Julius Malema: Hero or Hypocrite? The danger of SA’s rising political star – Andrew Kenny

In this article, which first appeared on Daily Friend, veteran journalist, Andrew Kenny discusses the danger posed by the EFF’s Julius Malema. Arguing that Malema’s hypocritical behavior and incitement of violence go unchecked, with the potential to cause disruption and harm to the country’s economy. Kenny also examines the EFF’s political philosophy, which is based on Marxist-Leninism and economic liberation, highlighting the hypocrisy of Malema and other EFF leaders who enjoy expensive capitalist luxuries while posing as working-class heroes. The question is: could Malema reach high office in South Africa and lead the country to ruin, as Robert Mugabe did in Zimbabwe?


Cowering before Julius Malema

By Andrew Kenny*

Julius Malema dominated the news and the commentary last week with his planned national shutdown tomorrow. The nation seemed to cower before him, as if awestruck. 

Andrew Kenny on Julius Malema
Andrew Kenny

His menacing banalities were listened to respectfully as if they were full of wisdom and originality. His rampant hypocrisy was never questioned. The fact that he spends a fortune on capitalist luxuries for himself while posing as a working-class hero, did not seem to trouble anybody. 

That he contradicts himself with almost every sentence, threatening violence with one breath and peacefulness with the next, raised no eyebrows. Commentators praised his oratory and his leadership. Callers-in to radio shows said they agree that his shutdown would help to overcome electricity blackouts, unemployment, crime, poor service delivery and other horrid things but, like Malema, they never explained how.

His rambling press conference on Wednesday and, even worse, the questions from the journalists confirmed everything I have said above. He combined menace with obfuscation, adopting now a militant, threatening tone and then a tone of quiet reasonableness. 

He said that if there were any violence tomorrow it would be because of DA agents provocateurs, which is a convenient, if disingenuous, way of shifting the blame for any trouble onto the DA. (Perhaps it was a DA agent disguised as Malema who fired those automatic rifle shots at an EFF rally in 2018. Perhaps it was DA agents in red EFF costumes who rampaged through H&M shops in the same year.) 

He emphasised that he would not stop anybody going to work tomorrow but then emphasised, more loudly, that anyone who did so would ‘meet his maker’. He repeated this threat in case anybody had any doubts about what he meant. 

If this were not bad enough, the response from the journalists at question time was even worse.

Read more: Taboo debate: For better or worse after Apartheid? – Andrew Kenny

They seemed to cringe before him, asking only the most respectful, mainly technical questions about the EFF’s plans for the extent and actions of the shutdown. Some of the questioners simply praised the EFF and welcomed the shutdown. One said that the EFF had never been violent ever, and was no threat at all. This was after they had heard Malema saying – twice – that anybody who tried to go to work would ‘meet his maker’. 

Malema’s chant ‘Kill the Boer! Kill the farmer!’; his refusal to say he would never ask for the slaughter of white people; the EFF’s “militant armed structure”; an assault rifle fired in a public place; the looting of shops by the EFF; Malema’s earlier call – while he was in the ANC – for the democratically elected government of Botswana to be overthrown; the raised fists; the reference to its leaders as “soldiers” and “commanders” – all of these seem to be interpreted by the questioner as signs of the deeply peaceful nature of the EFF and Julius Malema.

How dangerous is Julius Malema? He has certainly proved his potential for disruption and destruction. He has certainly helped to make South Africa unattractive to investors and would-be employers. Could he do more than this? Could he obtain high office in the land and help to wreck it completely as his great hero, Robert Mugabe, has wrecked Zimbabwe – to Malema’s loud cheers? It seems likely that South Africa might soon be ruled by an ANC-EFF coalition, in which case the EFF would dominate the ANC, which is weak and divided, and Malema would be very close to supreme power. It is worthwhile looking at the EFF’s own claims and aims for itself, which it spells out clearly on its website and in its manifestos, and which it demonstrates clearly in the behaviour of its leaders.

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The EFF says its political philosophy is based on Marxist-Leninism and economic liberation. By this it means economic serfdom for everybody except a small, bourgeois Marxist elite, just as has happened in every communist state in history. “The dictatorship of the proletariat” means a bourgeois Marxist elite crushing and exploiting the proletariat. Marxists despise the working classes, and so do Julius Malema and his EFF leaders, such as Floyd Shivambu. This they make clear – blatantly clear – in their everyday behaviour, with their gleaming displays of wealth and privilege. 

