In South Africa: Political Architects and their Forsaken Political Son

I am your product. You made me. So reminds erstwhile charismatic African National Congress’ (ANC) youth-wing leader and current South African Member of Parliament and now Economic Freedom Fighter’s (EFF) political party Chief, Julius Malema.

Since his divorce with the ANC and its leader and South African president, Jacob Zuma, Malema has not given up on what he knows best: politics. Politics that offered Malema a good life, connections, a position and the political podium, afore South African society. However, a good life does not always guarantee succeeding at every encounter, political or otherwise. Malema’s traditional strong connections did suffer some contraction of sorts, while he, at the same time, managed to expand other ties. While some of his links have faltered, others have risen, most notably with(in) the proletariat of South Africa.

For those forgotten and considered the hoi polloi, Malema is the shoulder to cry on. He looked, identified, and spoke up on what he saw as the ill treatment of this group. A group, though often ignored, that is at the center of South Africa’s economy, as its hoist; a group usually known for its strong backing of the ruling ANC. A group that, as Malema reminds everyone quite often, is made up of the homeless, waiters and waitresses, domestic workers, miners, farm workers, petrol attendants, security guards, etc. There is an endless list of the forgotten of South Africa, we are told.

Indeed, Malema’s new ties are adhesively linked to the struggling quarters of South African society. Although it is too soon to say that he has fully garnered the political backing of the above noted groups, one cannot easily disassociate him from them. They are warming up to him and his ideals. As noted earlier, Malema’s ties are not only with the poor. They include former ANC comrades whom have crossed the ideological floor, to join Malema’s EFF, common faces of public debate on matters South Africa and serious critics of the South African state, and the ideologues of the far left, who, for a short while, were being shunned; a multi-class party synthesis. People who now see the post apartheid South African government as having either failed them or delivered very little in the two decades of the country’s democracy, are now strongly pro populist Malema and EFF vision: Economic Freedom In Our Lifetime.

Now, all aforementioned dots, when connected, reveal a stunning, adroit political chess play by Malema. From decamping the ANC politburo (who expelled him) and the family home he once called a Revolutionary House (in a spat with a BBC journo. A spat the ANC also disciplined him for), the Luthuli House, to encamping in a self-made and more unambiguous and unafraid EFF, a party established shortly after Malema was booted out of the ANC. Malema, as some would argue, has used his political smarts to reinvigorate not only himself, but the political (or politics of the) left of South Africa, as well.

Malema, to some at least, also offers the nostalgic political vocalization that was once seen in a young and outspoken Nelson Mandela. Certainly, he too, was the product of the ANC. Yet, Mandela’s activism focused on struggles for the freedoms and rights of South Africans of his days. Fast-forward to today and, still, the EFF identifies ongoing struggles that are simply in line with the mantra “A luta continua” (the struggle continues). That is the struggle that Mandela tackled and was also painfully tackled by, in return. To EFF, South Africans are not free until economic freedom(s) are attained by the struggling masses of South Africa. Thus, vocals are being polished. Polished for the loud and clear conveying of political demands, in parliament.

Of course Julius Malema now has serious frictions with many within the ANC, particularly those at the very top of the party. These are mostly people he once considered his elders: uncles, aunties, grandmothers, grandfathers, and so on. Such friction has now found its way into the South African national parliament, where Malema can now stand up and address these individuals and the president of the country. Evidently, the speaker(s) in parliament and ANC MPs are not happy with the now worker’s overalls and gumboot donning Malema and his parliamentary clique, who do not shy away from stating very loud and clearly that their demands are for and on behalf of the poor.

We are seeing, all of a sudden, Malema and his former political teachers now embroiled in a big fight over ideas and ideology, which suggests that Malema might never have either favored ANC conventional ideology, or is simply opportunistic. It is hard, however, to establish the latter option as his political argumentation suggests a deep study and understanding of ANC thinking, which likely informed and encouraged the political (detour) path he is now travelling upon. Indeed, lurking in the background are old wounds that are being opened up and having political salt sprinkled upon them. It is not pretty and we cannot rubbish the existence of such old wounds, and there could be a bit more than many an eye can see or be led to believe.

And yes, the many following these politics may find that there are occasional attempts to throw sand in their eyes, too. With that said, the ideological split between the EFF and the ANC remain a key, distinct point, upon which one can form a rather convincing picture of what is really going on. Two old friends and now rivals, one the producer of the product, and the other, the product, are fighting amid pressing South African realities. Although at first simply a messy breakup, it has now become noisily politicized and, really, fashioned upon societal issues of the day. An amazing turn of events now evident and reverberating, almost daily, throughout South Africa.

Things have become so difficult in parliament now that there is even public debate around parliamentary decorum. Nowadays, when the EFF stand up to deliver words in parliament, most expect them to either speak at length, highlighting ongoing struggles and so on, or to exhaust their opportunity at the national podium. They do not take such an opportunity for granted. Nor do they let the ANC or state president off the hook, easily. Do they exhaust other MPs too? Well, the now predictable reaction of the ANC to EFF parliamentary speak, would suggest that, yes, they do become exhausted under EFF political heat, which is usually turned up when the pressing-issues-focused, verbose Malema, speaks.

To recap, Malema, using those very verbose powers, helped Zuma gain power, through an upsetting toppling of former President Thabo Mbeki, who did not favor Zuma as his successor. At the time, an internal ANC storm brewed, with the youth league of the party, led by Malema, backing Zuma and launching a rather effective campaign to oust Mbeki, and likely setting precedent on party elder-youth relations and future conflict outcomes. After the new political power installation followed the President Zuma-led ANC’s fallout with Malema and his youth-wing from within the party.

Malema had shown deep disagreements with (now president) Zuma, through his very public declarations on matters which were seen, by the president (Zuma) and the ANC, to be provocative and threatening to national stability. In 2010, he was found to have brought the ANC and government into disrepute. ANC elders pulled Malema into a room, sat him down, talked him down, and then showed him the door, because of his, as they say in South Africa, failure to “have ears.” But did he really not have ears or was he simply raising important national concerns, as his backers might claim? Anyway, the ANC elders had had enough and he, likewise. Malema moved out and settled elsewhere, surrounded by the people, particularly after the 2012 Marikana Massacre, and other, ongoing struggles within the South Africa class system.

Given the blessing of time, Malema seized upon national discourses of the day, especially where they concerned the Zuma government’s failure to deliver. From this ,emerged the EFF, the party of the people. They ran in the national poll earlier this year, winning twenty-five seats in parliament. Not bad for a party’s first try at a national poll. This revealed a number of things. First, that Malema had, to some extent, located the pulse of South African society. Secondly, that Malema’s charisma had eclipsed that of the sitting president, who himself was fighting for his political life throughout the election. The once highly charismatic Zuma and his erstwhile likewise, comrade-son, have indeed parted. It is written in stone.

But who is responsible for the fallout here, the son or the political architects behind his political rise? And what, exactly, are they to be blamed for? Perhaps our best answer might be in our imagined reading of the late Nelson Mandela’s possible interpretation of such a situation, which is now before his beloved South Africa.

As the old saying goes, a tree will be known by its fruit(s). This seems to be the line Malema was pointing to – when he reminded everyone in parliament that he was merely a product of the ANC. Whether the ANC is fighting its own ideals and son here remains to be seen. For now, however, the erstwhile ANC sons are giving ANC elders the finger, in parliament, with the nation watching.