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Fellow media, please don't screw this one up

Defend Truth

Opinionista

Fellow media, please don’t screw this one up

Sipho Hlongwane is a writer and columnist for Daily Maverick. His other work interests also include motoring, music and technology, for which he has some awards. In a previous life, he drove forklift trucks, hosted radio shows, waited tables, and was once bitten by a large monitor lizard on his ankle. It hurt a lot. Arsenal Football Club is his only permanent obsession. He appears in these pages as a political correspondent.

I don’t know about you, but I see the noose around Julius Malema’s neck being tighter than ever before. He’s under enormous pressure and he’s making pretty fundamental mistakes that could cost him his political career. But he may still get out of this bind. Not by his own volition, mind you – but by the media screwing this one up.

I know I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: We have been here before. Julius Malema was under enormous pressure before. It looked like he was about to crumble, and then, he managed to sneak out. How, you ask? Well, the media played a leading role in that. We were his escape tunnel.

The first instance was when his finances and his underhanded dealings first came under scrutiny. We learnt, finally, where Malema’s inexplicable riches came from – he had a company which was winning very lucrative tenders in Limpopo, delivering vital services to impoverished communities. More importantly, that company was screwing up spectacularly. The provincial government itself admitted as much.

Then the whole “Shoot the Boer” thing happened. Small peanuts in the greater scheme of things, but it managed to assuage the nation’s need for schadenfreude for a while. We all got distracted (thank you very much, AfriForum).

In the meantime, Malema and the Youth League weaved a convincing and magnificent tale of how they were the final voice left in the country that spoke truth to power as far as the poor were concerned. It seemed true – until the media (bloody agents) managed to show that the Youth League was failing to deliver on that front too.

Then we had “closure of Twitter”. Off we were again. Distracted. Completely taken up by this fantastic tale woven by the Youth League about how they were going to close Twitter down because of a few accounts that were making fun of the self-important Youth League president.  In the meantime, Malema accumulated more unexplained wealth through unexplained connections. And the completely pointless AfriForum case reached its zenith, allowing Malema grand-standing before the nation in a courtroom. How much damage – right before the local elections – that single afternoon did to the true democrat’s case will probably never be fully understood.

And now, here we find ourselves again. Malema is on the ropes. The Youth League’s little speech about Botswana proved as much. They’ve gone into that one territory where the ANC will brook no criticism: its dealings with fellow SADC countries. Did you notice that? The ruling party was quite willing to tolerate the crèche saying things about Libya, but when they spoke about Botswana, where a national catastrophe the likes of Zimbabwe would have very serious repercussions for South Africa, they were very heavily slapped down. When Malema was disciplined by the ruling party, he had tried the exact same thing.
My analysis on Malema’s current situation leads me to one conclusion – it is currently the media that can let him off this hook too. As much as commentators have said Malema is not the media’s creation, they have helped him gain a national profile. And at key points, we have moved his story along, usually to his detriment. Now, thanks to the persistence of City Press we know Malema is involved in very murky business deals, a lot of them in direct contrast with his public political position and all of them disproving his spoken stance on poverty and black economic emancipation (make no mistake about this, should Malema’s economic policies pass on to Parliament, the people who will suffer most are poor blacks).

Now, more than ever before, the noose around Malema’s neck is very tight. I like to think of the ANC as a Rubik’s Cube – where one faction’s loss is another’s gain. Right now, the Youth League’s lack of rational patience (always a disadvantage with these youngsters) has given a big advantage to its enemies.
The danger I see is that sales of newspapers are spiking, due to the Malema allegations. That’s actually a bad thing. People who want Malema to go under for silly – and yes, racist – reasons are circling in. The vultures are smelling blood, now that the lions have made the fatal wound. I fear that someone somewhere might do something stupid and once again shift our attention to some unimportant aspect of Malema’s life.

It’s very simple. Malema has unexplained financial sources and the public has a right to know insofar as the allegations rest on his influence of government tenders. Right now, that is the public interest. Nothing else matters. The temptation for media will be to spin the story into something else, something more exciting. For the love of South Africa, don’t let it be so. Malema must finally get to the point where he explains the extent of his influence on government’s financial dealings. Anything less, no matter how tantalising, will be a cheap victory. Let’s not screw this up.

If we do, he will emerge far stronger and more energised than we imagined he could be. DM


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