This is satire… or, consider it as an act of chewing the cud. The Covid-19 pandemic has robbed us of many things. Good things and bad things. Of all the things I have missed, the three amigos of the Economic Freedom Fighters – Julius Malema, Mbuyiseni Ndlozi and Floyd Shivambu – are among the most prominent, with the comical Nazier Paulsen bringing up the rear.
Paulsen fits the definition of a person who tries (so, so hard) to be accepted as a “comrade” and a “fighter” by being a scrounger for approval from “the leader”, but you never quite believe that he is sincere. He may even know that he is a useful idiot to have around, and that he would be dispensed with like all “non-Africans” when the EFF comes to power.
Where I come from we have an impolite way of describing someone like Paulsen; he is someone who “crawls into holes”. Stated differently, he resembles the court jester performing, always, to ingratiate himself with Malema and Shivambu, while to the rest of us he is just, well, a funny guy with a dodgy reputation.
For instance, a couple of years ago he was “charged with contravention of the Domestic Violence Act and [faced] up to five years’ imprisonment”, after it was reported that he had “violated part of a court order which prohibits him from entering the premises of his ex-wife”.
I should admit that having been cooped up in my little box house for months on end, with books being my main companions, I am probably imagining things. But seriously, I miss the three amigos (Malema, Mary Shelley’s Shivambu and Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, PhD), if only in the way one would miss a painful ingrown (fungal) toenail – that is now healed. More seriously, I miss them, I miss the intrigue, and when they take a break from the politics of revenge, I miss the way their mysterious, conniving and inscrutable characters are so reminiscent of the fictitious characters of writers like Franz Kafka, or even James Joyce, Oscar Wilde and Mary Shelley.
Malema is in a league of his own. I miss his rhetoric and cant, the way he plays loose and fast with the truth, and the complete lack of any sense of compunction, history or humility. He asks questions for which there are no answers, and insists on uncovering things that are uncoverable. But his greatest trick is in his language. He would, in a single sentence, perhaps in two sentences, use words or expressions like “white people”, “land” and “bloodthirst” – pretending to speak in fragmented sentences – but properly relying (quite heavily) on his followers to draw links.
Malema, Oscar Wilde may have said, represents the archetypal traits found in characters of fiction and that are represented, simultaneously, as pure and sacred, willing to sacrifice himself, as well as representing the fallen (at least from the ANC he has), the profane and the taboo, and the mysterious. In this respect, he has become distanced from the norms of society, of parliamentary or political conduct, and whose motivations we may never fully understand for the way they are concealed by and shrouded in the manipulation of the emotions of his audience.
The EFF’s bright red dress code adds to the performativity and pageantry that created a type of obliviation that relieves the audience of their own memories or banks of knowledge and implants only the fragmentary sentences that include words like “theft”, “land”, “blood” and “fighters”.
In Mussolini’s epoch-defining speech on 3 January 1925, following the murder of the socialist leader, Giacomo Matteotti, the fascist leader raised the moral virtues of the deceased and immediately compared them (positively) to his own, and thereby managing to appropriate the qualities of the deceased. Abusing and wilfully applying the concept of Ventennio (the rhetoric of the 20-year Italian fascist rule), Mussolini acted out dramatic episodes of false modesty and, significantly, presented himself as willing to shed blood for his people, which suggested, in turn, that his people should be willing to shed blood for him.
I miss Malema’s smarts and charisma, that charisma that, as Max Weber suggested, emerges during periods of crisis for a people or a society responding to the necessity for “strong leadership” to lead the people out of the crisis.
Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, PhD
Shivambu and Ndlozi are the inscrutables, the mysterious. They remind me of the most mysterious characters in fiction. Ndlozi reminds me of Kafka’s Odradek, the useless and broken object that once had a place and function that has either been misplaced (by himself), or misplaced by someone else (in the case of the spokesperson for the EFF, he was replaced by Vuyani Pambo, James Joyce’s “lankylooking galoot”), and he (Ndlozi) now has no place or function. In this sense, we may be forgiven for asking: what is the point of Mbuyiseni Ndlozi?
Yet, somehow, he is always there, though sometimes unseen or unheard for weeks, but he will not go away. Ndlozi never fails to show up, notwithstanding the pointlessness of his being.
Pambo, just incidentally, has yet to fully reveal what seemed (during the FeesMustFall period) to be a violent, vengeful person, filled with a racial hatred aimed at “non-Africans”. Pambo is probably the clone that most closely resembles Malema. As the old Temptations soul tune goes, “don’t let the handshake and the smile fool you… Smiling faces, show no traces, of the evil that lurks within”.
Ndlozi probably (maybe, allegedly, theoretically, conceptually) represents the absolute fake; to the extent that he presents himself as highly educated, yet it is difficult to detect this when he opens his mouth, nor, for that matter, when he has written something. It makes you wonder who, really, has written things for him because there really is very little beyond the performativity and pageantry. It’s ugly enough to parade knowledge, but has to be rather embarrassing to parade asininity.
Before moving on, to Mary Shelley’s Shivambu, the following passage from Frankenstein may be applied to Quintin Ndlozi, PhD: “How dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to be greater than his nature will allow.”
Mary Shelley’s Floyd Shivambu
Think of Floyd Shivambu as an idea, and we gain an insight into Mary Shelley’s thoughts on the creature patched together by Victor Frankenstein, when she wrote in one edition of her book, Frankenstein: “How I, then a girl, came to think of, and to dilate upon, so very hideous an idea?”
When you recall Shivambu’s attack on a journalist, his very base public conduct (referring to women as bitches) and his general demeanour, it’s really hard to conjure nice things about Shivambu. When you look at him, it’s difficult not to imagine a cross between the Swamp Thing and Frankenstein’s creation.
It is when I reflect on the VBS scandal that one of Shelley’s observations has a solid ring to them. Writing in her journal a little more than 200 years ago, she said of Frankenstein’s creature: “I thought that if I could bestow animation upon lifeless matter, I might, in process of time, renew life where death had apparently devoted the body to corruption.”
It is only fair that we record Shivambu’s response to accusations that he or the EFF were involved in the VBS scandal.
Two weeks after The Great Bank Heist report was released, Shivambu told Parliament: “We are going to state here categorically, clear, without any fear of contradiction that the EFF and ourselves as members of Parliament never benefited anything from the VBS Mutual Bank looting and the so-called heist that happened there.” We are obliged to believe him.
But since these are nothing but the idle thoughts of a struggling writer cooped up at home, there are tender moments in Frankenstein when the horrible creature feels lonely, abandoned, misunderstood and ugly.
For what it’s worth, in a 1930s essay, Walter Benjamin claimed that Kafka’s stories were set in a swamp world (Sumpfwelt). Frankenstein, in particular, may be interpreted as a rush to achieve some kind of superlative achievement but results instead in tragedy, chaos and despair. If Frankenstein’s creature is a cautionary tale of scientific hubris, then surely Shivambu (and his crew’s insistence on their monopoly on “superior logic”) represents a cautionary tale of political hubris.
Politics is not the same without Julius Malema, Floyd Shivambu, Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, PhD, including, even, their comic sidekick Nazier Paulsen bringing up the rear on a mule. DM