Julius Malema has officially been voted off the island, writes Verashni Pillay. Now what?
You’ve got to give it to the ANC for timing. Just before 10pm on a leap year day, the bombshell dropped: Julius Malema had officially been voted off the island.
It seemed poetic: it’s a day that allows the traditionally silent party in a relationship to pop the big question.
So the ANC took a big breath, stood up to the man in their life who up to now had been doing all the talking—stringing them along with his constantly changing political crushes—and politely asked him to leave. For real this time, his previous suspension converted to a full expulsion.
I’ve said it before but now we have it in black and white: The bromance is officially over.
We don’t blame them. Satirical puppet show ZAnews said it all on a show just before the news dropped. Malema was pictured shouting his usual stream of abuse at a traffic cop who had just suspended his licence, insisting repeatedly: “I am appealing!” To which the cop replies: “Sir! Stop saying you are appealing—you are actually very unattractive.”
But ad hominem attacks aside (we’ve learned from the best, thank you Juju), this is a sad day for the young lion who had seemingly endlessly pushed his luck: with his own league whom he bullied into submission; with the mother party which he had gratuitously insulted with no thought to the consequences; and with South Africans who listened to his increasingly violent invective with growing consternation.
In the coming months, there will be many lessons learned about what Malema got wrong. But to attain such a status in South Africa’s society he must have done some things right — right? So in the interest of fairness (but mostly in homage to the classic cartoon Animaniacs) here is a preliminary list of Malema’s good and bad ideas.
Good idea: Donning your revolutionary beret and leading a pro-poor march to the epicentre of privilege, Sandton.
Bad idea: Jumping on a private jet the very next day to party the weekend away at a five star, exclusive bash and thereby revealing your pro-poor posturing to be just that.
Good idea: Shaking the middle class and much of white South Africa out of their complacent and privileged rut with serious talk on the need for economic equality.
Bad idea: Laughing into your Moët and raking in millions while ensuring that no honest black businessman could ever get a break thanks to the sophisticated system of institutionalised corruption you and your pals allegedly set up in Limpopo.
Good idea: Evaluating the role of our big-earning mines in democratic South Africa and starting a conversation about the viability of nationalisation.
Bad idea: Primarily doing that probably to help your tenderpreneur friends who had screwed over their mines and were in need of the neat government bailout that nationalisation would provide.
Good idea: Energising the youth league like never before in recent history, and speaking with one, strong voice.
Bad idea: Doing this at the expense of the internal democracy of the league, where any dissent to the big man was brutally dealt with, even if it meant reportedly disbanding branches at random.
Good idea: Being unafraid to take on anyone to defend your convictions, no matter how powerful they seemed.
Bad idea: Resorting to hideous personal attacks in the process: Patricia de Lille became ugly, Naledi Pandor a fake, Helen Zille a whore and Lindiwe Mazibuko a tea girl—and more I can’t stomach repeating. This is not the democracy the ANC fought for.
So, once the appeal process runs its course—and let’s face it: it’s not likely to change anything for Julius—the bogeyman of the South African middle class will be gone. And after the terror and panic, the plans to leave the country and the impassioned and sometimes ugly letters and comments trying to shout Malema down, what will we be left with?
For one, a ruling party that took back control and reaffirmed its commitment to a nonracial and unified South Africa. A government newly committed to fighting corruption as it embarks on one of the largest infrastructure drives in our history. A disciplined budget that has done the impossible in a mad global financial landscape, trimming back our debt while finding more money for investing in our future. And commendable departments like the national planning commission, coming up with solid plans to make South Africa the kind of country we all know it has the potential to be.
Sure it’s not all rosy, and there are cynical political motives hidden behind a lot of that good news. But it’s not all bad either.
Malema spoke so often of certain counter-revolutionary tendencies among South Africans. But the real problematic tendency is our bitter and relentless negativity.
We allowed Malema to steal our patriotic joy for so long and have us believe the worst about ourselves. But things are not going to get magically better now that he’s gone. What will change this country is not the expulsion of one problematic individual. It’s a change of attitude on the part of every South African: to get stuck in, stop whining and make a difference. Now there’s a good idea for every day—not just leap year.
- Verashni is the deputy editor of the M&G online. You can read her column every week here, and follow her on Twitter here.