Julius Malema, the young ANC leader recently described by Winnie Mandela as “the future President of South Africa” can get a rise out of people. And he is often a stand-in for all kinds of prejudices. As comic artist Nathan Trantaal told AIAC recently: “… The South African mainstream likes to have a black man they can laugh at, a black man who says something that is so obviously wrong they can jump at the opportunity to lampoon him. Take Julius Malema, for example. I don’t particularly like the way people talk or write about him. I mean, he’s a dumb bastard, but there’s just something very uncomfortably self-righteous about it. Don’t call a black person dumb in the media every single day. “Dom Kaffir” [dumb kaffir] is what the old government used to say. And whether it is deliberate or not, it has that undercurrent.”  Which is why  the blog Think Africa Press’ round-up of South African expert opinion on Malema, is so valuable.  Here’s a sample from the expert comment by political economist (and former broadcaster) Hein Marias–he wrote the new book South Africa Pushed To The Limit: The Political Economy Of Change:

Julius Malema is neither an anomaly nor a flash-in-the-pan. Both lurid and “down-to-earth”, his populism draws on key themes of African nationalism, but blends them enigmatically into a politics that accommodates social conservatism, lumpen radicalism and grasping entitlement. Malema is a work-in-progress, and his politics – or more accurately, the political register in which he operates – constitutes a political experiment within the ruling African National Congress (ANC).

His prominence stems not simply from rank-and-file support in the ANC, but from the backing of powerful sections of the organization’s leadership. There are two, interlinked reasons for this. The ANC’s political and ethical moorings have grown doddery and indeterminate. It has a long tradition of functioning as a “broad church” of interests and political currents that orbit around a set of key, progressive principles and ideals. Over the past decade, though, those have grown increasingly fluid and indistinct, and the organization now functions much less as a coherent engine of change than as a zone in which motley, often conflicting, interests and ambitions can be pursued.

But that creates a major problem. How does a one-size-fits-all ANC then retain its political authority and build consent amid massive unemployment, widening inequality, and a palpable sense of unfairness? Such realities push ideology and political theatre to the fore. In South Africa’s context, they invite inventive use of the symbols of liberation and nationalism, and tempt rousing affirmations about identity and entitlement, including chauvinist ones. Malema is best understood in that light – as a kind of political prototype, which significant sections of the ANC believe might offer a rewarding way forward. Which is why Malema-the-politician might or might not survive, but his brand of politics will probably be around for a while.

Read the rest of the experts here.

Further Reading