There's fickle, and then there's Julius Malema. Verashni Pillay tracks his dramatic changes in tune on everything from Helen Zille to soldiers.
There's indecisive, there's fickle … and then there's Julius Malema.
Lately I've been wondering: what sort of a country pays this much attention to a person who has changed his views so dramatically over so many issues?
That which Malema violently denounces one day he fervently supports the next, depending on which way the political wind is blowing. You'd think we'd be cynical about his latest pro-worker posturing, and see through his sudden ardent support for miners.
I imagined he would meet his match in the rage of the striking Marikana miners, who would tear apart his hollow opportunism in the light of the years of silence on their suffering from the ANC Youth League. The timing before Mangaung, given the National Union of Mineworkers' support for a second term for Zuma, was just too convenient.
But, instead, both miners and later soldiers seem to welcome Malema with open arms. In retrospect I can't say I blame them. They have largely been left leaderless and unheard, and Malema has fashioned himself as a magic short cut for the marginalised to get themselves heard by the people that matter.
But still, Malema's sheer hypocrisy over the years is mind-boggling. His dramatic changes in tune are so regular as to be the only consistent thing about him. That and his propensity for violent invective.
We tend to have short memories as South Africans, so here's a recent history lesson on the changing weather vane that is Malema.
"You are also workers. You have workers' rights, you have the right to unionise, the right to air your views." – September 12 2012: Julius Malema addressing disgruntled soldiers placed on special leave following an illegal strike.
Interestingly enough, said strike happened three years ago. In that time, while the soldiers went head to head with their then minister Lindiwe Sisulu, he had not said a word. Indeed South African Security Forces Union president Bhekinkosi Mvovo issued a statement on the day saying: "When soldiers marched to Union buildings on August 26 2009, it is the very same Malema that said soldiers were out of order and that they should not be unionised."
Zuma's corruption trial
"The sham of the investigation against him, which has lasted seven years, has been so badly tainted [that] the prospect of a fair trial is nothing but an illusion — we will, therefore, challenge the courts to dismiss this case on these grounds." – July 12 2008: ANC Youth League national congress at Nasrec, Johannesburg.
Remember when Malema threatened to take up arms and kill for Zuma? It was in defence of the then would-be president as he was fighting a load of corruption charges.
Following Judge Chris Nicholson's judgment in Zuma's favour, he even went on to say: "Anybody who seeks to reopen it [Zuma's corruption case] will only be viewed as public enemy No. 1 with little or no interest of the country at heart."
Well, by his own definition then, Malema should be considered "public enemy No. 1," having said on July 12 2012: "Who is Zuma to tell us about corruption, if he is not corrupt he must go to court and prove his innocence."
Zuma's rape trial
"When a woman didn’t enjoy it, she leaves early in the morning. Those who had a nice time will wait until the sun comes out, request breakfast and ask for taxi money — You can’t ask for money from somebody who raped you." – January 22 2009: Addressing Cape Peninsula University of Technology students about Zuma’s rape trial.
The infamous statement about the woman who had accused Zuma of rape landed Malema in the Equality Court, and revealed his gross misunderstanding of the suffering and abuse South African women live with every day.
Fast-forward three years, and he was all about mocking Zuma's statements during the trial, saying: "He introduced a shower as a new method to fight HIV infection." Malema said this in reference to Zuma's comments that he had taken a shower to minimise the chances of infection.
Malema is an expert at capturing public outrage and adopting it. Accordingly, riding on the outrage of HIV/Aids activists, he also slammed Zuma for having unprotected sex, saying: "President Zuma was the chairperson of a government Aids council, which developed the strategy to fight HIV, yet he slept with her knowing that she was HIV-positive," said Malema.
"Even after that, he comes to us and says we must condomise."
He also condemned Zuma for fathering a so-called love child with Sonono Khoza, daughter of his friend, soccer boss Irvin Khosa: "He is not a disciplined member as he claims, how do you sleep with children of your friends. I can't sleep with Magaqa's sister, let alone his daughter."
"Today, as I was driving here, I received a call from a priest. [Democratic Alliance leader Helen] Zille is demolishing churches in Khayelitsha. In one church they found elders praying, they dragged them out … Helen Zille, who is suffering from satanism, has gone all out to demolish the churches in the Western Cape … because they are saying these churches are built on municipal land." – March 9 2010, addressing UJ students.
The eye-watering statement was quite something, even for Malema. But despite his well-known disregard for the DA and its leaders, he still managed to commend Zille in an address to soldiers, in an attempt to show up Zuma.
"We don't like the DA, we don't like Helen Zille," said Malema. "But she has won a court case which gave them 14 days. Now [it's] almost a year and they are not complying with that court order."
Perhaps Zille's successful court bid to get Malema to apologise to her for various sexist, racist and downright awful statements made during the 2009 election made an impression. Or maybe Malema knows how to shame his enemies using whatever is at hand.
At the address to UJ students in 2010 , he said that Cosatu's general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi had isolated himself and wouldn't be around after 2012.
Did we mention that Vavi was just re-elected unopposed by Cosatu on Monday. He also said, in those heady 2010 days, that Jacob Zuma will definitely be around. "If you want to survive in the ANC, support Zuma," he told local branch leaders.
Again, two years later, he was all brotherly love for Vavi. "I have nothing against Vavi and will always support and defend him as a brother and comrade. Unlike others who are produced by small nursing unions and do not have a history of being fighters, Vavi is a product of Cosas [Congress of South African Students]. We speak one language with him. He is the only revolutionary remaining in Cosatu," – Mail & Guardian interview September 4 2012.
The list goes on but that's enough to show Malema for what he really is: an echo chamber for the prevailing political opportunism of the time. If only more South Africans would remember that.
- Verashni is the deputy editor of the M&G online. You can read her column here, and follow her on Twitter here.
A previous version of this column implied that Sonono Khoza was HIV-positive. This is incorrect. We apologise for the error.