We are not here to mourn the white supremacist Eugene Terreblanche, whose funeral took place yesterday, but since his name is on the world’s lips, let’s face the truth: the saddest thing about his murder last weekend is that it obscured an event that casts an infinitely darker shadow.
The event took place in Zimbabwe, and involved, as fate would have it, Julius Malema, the ANC Youth League leader whose repeated singing of an old struggle song about shooting Boers is viewed by many Afrikaners as an incitement towards precisely the sort of violence that claimed Terreblanche’s life. Even as an iron bar shattered the old right-winger’s skull, Malema was in Harare, feasting with Robert Mugabe and picking up tips on how best to destroy the teetering remnants of Western influence here in South Africa. Terreblanche’s murder was an individual tragedy. Malema’s actions threaten to destroy an entire subcontinent.
Julius Malema is a chubby man-child who rose to prominence as Jacob Zuma’s attack dog, threatening violence against anyone who sought to block the Zulu patriarch’s rise to the state presidency. When Zuma emerged triumphant, Malema found himself in the pound seats. A poorly educated 28-year-old, he mysteriously acquired two posh houses, a fleet of cars and an obscenely expensive Breitling watch – curious accessories for a man who positions himself as champion of the poor.
Malema openly professes dislike for “children of the colonialists”, a term he insists is not synonymous with white people. At other times, he says he doesn’t hate white people, just the quality of “whiteness”. In Malema’s circle, this sort of juvenile wordplay passes as intellectuality. His utterances are often buffoonish, his politics a mix of crude populism and sinister racial demagoguery.
Malema is the vulgarian who dismissed the woman who laid a rape charge against Zuma as a slut, arguing that any female who stays for breakfast in rape’s aftermath “clearly enjoyed herself”. He levelled similar slurs at Opposition leader Helen Zille, calling her “a racist little girl” who slept with all her male colleagues. In every case, he seemed to relish the resulting outrage, especially if it came from whites. But this was a sideshow. In South Africa, the real struggle is the struggle between rival ANC factions, eager for power and its spoils. It is in this arena that Malema’s behaviour acquires a disturbing cast.
When Jacob Zuma came to power a year ago, most observers were expecting a sharp turn Leftward, but the Zulu patriarch was at pains to allay such concerns. He toured the UK and Europe, assuring financiers that their investments were safe in South Africa. A few months later, Malema begged to differ: nationalisation is very much on the cards, he said. Zuma’s minister of mines, Susan Shabangu, issued a stern reprimand, saying that South Africa’s minerals would never be nationalised “in my lifetime”. Malema just laughed, accusing Shabangu of “sucking up to monopoly capital” and hinting she would soon be out of a job.
In African culture, it is shameful to address one’s elders in this manner, but Malema got away with it. Emboldened, he took to excoriating his superiors for placing key economic ministries in the hands of whites and Indians. Then he picked a fight with cabinet minister Jeremy Cronin, South Africa’s most visible white Communist, who had dared to opine that his enthusiasm for nationalisation had much to do with a fondness for bling and nothing to do with the plight of the poor. In response, Malema reportedly sent Cronin a threatening SMS: “Wait to see what’s coming to you.”
Alarm was mounting, but Malema appeared untouchable. Two weeks ago, he made an extraordinary speech at the wedding of Robert Gumede, an IT entrepreneur grown rich off government contracts. Grinning malevolently, Malema warned Gumede that the masses were coming to take his money away. Billionaire Patrice Motsepe and ANC treasurer Mathews Phosa were told to expect a similar fate. Zola Skweyiya, South Africa’s high commissioner in the UK, was mocked as a coward who had become “scared” of foreign capitalists. “Skweyiya is telling investors in London that nationalisation of mines will not happen,” said Malema. The youth leader clearly had other ideas.
Insulting a man of Skweyiya’s stature is an unspeakable violation of African etiquette. Malema’s utterances were also an outrageous violation of his party’s standing policy on nationalisation. I assumed the ANC’s elders now had no choice other than to put him firmly in his place. I was wrong. No one said a word.
It was against this backdrop that Malema set forth for Zimbabwe last weekend. In the past, he has always hewed to the ANC line: Mugabe’s disastrous policies will not be emulated in South Africa. The rule of law will be upheld, the constitution respected. There will be no land invasions, no nationalisation of mines or businesses.
But something has clearly changed. On his trip to Harare, Malema was met at the airport by a clutch of notorious profiteers whose connection to the great dictator enabled them to grow rich even as their country died. These “vultures” are said to be slavering at the prospect of another killing as Mugabe moves to dismember Zimbabwe’s last surviving businesses and mines in the name of “indigenisation”.
By all accounts, Malema was thrilled to make their acquaintance. They organised a crowd to sing his controversial song about shooting Boers. Then they whisked him off in a presidential Mercedes Benz and put him up in Harare’s most expensive hotel. In return, Malema expressed his unqualified admiration for the policies that have ruined Zimbabwe and vowed to press for their adoption south of the Limpopo River.
