Mandela to Malema: A history of firebrands

At age 26 I’ve finally decided what I want to be when I grow up. A firebrand. I’m not quite sure what it means but having heard how the term gets used I’m pretty confident it’s my ticket to a life of doing whatever the hell I like with zero consequences.

You may have heard it before. It’s penned in most articles to do with our celebrated leader, Julius Malema, long may he enrich himself at our expense.

He’s not the only one, mind you. Juju is just one in a long line to earn the title: Firebrand Youth Leader [cue: clashing cymbals and wrestler-like Juju pose)

There was firebrand Peter Mokaba who used to get jiggy with firebrand Winnie Madikizela-Mandela in calling for our farmers to be killed, not to mention firebrand youth leader at age 38, Fikile Mbalula, and a few other fiery lights on the sidelines cheering them on.

I do realise that sticking the term on my CV may not get me very far. There’s got to be all sorts of things I have to do and say first to earn the title. Trouble is all the good insults about driving white people into the sea, calling opposition leaders Satanists, ugly and whores, and lobbying for the nationalisation of assets I’d like to get my hands on, have already been taken.

What’s a young upstart firebrand to do?

I guess I could start with finding out what the term really means. The Oxford English Dictionary has it down as “one who incites unrest”.

The fact that the term is used as something of a euphemism—and an admirable one at that—says a lot.

In Jacob Zuma’s while president of the youth league. So much for the “painstaking work” the league was once known for. He also got into fist fights in meetings, stayed on as president beyond the age limit and espoused some of the most confusing and illogically-worded statements known to the media. He is currently deputy Police Minister and insiders say he is using Malema to oust Gwede Mantashe so that he can take over as ANC secretary general.

Julius Malema: What’s more to be said about the man that reams have been written about? We’ve already heard him boast of how he knows everyone’s secrets and uses that to his advantage. Allegations of corrupt dealings bankrolling his lavish lifestyle has done little to dent his appeal to a bling-impressed generation and constituency. With such mass support he’s a king-maker, all right, but one that uses all that power for his own advantage.

So my firebrand aspirations have some serious competition to deal with. But Mr President, please, we’re not stupid. Making false parallels between one generation of youth league leader and another is not going to cut it. Malema is no Mandela and Mbalula will come after your job next if you don’t get it together and keep your house—and party—in order.

  • You can read Verashni’s column every Monday here and follow here on twitter here.

Verashni Pillay

Verashni Pillay

Verashni Pillay is the former editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian, and inaugural editor-in chief of Huffington Post South Africa. She has worked at various periods as senior reporter covering politics and general news, specialises in mediamanagement and relishes the task of putting together the right team to create compelling and principled journalism across multiple platforms.  Read more from Verashni Pillay

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