They say they believe in socialism and affirmative action but always travel in expensive private cars, send their children to private schools with white teachers, use private medical healthcare, live in genteel suburbs far away from the black working classes, and adorn themselves in the most expensive capitalist clothes and accessories, such as Armani, Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Breitling. They hold lavish, very expensive parties, as if to gloat over the hungry workers in the townships. 

Their hypocrisy is so blatant that I suppose there is a sort of honesty about it. The EFF elite seems to be saying to the black working classes, ‘Look at us, you suckers! We live like kings while you go hungry! The cost of one of our Breitling watches or Gucci handbags would feed your wretched family for six months! Your children’s education is wrecked at dismal township schools with black teachers, while our children go to posh suburban schools with white teachers! Yet you are so stupid you will vote for us and join our demonstrations!’ 

The trouble is that this formula seems to work. Poor and young middle class black people do seem impressed by the EFF’s displays of wealth and luxury. They do vote for the EFF. It had the most successful start-up of any political party in South African history. It continually dominates the headlines, unlike any other political party. Julius Malema must be considered a very successful politician. How far will he go?

Read more: Sean Peche: One year, one last chance for SA, all it could take is less than 1%

We have to look to history for precedents, although this is a dangerous thing to do, because we are inclined to find in the past patterns that don’t exist. 

The EFF claims Lenin as its political inspiration, and shares his belief in total state control and abolition of private property. But Lenin was austere and single-minded; he shunned showmanship and oratory, and always worked quietly, decisively and ruthlessly behind the scenes. He cared nothing for comfort and worldly goods; he had a massive ego but no vanity. 

Malema is none of these: he loves showmanship and thundering oratory; he is addicted to worldly goods and vulgar displays of wealth; far from being single-minded, he runs around in all directions at the same time; he has massive vanity. A better comparison is with Hitler, the national socialist German leader. Hitler, like Lenin, was single-minded, cared little for worldly goods (and was sexless), and had a massive ego but no vanity. But, unlike Lenin, he was the supreme showman and the best mob orator in history. Malema is a sort of little-bitty Hitler but with profound differences. He is politically quite astute but has none of Hitler’s political genius. His vanity and love of the fleshpots weakens him politically. I sometimes wonder if South Africa right now is vulnerable to a real Hitler, not a toy one like Malema. Hitler used violence and threats of violence to come to power in the democratic but weak Weimar Republic. He promised that his Nazi thugs would be the biggest bunch of thugs in Germany, at a time when different thugs were rampaging the country. He promised strong leadership, and to bring peace and prosperity by terror and brute force – which he succeeded in doing. We hear more and more often now that South Africa is looking for a strong leader. I hear from some serious commentators that at least Malema, even if he is a toy Hitler, shows more leadership than anybody in the ANC or the DA.

The EFF seems bullet-proof from the ANC’s justice system. ‘Kill the Boer, kill the farmer’ was ruled to be legally acceptable. Allegations of massive EFF corruption and theft from the VBS bank, where millions of Rands of workers’ money seem to have landed in the pockets of the EFF elite, are not investigated for criminality. The EFF’s private armies are never prosecuted. The ANC cringes before Malema, and of course agrees with the EFF’s most destructive policies, such as Expropriation Without Compensation (EWC). The ANC worships the memory of Robert Mugabe, just as the EFF does and, like it, cheered loudly when Mugabe seized the private farms.

Last week the DA mayor of Cape Town, Geordin Hill-Lewis, promised that the DA would not allow work to be interrupted in Cape Town tomorrow. President Ramaphosa has since promised that his government will ensure peace and the rule of law tomorrow. Peaceful demonstrations will be fine; attempts by force to prevent workers trying to earn a living to feed their families on that day will not be fine, and will be resisted by the South African security forces. I hope he keeps his promises. Tomorrow will tell.

Malema tells us that besides protesting against electricity blackouts, potholes, violence against women, unemployment, crime, and so on, his EFF is demanding that Cyril Ramaphosa should resign as president of South Africa. Of course, it is true that the disastrous ANC government of the last 27 years is responsible for making all of those things worse, and it is also true that Ramaphosa has a miserable record as president. But I can think of no better way of increasing Ramaphosa’s popularity than for Malema to call for his resignation. Malema has done more than the ANC could ever have hoped for to improve Ramaphosa’s chances in the 2024 election.

*Andrew Kenny is a writer, an engineer and a classical liberal.

The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR.

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