“In South Africa, we are just starting,” said Malema. “Here you are already very far. We are very happy today that you can account for more than 300,000 new farmers, against the 4,000 who used to dominate agriculture. We hear you are now going straight to the mines. That’s what we are going to be doing in South Africa. We want the mines. They have been exploiting our minerals for a long time. Now it’s our turn also to enjoy from those minerals…”
On Thursday, Malema reiterated these sentiments at a press conference marked by an ugly racial attack on a BBC reporter. There has been no repudiation. The silence says something truly ominous: Malema has protection. Someone in the ANC – either the president himself, or an awesomely powerful faction inside the party – is encouraging him to rally the masses for a Zimbabwe-style obliteration of Africa’s only viable economy and last surviving hope.
I thought that only the South African Communist Party (SACP) was capable of irrationality on such a dumbfounding scale. I was wrong. Malema is not a tool of the SACP. In fact, he’s at constant odds with the SACP’s leadership. The other day he even resurrected Pretoria’s old Red Menace theory, accusing “yellow Communists” – a veiled reference to Indians in the party’s leadership – of plotting to control the ANC by secret means. Anyone who voices such painful truths cannot possibly be an ally of the SACP.
Besides, the Reds are fairly sophisticated, whereas Malema’s every utterance is a cringe-inducing embarrassment. Listen to him in Harare last Saturday: “They are so bright, so colourful, we refer to them as white people. Maybe their colour came as a result of exploiting our minerals and perhaps if some of us get opportunities in these minerals we can develop a nice colour like them.” This is not a coldly scientific Marxist-Leninist. It’s Pere Ubu or Idi Amin.
It could be that President Zuma has simply lost control of the ANC, or that Malema is the puppet he uses to mouth ideas too radical to emerge from the presidency. If you ask me, Malema is the point-man for a powerful ANC faction whose motive is greed and whose chosen weapon is racial demagoguery of the most primitive kind.
The trouble is that this card trumps all others. Our underclass is huge, poorly educated and desperately poor. They know what happened in Zimbabwe, but even so, the prospect of loot is irresistible, and that’s Malema’s bait. Mandela gave them free houses. Mbeki gave them welfare grants, leading to a situation where five million taxpayers support 13 million indigents, with the total rising far more rapidly than our ability to pay. Now Malema and the faceless vultures behind him are offering them the rest. They are playing the death card, the Ace of Spades.
SIGN THE PETITION! – http://www.facebook.com/REMOVEMALEMA
Julius Malema must be removed from power and influence. He is poisoning South Africans with his racist remarks and hate towards people.
Please watch this video and make up your own opinion. – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1U21Cu238_Q&feature=related
Please click here: http://www.mypetition.co.za/index.php?page=sign_petition&petition_id=427 and sign the petition to remove him as president from the ANCYL.
It is easy and only takes 1 minute and you can make a difference.
Please gather more support and help save the rainbow nation South Africa!
The former Zulu herd boy appalls the middle classes, but embodies the African dream. Will the man poised to be president heal the rifts?
As young Zulu boys, Maphamule Ndlovu and Jacob Zuma had much in common. They would herd cattle, kill snakes and learn the warrior code by stick fighting. They would listen to stories of their ancestors around the village fire in the pretty but impoverished hills of 1950s KwaZulu-Natal.
But the lives of the two men, now both 67, could not have turned out more differently. Ndlovu lives alone in a ramshackle building with a leaking roof and no water or electricity, on a diet of bread, tea and porridge.
Zuma is poised to become South Africa‘s first Zulu president after elections on Wednesday. “He was the person who was good-looking and spoke well,” recalls his former friend. “He was very determined to be educated.”
In a story that rivals anything the American dream has to offer, the Zulu herd boy from one of the country’s poorest provinces is about to become the most powerful man in Africa. He has done it after serving his time in the liberation struggle and on Robben island. He has proved a resilient political fighter who, floored by fraud and corruption claims and a charge of rape, kept picking himself up off the canvas to finally outmanoeuvre his rivals.
Unlike the scholarly and aloof Thabo Mbeki, who habitually quoted Shakespeare or phrases in Latin, Zuma can dance. He is charming and charismatic and comfortable in his own skin.
He can walk with royalty – Prince Charles is said to have described him as “one of his best friends” – without losing the common touch.
His ability to connect with poor people, black and white, and articulate their concerns about crime and jobs has been compared to that of politicians in the southern states of America. “In a certain kind of way Zuma will be our first African president,” said his biographer, Jeremy Gordin. “Nelson Mandela transcended everything and was a world figure. Thabo Mbeki spent a lot of time in England wearing pinstripe suits and smoking a pipe. Zuma is a real African.”
However, Zuma has earned plenty of critics – including Archbishop Desmond Tutu – and enemies during his ascent.
Many believe that the recent collapse of legal action against him was a disaster for South Africa’s courts. They accuse Zuma of being a political chameleon who tells audiences what they want to hear, reassuring business, courting trade unions and communists, appealing to populist sentiments for the death penalty and against gay marriage. They worry about who will ultimately control him once he is in power. Zuma’s Zulu origins can be found amid the undulating hills, valleys and forests, deep ridges and steep gorges of KwaZulu-Natal. It was here that Zuma, the son of a domestic worker and rural policeman, gained the thin scars visible on his face today in a clan initiation.
