JULIUS Malema has his frailties and excesses, some of which are concerning, others totally despicable. But much less attention has been paid to his contribution, his capabilities and the factuality of his message. That needs to change, starting preferably with those who will sit down to consider his appeal in a fortnight.
It is not properly appreciated by the ANC that while the decision to expel him may have brought to a sudden halt the rise to power of one of the most divisive figures to emerge on the political stage in post 1994 South Africa, it’s a decision that does nothing to address the frustrations of millions of impoverished South Africans who feel that too little has been done to tackle the nation’s socio-economic ills almost two decades since apartheid was dismantled.
It is this section of the South African society that Malema sought to give a voice to and he was not being unreasonable in doing so.
Here are the facts. Not so long ago, the ANC fought against a vile and racist regime that had as its main preoccupation the segregation of South Africans along mostly racial but also financial lines. That struggle was not fought lightly; it was fought by men and women who had a common vision, many of whom paid the highest price possible for the realisation of that dream.
Almost twenty years after independence, however, poverty remains a major problem in South Africa – as do unemployment and general inequality. In fact, South Africa is considered as having one of the world’s most unequal societies. Part of this disgraceful disparity has had to do with the fact that its economy has remained largely in the hands of few white South Africans.
As far as Malema is concerned, this shameful state of affairs is ample proof that the ANC is betraying its own history, its own promises and its own Charter. It’s a warning that only those benefiting from the status quo can afford to ignore.
Whatever his rights and wrongs, Julius Malema is not the enemy. Poverty is. The unequal distribution of resources is the real issue and the ANC is doing itself a considerable disservice by pretending otherwise. Soon, the frustrations of the people will fester and the ANC will have nowhere to hide. Then they will think of Malema’s gospel, but it might be too little too late to repent.
The unpalatable truth is that the ANC still has some major issues to address in South Africa. Instead of condemning Malema, they should have rallied behind him to extract more concessions from the small minority that still controls the land and the resources decades after apartheid.
Of course, a lot has been achieved in South Africa since 1994. Its constitutional democracy is widely held in high regard. Although racism remains an issue, it is now thin on the ground. South Africa’s wonderful infrastructure is the envy of every African nation. It is no small achievement that the Southern African nation, under the yoke of oppression only eighteen years ago, was able recently to host a successful World Cup tournament. In short, South Africa has come a long way. Yet it still has a long way to go.
All the more reason to worry when the ANC seeks to silence those willing to draw attention to areas of concern. Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s priciest asset, fought for freedom of expression not freedom from expression, freedom of speech not freedom from speech. In that regard, Luthuli House is supposed to be a revolutionary house, not a torture camp, a centre for progressive ideas not autocratic ones. Right now, the ANC seems to have decided that progress does not matter, debate is irrelevant and that power and influence alone matter. By acting in this manner, the party has rejected its best and supported its worst.
Five years’ suspension for calling for reform in a party one loves so dearly is already bad enough. Expulsion is reprehensible.
In Zimbabwe’s Zanu PF, there were characters of a far worse disposition than Malema, yet they were never expelled. Chenjerai Hunzvi, the late war veterans’ leader who was an integral member of Zanu PF, led what appeared to be an arrogant drive against the government of President Robert Mugabe not so long ago, singing disparagingly against the Head of State and government at a funeral at the Heroes Acre. Their message: Zimbabwe had achieved political freedom in 1980 but economic emancipation was still a pipe dream. Social inequality, they argued, still very much permeated the core fabric of our society. Zanu PF could have expelled the whole lot for embarrassing the President in such an unprecedented fashion. It did not. And the reason was simple: Hunzvi and his cabal had a point.
A few years after that confrontation, and thanks to the visionary leadership of President Mugabe, land has since been distributed to hundreds of thousands of hitherto impoverished families and Zimbabweans are benefiting meaningfully from their natural resources through the indigenisation drive which many African countries are now beginning to emulate.
The ANC could draw some helpful lessons from this. That it has opted to go for the man and not the ball is ridiculous and serves only to prove that the once estimable party is being led by a pack of wild dogs with very little regard for free speech and truth.
So long as joblessness, poverty and inequality remain unaddressed in South Africa, Malema’s message will continue to ring true and resonate deeply indeed. Expelling him may give the ANC some breathing space but it will not make the problems go away and that, in political terms, could turn out to have far greater consequences for the revolutionary party than Malema might ever have as its active, although inconvenient, member.