Defend Truth


It is difficult to trust Julius Malema


Ismail Lagardien is a writer, columnist and political economist with extensive exposure and experience in global political economic affairs. He was educated at the London School of Economics, and holds a PhD in International Political Economy.

One of Julius Malema’s more slippery manoeuvres is his tendency to make toxic, divisive and absurd statements, and then apologise. This can be explained either by a belief that forgiveness is easier to receive than permission, or it could be because Malema is expedient. Perhaps he should think before he speaks. This is, in general, a necessary trait – if you want to be taken seriously as a politician and a leader.

It is becoming clearer, almost daily, that Julius Malema cannot be trusted; not as a person, and not as a politician. Evidence shows that he flip-flops at will and with ease, that he makes statements and declarations with scant consideration for the truth, and that he breaks trust and confidences whenever it suits him. Also, there remains a dark cloud above the way he acquired wealth, with possible tax evasion and alleged corruption charges remaining somewhere in his not too distant future.

His own words prove his point: notably in his speech in Parliament last week, but also in the statements and claims he makes in general, and in some of his actions.

When Malema stepped off the podium on 16 February and made the statement that President Jacob Zuma was “not a legitimate president”, he may have scored a magnificent theatrical coup, but his claim was baseless. Whatever you may think of Zuma, he is, legally, the president of South Africa. Malema’s claims of illegitimacy are, therefore, baseless, and best suited for a barroom brawl – not in a legitimate and democratic parliament.

Facts without truth are simply lies

Malema also made three other claims in his speech for which he needs to provide firm evidence, if he is to secure his credibility, beyond that of being a purveyor of catchy slogans, phrases and delicious sound bites. His wanton and sometimes very dangerous sloganeering are, arguably, among the main reason why he gets so much coverage in the press.

In his speech to Parliament on 16 February, Malema said that the Premier of the Free State, Ace Magashule, was “the most corrupt premier in South Africa”; that “the Premier of Mpumalanga Province,” David Mabuza, was “the most corrupt Premier in South Africa” (which one is “the most corrupt” is not clear, and no evidence was provided) and that he played a “part in the disappearance of his opponents in his province and loots as he wishes”; and that “the Premier of North West,” Supra Mahumapelo was also corrupt, and “plays a part in the disappearance of opponents in his province and [was] not being held accountable”.

About Zuma, Malema said: “Under his watch, huge amounts of money from the police slush fund meant for fighting crime is disappearing. Under his watch, money meant for the secret services to warn the country of impending threats, is disappearing in huge volumes.”

We may say that all of this was simply political posturing, but as the leader of the most vocal opposition in Parliament, he should be held to a particularly high standard of truth and accountability. Stated as facts, as surely they were, Malema owes the country evidence to support his claims, or they can be dismissed as untrue or, at best, as frippery.

All of this, makes it very difficult to take Malema seriously, as a politician.

Begging forgiveness beats seeking permission

Trust is the most basic requirement among friends and colleagues. Evidence suggests that Malema cannot be trusted. Perhaps the biggest indicators of this were his disclosures, in last week’s speech, of confidential exchanges with his former comrades in the ANC.

“I led the charge on the removal of former president Mbeki after the meeting I had with President Zuma where he made it very clear to me that he is not prepared to work with Mbeki. This is despite the fact that the former president of the youth league, [Fikile] Mbalula called me from the mountain and encouraged me not to participate in that activity of removing Mbeki because it will cause a problem. That’s why I know that Mbalula has got capacity to see wrong things, he just needs to come around,” he said.

Not done with breaking confidences, Malema said: “When I was still friends with [Mbalula], he received a call from the Guptas, and they told him that he will be minister. That is when he was still the deputy minister of police.”

This is one of those instances where a statement is either true or false, but what is clear is that Malema was part of a group, the inner-circle of the ruling alliance, and had access to information and confidential discussions, and broke the implicit promise of trust.

Again, Malema should not be allowed to get away with this. But even more significant is the fact that he broke the trust and confidentiality that he had established with former friends and colleagues. His colleagues in the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) might take note of this. He could turn on them in a heartbeat.

One of Malema’s more slippery manoeuvres is his tendency to make toxic, divisive and absurd statements, and then apologise. Yes, it’s easier to ask for forgiveness that permission, but it’s also expedient: he will hurl insults and injurious comments (like calling a journalist a “bastard” and an “agent”, and ordering that security remove “this thing”, i.e. the journalist, from a building), and once he has had his satisfaction, or achieved the required effect, he simply fakes humility and apologises. How terribly endearing. Perhaps he should think, before he speaks. This is, in general, a necessary trait – if you want to be taken seriously as a politician and a leader.

In last week’s speech, Malema apologised to former President Mbeki for being part of those who removed him on the basis of lies, rumours and gossips spread by the sitting President. He also apologised to former president Nelson Mandela, “for allowing Mr Zuma to ruin his legacy and turning South Africa into a junk country”.

In July 2013, having previously said he would “eliminate any force” which blocked Zuma’s path to the presidency, vowing “to take up arms and kill for Zuma”, Malema apologised to South Africa “for having given you a president like president Zuma”.

In July 2011, he apologised to “all women”, particularly President Zuma’s rape accuser for his sexist remarks. “I am sorry, sorry and very sorry about that. And commit not to repeat the similar mistake again. Issues of women are sensitive, and once a person says ‘I’m offended’, it doesn’t matter whether you are right or not, you must have the capacity to say sorry.

On separate occasions Malema has also apologised to South African Revenue Service, to the mother of former President Mbeki, to Inkatha Freedom Party leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi. Most recently he has had to qualify his threats to journalists from the New Age and ANN7.

Malema’s biggest failures are convincing people that he is of sound character and integrity, that he is trustworthy, that he is, always truthful and that he knows the difference between statements of fact and bald assertions. A basic rule of thumb, in any conversation, is that when you make statements of fact, it is necessary to provide evidence to support your claims. More abstract or speculative statements are expected to, at least, hang together coherently. Malema gets away, much too often, by relying on his oratory skills, by making up catchy phrases (“Zupta” being the most recent), but he lacks the powers of persuasion, beyond appealing to the basest of emotions among the disaffected.

Between flip flopping on issues (like the removal of Mbeki), his breaking of confidences and violation of trust (like the Mbalula issues), and his habit to throw around crude accusations without providing evidence, or even logical coherence, it is hard to take Malema seriously as a political leader or as a person. DM


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