A razor is used to make incisions in the cheeks of a child between their first and second birthday, then a herbal mixture is applied to heal it. But the clan believes that if the sky is overcast, the scars will continue to weep.
Education was scarce for Zulu boys growing up in the early apartheid years. But Zuma’s brothers challenge the myth that he received no education, and only learned to read and write while a prisoner on Robben island. “For most of us, school was about being able to write letters to girlfriends, but Jacob was different,” Michael Zuma told the Guardian through a Zulu translator. “He insisted we should get further knowledge so, after we brought in the cows each day, we attended a kind of night school. He instigated it for everyone.”
Joseph added: “People say he didn’t learn because they can’t find evidence of which school he went to, but that’s because we had classes on the homestead. Jacob was a very intelligent boy with a very incisive mind.
“When we were sitting around doing nothing, Jacob was always the one who would pose us questions.
“At times of poverty, for example, he would ask if there was a room full of food and a room full of money, which would you rather have? He was always asking deep questions.”
The brothers believe that Zuma’s childhood experiences shaped the man he is today. Michael added: “Jacob still very much believes in Zulu culture. We don’t want him to forget it because those are his roots. It’s unfortunate if white people disagree, as he is only pursuing his own culture. Taking many wives is acceptable to Zulus as long as you have means to support them. White people have their own culture.”
There is general uncertainty about the number of Zuma’s wives, though he reportedly has 22 children by six women. While he was acquitted of rape, his remark that he took a shower after having sex with an HIV-positive woman to minimise the risk of infection caused fury. So too his statement that “in Zulu culture you cannot leave a woman if she is ready. To deny her sex, that would have been tantamount to rape.”
None of this plays well with the middle class in urban centres such as Cape Town, especially among educated women. Some are appalled that, when the eyes of the world turn on South Africa for next year’s World Cup, they will find a country led by an “African big man” with several first ladies.
The Zulu factor is also painful to those who admired the ANC for keeping tribalism out of politics for so long, even if the outgoing leadership was dubbed the “Xhosa Nostra”. Mandela and Mbeki were both Xhosas.
“Xhosas have a reputation as great talkers,” said a political analyst, Patrick Laurence. “Zulus have a reputation as great fighters.”
“White folk not familiar with rural Africa don’t like it, and women shirk from his polygamy,” said Allister Sparks, a veteran journalist and political analyst. “But it goes down well with Zulus and poor people around the country. Unlike Mbeki, he can do the tribal dance and connect with them.”
Today many of South Africa’s 7 million Zulus, the biggest ethnic group at around 15% of the population, are assimilated and westernised. In the historic Zulu capital, Ulundi, they visit KFC and Nando and the large shopping centre. But in neighbouring poor townships, many speak only Zulu and believe in a spiritual link with their ancestors.
It was their ancestors’ empire that was unceremoniously smashed by the British army in 1879, just six months after the battle of Rorke’s Drift, depicted in the film Zulu with Michael Caine. This was a humiliating final defeat that, in the words of local battlefield guides, turned once proud warriors into herdboys, labourers and servants.
But 130 years later, a Zulu has power in his grasp. And Zuma, who used to regale his Robben island cellmates with tales of the Anglo-Zulu war, has made sure everyone gets the message. He wears leopard skin and loincloth to dance with his close ally, the current Zulu king Goodwill Zwelithini, and his signature song is Umshini Wam (Bring Me My Machine Gun). His supporters sport T-shirts proclaiming “100% Zulu Boy”. The leader of the ANC youth league announced its readiness “to take up arms and kill for Zuma”.
Under Zuma, the ANC is likely to overwshelm its bitter rival in KwaZulu-Natal, the Inkatha Freedom party, led by the veteran Zulu prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi. More than 23,000 police and soldiers have been deployed in the province in case of more violence this time. Posters for both parties are dotted on lampposts and telegraph poles around Nkandla. The beauty of the landscape here belies the brutal statistics which show unemployment at 90% and estimate Aids as infecting at least one in four people.
The poverty is palpable in Ndlovu’s home and life story.
Zuma’s childhood friend tried to make a living despite never becoming literate. He went to work in Johannesburg, but was the victim of a shooting. He rolls up his shirt to reveal the scars of stitches on his stomach.
He returned to Nkandla and married, fathering two sons, but his wife left him and later died. Asked how he earns money to feed himself, he said: “I throw my hands in the air. I just live from day to day. I try to hold on to that.”
Would he swap places with his childhood friend?
“You can’t be president when you are not educated,” he muses. “I do regret not being educated. When Zuma comes back here as president, he is welcome to bring me some money.”
Source: Smith, D. (2009), “Jacob Zuma the chameleon brings South Africans joy and fear” The Guardian [online]. Available at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/apr/20/zuma-south-africa-politics [Accessed on 29 November 2009]