Clearly, Julius Malema has many people worried sick about the future of his country. His “abrasive, confrontational style” is excessively frightening for many people, and hardly a day goes by without seeing the media awash with stories of Julius “Juju” Malema. With the African National Congress Youth League’s (ANCYL) elective conference over, it may be interesting to look into this apparent fixation the nation has with Julius.
Recently, it was widely reported that Malema praised former President Thabo Mbeki for his high intellect and leadership. Apparently, Malema went as far as saying, “Mbeki is the best leader the ANC has ever produced.” In light of this comment, critics including one independent political analyst, Elvis Masoga, labelled Malema a “political opportunist”, who is out to challenge President Zuma’s bid for a second term at the helm of the African National Congress.
It would seem that Masoga is somewhat correct, because, if Julius said that former president Mbeki is the best leader the ANC has ever produced, he obviously meant that the leadership of the former president surpasses that of the current. However, Masoga, to label Julius Malema as a “political opportunist” is subjective. It is necessary for one to research the matter holistically.
Firstly, the ANCYL constitution, as amended and adopted by the 23rd national congress in April 2008 documents, the aims of the organisation; one of which is: “To champion the cause of the African Renaissance.” For those who are unaware, the African Renaissance is the concept that encourages African people and nations to overcome the current challenges confronting the continent and achieve cultural, scientific and economic renewal. This concept was popularised by former South African President Thabo Mbeki. The concept also encompasses the notion of “African solutions for African problems”.
Now, the current chaos in Libya cannot be ignored. In terms of damage in that country, the International Committee of the Red Cross says that 530 000 people have fled the country, hundreds of people are dead and thousands are injured. The extent of infrastructural damage is yet to be documented. And even while the continent knows that Colonel Muammah Gaddafi is no angel, Africa is still puzzled as to why South Africa voted in favour of a no-fly-zone over Libya by means of the UN Security Council’s Resolution 1973, which was meant to “protect civilians against Gaddafi’s forces”. The South African Communist Party (SACP), one of the partners in the governing tripartite alliance, recently lambasted President Jacob Zuma’s decision to vote in favour of the enforcement of a no-fly zone in Libya, labelling it a “foreign policy blunder”.
As the Libyan crises drags on and as South Africa’s foreign office repeatedly shows its ineptitude to substantially intervene, it is clear that different political personalities in South Africa, including Malema, are nostalgic of the leadership of former president Mbeki in such matters. It is therefore simplistic to dismiss Malema’s comments as those of a “political opportunist.”
Secondly, Malema is a politician. Like most (if not all) politicians of this age, he desires popularity, and in the last few years he has certainly won a sizeable following for himself and for the ANC. He was recently quoted as saying: “We have grown the youth league, the YL is a household name today. A day doesn’t pass by without anybody mentioning the YL.” Now, one might argue (as many do) that Malema is a demagogue, and that his pronouncements are irresponsible and a bad example for the youth. Noted. However, the youth are neither deaf nor dumb in this liberal democracy, and they can choose, if they so wish, to reject the so-called “irresponsible” example of Malema, and follow the “responsible” example of, say, Helen Zille. But why don’t they? Maybe it is because some of the sensitive issues that Malema touches are actually relevant in this society of increasing unemployment, poverty and disparity.
Therefore, it is not Malema that is the problem, because another demagogue could rise and fan the same fire. Hence, until the very social, economic and political issues relevant to the youth of South Africa are largely addressed, there is more than enough room for the likes of Juju to thrive.