Brian Moyo analyses why the maverick leader of EFF, with a penchant for stepping where Angels fear to thread, is the subject of a controversial speech in Durban
JULIUS Malema, the leader of one of South Africa’s opposition parties, Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) is not renowned for mincing his words when he talks politics.
Clad in the EFF’s garment of choice in the South African parliament – red overalls and Che Guevara type of beret, no subject under the sun seems to faze Malema.
Malema came to prominence while serving as President of the African National Congress Youth League from 2008 to 2012. Within those five years, it became abundantly obvious to the ruling party and political observers, that Malema’s straight talking and fearlessness to tackle hard issues knew no bounds.
The realisation within the ANC that it had a loose canon of great amplitude within its ranks rankled the conservatives among the elites . From then onwards, it became only a matter of time as to when and how the ruling party would part ways with the maverick political firebrand.
Indeed Thabo Mbeki, during his time as president, was not spared Malema’s tongue lashing, much to the amusement of his then deputy, Jacob Zuma. It must have been amusing for Zuma to watch Malema tearing into Mbeki at every opportunity and by the same token, aiding and abetting the deputy leader’s own chances of taking over the reins of ANC leadership.
Little did Zuma realise then that the loose canon would evolve into an even bigger beast, and that once Malema had formed the EFF and sneaked into parliament as an opposition leader of great fascination, his penchant to destroy political rivals would escalate to new levels.
Zuma has had so many lashings in parliament from Malema, his one time Comrade in arms, he might well have visible markings on his thick political skin.
It has come to a point that when Malema’s speaks, inside or outside parliament, someone somewhere is bound to be offended.
The latest episode in Malema’s controversial speeches was when he was addressing thousands of EFF supporters during his party’s fourth anniversary celebration in Durban last Saturday.
Typically, Malema went for the jugular, accusing Indians in Durban of exploiting their African workers and monopolising the KwaZulu-Natal economy.
He said: “Here, in Durban, here in KwaZulu-Natal, everything strategic is given to Indian families. Everything, big tender, is given to Indian families. They are the ones who are owning strategic things here, in KwaZulu-Natal. We don’t have a problem, we are saying to them, ‘share, with our people’. We also want to call upon our fellow Indians, here in Natal, to respect Africans. They are ill-treating them. They are treating them worse than [the] Afrikaners. We don’t want that to continue, here in Natal. This is not [an] anti-Indian statement. It’s the truth.
“If we tell whites the truth, if we tell blacks the truth, we can as well tell Indians the truth. They must treat our people properly, here in KwaZulu-Natal,” Malema added.
Furthermore, Malema accused the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal of being captured by some Indian families. He said: “The ANC and other political parties in Natal are captured. They may not be captured by the Guptas, but are in pockets of other Indian families. We want an equal society.”
The South African Minority Rights Equality Movement (SAMREM) has reacted by laying criminal charges against Malema.
Reacting to Malema’s speech, SAMREM convener Ashin Singh said: “We are surprised now to find that he actually made those statements. He was either very drunk or very stupid or he was just trying to create some sort of problem between Indians and Africans.
“We know he is not stupid, so he is deliberately playing on the issue, to generate votes for the EFF and to marginalise the African National Congress (ANC). The ANC has created the quota system… The neglect of Indian suburbs, the quotas for Indians in terms of jobs and universities – that’s the ANC legislation. So now he is using this anti-Indian sentiment, against the ANC,” Singh added.
Meanwhile, the Provincial Human Settlements and Public Works MEC Ravi Pillay, who co-leads the provincial government’s Social Cohesion Committee, said Malema was a “dangerous populist”.
“We have been dealing with stereotyping of that nature for some time, and we rejected it with contempt as it goes against the principles of our constitution,” Pillay said.
Jonathan Annipen, spokesperson for the Minority Party, said he would approach the Human Rights Commission because Malema’s statements “were likely to reignite racial tension in the province.”
However, the EFF on the other hand has defended Malema’s utterances and urged Durban Indians to confront their own ills and hatred of African people.
Clearly, Malema has touched a nerve on an issue which polarises public opinion about the merits and demerits of the realities of living in the “Rainbow nation” of South Africa.
It is a fact of course that Indians in South Africa are there due to a coincidence of socio-political events which brought their ancestors to Africa. And it is also true that in the 156 years that the Durban Indian community has been in South Africa, their only interaction with Africans has mainly been through commercial activity – that is Africans buying goods from Indian shops and not vice versa. That kind of one way traffic relationship is hardly a basis for building mutual trust and strong bonds.
One could argue of course that the apartheid system ensured that Africans and Indians were kept apart and never encouraged to fraternise as human beings without the race card being an issue.
It would be interesting to find out to what extent all races in South Africa have integrated on all levels of human interaction, to make the “Rainbow nation” a realistic concept, since Nelson Mandela was inaugurated on 10 May 1994, as the country’s first black President.
The truth of the matter though is that very little has changed in the social make-up of the country since apartheid was broken. The mixing of races in schools or as neighbours in residential areas has not reached significant levels. And because money defines where one can live the majority of Africans are excluded from most suburbs where whites and Indians can afford to live.
So as long as whites, Africans and the Indian communities in South Africa co-exist in their old forms, with minimal social contact, the mind sets which prevailed under apartheid cannot be expected to be broken.
Old habits die hard!
So while the Indian community may resent the fact that Malema has accused their community of ill treating Africans, they should at least try to understand why those sentiments exist in the first place, and why the two communities remain polarised.
Apartheid engineered certain attitudes against black people in South Africa mainly in order to safeguard whites privileges. To a certain extent Indians, by virtue of not being black, benefitted from that order too and have held on to advantages bequeathed by the apartheid system.
Malema may be a rabble rouser in the eyes of many people, and he probably puts his foot where angels fear to thread, more often than most politicians. However, there is always a grain of truth in what he says.
Dismissing Malema’s Durban speech as mere rhetoric to fuel racial tension will not solve the “we and they” attitudes that clearly exist between Africans and Indians nor for that matter can it mask the economic gap between the two communities.
From my perspective, Malema is just being Malema – pointing his torch towards the elephant in the room that others pretend is not there!