this, voters are likely to believe otherwise. Questions will be asked about whether the party knows what it actually stands for, whether it can be trusted on any moral stance it takes, and whether it has a properly defined and consistent constituency.

Perhaps the biggest question for the EFF is this: If it is prepared to first march against homophobia and then welcome a homophobe, what stops it from doing the same on other issues and other prejudices? DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Graeme Keshwar says:

    Well put Stephen. The EFF is desperately trying to stay relevant 10 years on.

  • Heinrich Holt says:

    I am just afraid that the average voter base just do not think with this deep insight when casting their votes. That is why the ANC and the EFF will still attract many votes. Populism will trump insight and thoughtfullness. It happens in Africa and it happens in the USA.

    • Grumpy Old Man says:

      Agreed Heinrich; Stephen assumes that the EFF constituency votes applying the same criteria he / we might use when casting our ballot. Analysis of what appeals most to the average EFF supporter suggests otherwise. Mr Malema understands very well the psyche of his support base & this will in no way damage him at the polls

      • Shirley Gobey says:

        Stephen is preaching to the converted. This message need to get out there to his constituents who don’t have access to Daily Maverick.

  • Beyond Fedup says:

    One is dealing with a wannabee president, but one so severely lacking and inadequate in just about everything commendable and positive. Seems to meet the exact criteria in SA to be a president! There are no morals, ethics, integrity, honesty or even common decency – just pure racist and fascist bullying. A crass opportunist who will say one thing today and the exact opposite the next day as long as he believes it will advance his agenda. Hopefully those who are inclined to believe and support him will start seeing who and what he and his vile party really are.

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    So, yes, EFF is tractor mouthed, duplicitous and brain-dead, like its leader. But Stephen, please, there are many more relevant issues, principled leaders and strategic thinkers to do a piece about. What about Songeza Zibi – nice guy, but where are his politics taking us?

  • Denise Smit says:

    It shows desperation for any vote, anti or pro anything. The only consistency is radical anti white stance. D S

  • Julian Lea says:

    Spot on. And well written.

  • Peter Smith says:

    “However, while his stance on migration may have cost Malema, voters respect a politician who takes a stand on an issue despite suffering a political cost.”

    except he flipflops on PanAfricanism too…
    Search on this site for the article 2022-01-19-bitter-taste-malema-hops-onto-anti-foreigner-band-wagon

    • Uma Kabanye says:

      Exactly, Peter. This may have been the occasion when squads of EFF bullies forced shopkeepers in various malls to produce ID’s for their employees.

  • Rae Earl says:

    Black politicians and their parties who are in opposition to the EFF should be using Stephen Grootes’ viewpoints on Malema as pre-election ammunition in their manifestos. DM, News 24, and like minded publications are not read by rural blacks and by precious few suburban blacks. As the second biggest opposition party, the DA should be openly questioning the EFF’s flip-flopping and using it as a means to get Stephen’s message out to black voters who have little or no access to print or electronic media.

  • Hilary Morris says:

    Stephen is over-estimating the capacity of the EFF voters to recognise or indeed care about Malema’s flip-flopping. His one constant is to hate anything white, and that is enough for the masses of young and unemployed.

  • steu.ramasa says:

    Only the most intellectually challenged will believe what comes out of this hopeless politician’s mouth. Unfortunately there are a lot of those around, and he knows it. He will never lose any votes by underestimating the intelligence of his supporters

  • Peter Dexter says:

    I believe Julius targets those who are attracted by the current rhetoric. The majority of his followers don’t think things through. If they did, they would see the flip flopping and, more importantly, realise his economic policies are fatally flawed.

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