Julius Malema’s violent rhetoric in his recent Al Jazeera interview scares me. It should scare all of us – not least of all the man himself, who can only make such a clarion call to arms because he’s never seen the consequences of war.
Julius Malema scares me. Not because he hates what white people represent. I hate the legacy of my skin colour, too. Julius Malema scares me because only a man who has seen no war can talk so glibly about it. Only a person who does not know the consequences of violence so easily calls to arms.
He scares me because he is being irresponsible by stoking the raging discontent that exists all around us and, once unleashed, he will not be able to direct or control it.
I’m not worried about the future of white people or some Zimbabwe-like land grabbing and racially-motivated violence breaking out. Some form of karmic vengeance is probably required to cleanse the blood from the hands of white dominance, but leadership that thinks that such rage can be controlled is naïve.
The logic of the EFF’s struggle was articulated by Julius Malema on an Al Jazeera broadcast on Sunday as:
There are some obvious problems with such statements, not the least of which is the idea that a majority government elected in openly democratic processes should be removed by force for not implementing an economic policy. Undemocratic practices are seldom the bedrock for an improved democracy, let alone meaningful equality. What is most concerning is the calls for violence to stop the implementation of an economic policy without providing much substance for what the alternative policy should look like, how violence can be used in service of such an alternative policy, and how responsible leadership will mitigate against the obvious pitfalls of such an agenda.
Violence makes few distinctions of victim. It is political grandstanding and a disrespect for the historical intellectualism of the left in Africa, to call for revolution, to paint oneself in revolutionary fervor and then to betray the needs of the people with notions that they will gain from misdirected rage.
South Africa was extremely lucky – a chance combination of good leadership, conducive external conditions and the prioritisation of domestic stability – to get through a significant change of political order in the 1990s without extreme levels of violence.
This was an anomaly for Africa. I was once privileged to escort senior military leadership from two African countries where liberation was secured in the blood of their people, to the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg. Looking at the wall of heroes whose names are recorded in our history as martyrs for the cause, one incredulous general asked me: “Is this all? Are these all the people that died in more than 50 years of struggle?”
Ever the political analyst, I answered that the main damage of apartheid was structural violence and that the state wielded its force with a sophisticated combination of state violence, political oppression and socio-economic disruption that contained the large-scale violence common in other African contexts.
The general then remarked that this was why South Africa has such high levels of violent crime; people had not yet had their bloodletting. He explained that during their long liberation war, there were single days that cost so many lives. I asked why then was his country still filled with violence, had the bloodletting yet not reached its purpose? His answer, practical and desolate: when you have seen too much violence, there becomes no other way to conduct politics.
That is what Malema needs to fear. That is what he needs to learn. Look for mentors and speak to the liberators of the past. They have weighed the call for arms against what can be achieved and have seen what the outcomes are. All too often those mobilised for violence are the ones who will suffer the most.
Just look around the war zones of Africa: the costs of war are not paid by the wealthy. There is no noble suffering to be achieved through directing the grievances of those unable to access the benefits of the system around them towards violence. The populations on whose backs privilege is maintained deserve better than that; why make the vulnerable more vulnerable under false pretenses?
The entire system for wealth accumulation needs to change. How we ascribe values in our political system needs to change. But the EFF is misplaced thinking that you can change the system by changing the colour of that system – is that not the lesson of 1994? Capitalism is the same problematic thing. It really doesn’t matter if it is black, white, American, Chinese, Indian or Russian fat-cat capitalists doing the looting. Cut off one head and another will take its place.
South Africa still suffers from its isolationist past. South African leaders, like Malema, who can be a profound force for the achievement of the rights of the poor, need to be more astutely aware of how violence tends to manifest in African states. Pushing for disrupting the power of the state will require the state to push back. While ambitious leaders like Malema can translate state violence into political capital, the damage to the fabric of our democracy will not be regained.
We should all be concerned by the securitisation of our development. When discussions about poverty and social justice are met with force, the use of force disables credible voices and discussions about marginalisation become not about the denial of material goods but the denial of fundamental rights. In this modern world order, the value of rights falls victim to the value of security too regularly. We cannot be naïve in our exceptionalism.
While accelerated emotions will mark our political discourse for the next few months, young firebrand politicians who are the keyholders of future leadership need to be guided by their elders, need to learn from the good and bad of our pasts and need to be aware of the long-term consequences of the dangerous politics of the day.
The ANC have laughed away accountability to the detriment of their moral ability to represent the people and govern the land. The DA tries to whitewash its past with reflective politics that continue, however, to reek of middle-class liberal privilege. The EFF risks manipulating the legitimate grievances of the poor and elevating violence to a goal in and of itself. Making the land ungovernable is not a win for the poor.
White people need not fear a Zimbabwe-like situation; many of us have the privilege of mobility and bear in our history the ability to start over again in a more politically conducive environment. White privilege still has enclaves of safety that are largely accessible to us in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.
But where do people from Alexandria flee to for protection? Where do the brave people who will fight for a better future in squalid urban centres, squatter camps and townships go for safety? It is the politically and economically marginalised who will suffer the most. It is those that the EFF claims to represent that will bear the consequences of short-sighted and emotional-electioneering. We need leadership that is more cautious about the use of violence, has respect for values and integrity in promoting options that will benefit and protect from further assault those most marginalised by our system.
Julius Malema, please, before calling on violent changes to the system of governance, go see for yourself what displacement looks and smells like. Feel the fear and courage that it takes to survive in war. Be humbled by how much people can suffer. Go speak to leaders who know personally what it means to have the blood of their people on their hands.
Juluis Malema, you scare me because the path you set us upon may be a path of no return. Julius Malema, you too should be scared because the cost of victory may leave any gains unrecognisable. DM
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Lauren Hutton is an independent consultant with more than 10 years experience working on peace and security in Africa. She has worked for think tanks such as the Institute for Security Studies and the Netherlands Institute for International Relations (Clingendael), as well as operational agencies such as the Danish Refugee Council and Danish Demining Group.
"Look for lessons about haunting when there are thousands of ghosts; when entire societies become haunted by terrible deeds that are systematically occurring and are simultaneously denied by every public organ of governance and communication." ~ Avery Gordon