Defend Truth


Can we talk about the endless Julius Malema coverage?

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.

You there. Yes you, with your endless Julius Malema stories. We need to talk. ANC Youth League, you can join the huddle as well. 

Am I the only person who feels that we’ve reached the end of this chapter of Julius Malema’s life? I gladly admit that I have followed the former ANC Youth League president’s exploits very closely – especially when he decided to butt heads with ANC president Jacob Zuma. It was all macabrely interesting, especially since the charismatic (and fantastically funny) firebrand was the public face of a scary faction in the ANC: the nationalists, tenderpreneurs and troubled black miners who wanted the state to bail them out via a nationalisation policy. 

That was then. Today, Malema is out of the ANC. He is no longer the president of the ANCYL (no matter what Ronald Lamola or Kenetswe Mosenogi say) and should be tending to his cattle and looking after his grandmother in Limpopo, away from the public eye. He has no political capital left, and has no say in the goings-on of the ANC.

So why, I ask with tears in my eyes, is he still being covered incessantly by some newspapers and radio stations? I really hate to sound like our Chief Political Whiner, Blade Nzimande, but I really don’t see the value in endlessly giving Malema publicity, especially at the expense of more alarming stories that are genuinely in the public interest.

Have you (the media who follow Malema around) failed to inform your audience that he is no longer capable of leading angry crowds to drink milkshakes in Fourways Estates or raid Dainfern fridges for Parmesan cheese? Or does it suit you to pretend he still matters? 

We have bigger problems – in Limpopo, an entire province of publicly educated high school children face the grim prospect of not passing and therefore repeating yet another year in the clutches of basic education minister Angie Motshekga. In Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal and North West, whistleblowers from within the ANC are being assassinated like their last gasp will release lottery winning numbers. 

Yet, some papers insist on trying to reanimate Malema’s political corpse every week. Nobody cares what the beleaguered young man said in the Free State a few weeks ago, or why someone hit him with a bottle of Moët at a wedding. 

So why is Malema still newsworthy? Or, to be more precise, why do we pretend like he still matters?

I’m tempted to believe that some journalists believe that Malema actually spearheaded an anti-Zuma movement within the ANC – and still leads it even though he is outside the ANC. It is true that a lot of ANC members are so unhappy with Zuma’s leadership that they are actively mobilising against him. And yes, the ANCYL under Malema has long disliked Zuma – to the point where the former ANCYL president was one of the most vocal leaders within the ANC to voice their opposition to the ANC president. But are we really to believe that the anti-Zuma faction’s plans died with Malema? I’m sorry, but I find that preposterous. Who was Malema six years ago that he should be regarded as so important today? 

I do recognise a certain nostalgia in the part of the ANCYL. Ronald Lamola was not elected to be a replacement to Malema, and he is lost without him. In fact, the Youth League’s political programme collapsed as soon as Malema was tossed out of the party. Not a single one of the league’s political programmes got any airtime at the ANC’s policy conference. The plan to get the national executive committee to review Malema’s expulsion is dead in the water. Now it appears there was no contingency plan for an ANCYL without Malema. Why would the league make such a mistake? Did its members – all of them – seriously believe Malema’s bluster that suggested he was more powerful than the president of the party?

Right now, it is more dangerous for the ANCYL to continue to pretend Malema is still the president of the league because it is in direct defiance of the party directive that pronounced his association with the party as over – and a handy reason for any top leader of the ANC to squash the league whenever they want. But then, it is a sign of the great disdain that Zuma and the secretary-general, Gwede Mantashe, have of Lamola and his kitchen cabinet – they can’t even be bothered to enforce the NEC disciplinary subcommittee’s ruling against the ANCYL.

In a way, I see why the reanimation of Malema’s political corpse is happening – Lamola is utterly pathetic as ANCYL leader, both as a political force and a media darling. In a word, he’s neither. But in the greater scheme of things, the media would serve the country better by not reporting on Malema for as long as he remains unimportant. For the first time since 2008, the maxim that says “ignore Malema and he will go away” is true. DM

Read more:

  • Dear Cde Julius Sello Malema in News24 

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