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The Country’s Not for Burning: Ruminations on Julius Malema and the threat of violence


Mark Heywood is the Editor of Maverick Citizen, a section of the Daily Maverick. He is the former Executive Director of SECTION27 and has been a human rights activist most of his life.

I am not a member of the EFF. I dislike their militaristic garb and rhetoric. But on the issue of culpability for a deepening culture of violence I find myself in growing agreement with Malema and his party.

At Daily Maverick’s The Gathering on 10 June, EFF leader Julius Malema spoke a little on the issue of the EFF’s attitude to violence. He pointed out that the party of violence at the moment is the ANC. Its violence is against its own members; its violence is a dead-of-the-night-violence against people like Moss Phakoe who expose intra-party corruption; a state violence against protesters and strikers; a tolerance of socio-economic violence. He could also have spoken of the violence of being homeless, the violence of being denied food for your body, mind and baby, the violence of rape. The violence of Marius Fransman. The violence of Richard Mdluli. The violence of xenophobic attacks.

Ten days later Richard Poplak’s chilling report on the EFF’s visit to Tembisa seems to be more proof of what Malema is saying.

I am not a member of the EFF. I dislike their militaristic garb and rhetoric. But on the issue of culpability for a deepening culture of violence I find myself in growing agreement with Malema and his party.

Nonetheless at The Gathering the C-i-C made me start to shiver when he explained that although the EFF would never fire the first shot they would exercise their right to meet violence with violence. They would take on armed state power if it is directed at them.

Julius knows this is coming – so that is no idle threat. We are only ever a hair’s breadth away from violence in any society, far closer to it than we think, far more possible than impossible. Witness how quickly “stable” societies – whatever it is that holds them together, democracy or dictatorship – can degenerate into vicious civil war. Syria, Libya, Lebanon.

That way mayhem and madness lies.

My appeal to Julius Malema and the EFF is this. At the point when the ANC and the state turn violent, resist the provocation and call on your members to do the same. Announce a campaign to forswear violence as a way to solve SA’s ills. Call the ANC’s bluff.

I believe that civil society organisations should publicly commit to bring the full weight of pro-poor civil society behind you or any other political party – including the ANC — that faces violence; we should ready to mobilise the social movements of the poor, NGOs, the churches, the progressive part of the business community. We should use the courts, the media, the streets to defend each party’s right to challenge power at the ballot box, to challenge power using the multiple instruments that our Constitution has given us.

We should stand beside the EFF in places like the hostels of Tembisa or the ANC in the heartlands of the IFP.

Whether we agree with your politics or not, we should rise to defend your rights.

The Zuptas yearn for the distraction that violence will cause. Street battles will allow the Zuptaist looters to continue their theft; turn the media’s attention away from the Mdlulis, Myenis and Molefes, away from the Randlords and Ruperts, away from the vile blight of inequality and those that profit from it.

The ruling faction of the ANC has shown that the peers they respect at the moment are leaders in India, Russia and China. This week Lawyers Collective, a human rights organisation in India, faces closure because it receives foreign funding. In China human rights lawyers routinely face arrest and rendition. We don’t say a peep about these violations any more, perhaps because there are some in SA would happily lock many of us up too.

But the best way to defeat violence and intimidation is with democracy. By using the rights we fought for and won in our Constitution.

This is not a turn-the-other-cheek argument. It’s not a pacifist argument. For the record, I’m not a pacifist. Nor am I a militarist. Once upon a time I did my small part to help arm the Self Defence Units against Inkatha’s violent marauders in Alex. Once upon a time I did my small part to secure the release from prison of young people who had used the violence of the necklace against counsellors, collaborators and impimpi. Forswearing violence is a tactical argument about how best to defeat state vigilante violence against the EFF – or anyone else for that matter.

But there is something else you should consider. Violence will emiserate the poor. Violence is not a necessary cleansing, as some comfortable radicals would have us believe. It is not a burning that must precede a rebuilding. Violence will divide the poor and destroy the few resources they already have at their disposal; the meagre clinics that supply ARVs, the pathetic schools where a few noble teachers work against the odds to provide a quality education to our young.

Just look at Vuwani. Whatever the source of the service delivery protests (even if it is a violence of tenderpreneurs against each other), the burning of 25 schools is at the expense of the forgotten poor. Seven weeks later the media melee has died down, yet 52,000 young people remain out of school.

Who won and who lost? Who cares?

If the EFF are serious about power and gaining control of some local governments understand that violence will destroy the resources that you will need after August 3 2016. Rebuilding burnt schools and clinics, municipal libraries and offices, will become your problem. It will place a strain on your budgets. The promises you make, and which I believe you are serious about, will struggle to be implemented because money will have to go to rebuilding. Communities will be violently divided. One poor person will be distrustful of another poor person.

For these reasons we must be against the romanticisation of violence. Women’s political leadership is needed to calm down the testosterone frenzy that violence may inflames.

Bear in mind, the people who usually make inflammatory statements, like former EFF leader Andile Mgxitama, are often most secure in comfort, garrisoned in gated suburbs, people who do not to have to live with the results of violent destruction. But you can watch it on TV and then issue statements on the internet.

Although you stood your ground in Tembisa, you left the township a few hours later. Many millions can’t. The fires that burn, burn after the day’s political business is over for you.

For advocates of violence it’s a political game. A contest of ideology. A chance for retribution to act itself out on a stage while they eat popcorn in the audience.

Where it is spontaneous, and in 10,000 service delivery protests it is, violence is the smoke that calls, a sign of the frustration of the poor; it points to the failure of organisations and leaders you correctly criticise to make headway on the social and economic blights that infect the bodies of the poor.

But there are other proven means of winning change: the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) helped save three-million lives (so far) without a shot being fired or a fist thrown. #FeesMustFall squeezed R15-billion out of the Treasury to achieve a zero fees increase in 2016 on the basis of a mass mobilisation.

This may be a difficult challenge to meet but – if you are serious about the promises you make – it is a far more likely road to power and economic freedom for the poor. DM


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