/ 23 August 2012

Malema in Marikana: Opportunism knocks

In speaking to the miners
In speaking to the miners

The nation is in the midst of a tragic event that has shaken us to the core, and served as an unexpected wake-up call. The sort where you get woken up from the middle of a dream by a sudden, startling sound. You wake with your heart beating wildly, with your body ready to react to danger – but then once you've convinced yourself it was but an illusion, you return easily to your slumber. 

We will forget waking up. We will forget the warning signs of a future we do not wish to see come to pass.  

Our heads will instead be turned by some new distraction in the weeks ahead. We are never short of those in this country. 

But though each of these distractions may serve as a prophetic warning, demanding that we change our course, we sail on. As melodramatic as this may sound, we are approaching the maelstrom. As we approach it, the captain is himself distracted – he is worried about mutiny, and not looking where the ship is headed. 

The ship is been sucked into the vortex by the winds and the waters, for the captain has long since ceased to steer. Even we passengers are distracted by the prospect of mutiny. Will the captain prevail, or won't he? We're so occupied by the journey that all thought of destination and direction is forgotten.

One of our consistent distractions is none other than Julius Malema. In the past week he went to address the mine workers – ostensibly to offer comfort and support in a time of tragedy, perhaps wishing to surprise us by trying to act as a statesman, but drawing inevitable accusations of attempting to reignite a burnt-out political career on the back of tragedy. It might be said that he is exploiting them as much as the mine bosses are. The mine bosses for money, he for political purposes.

Of course he would never admit to such an interpretation. He would say instead that he was there to talk to the bereaved community, because no one else will. Malema visited several times before President Jacob Zuma eventually made it back to the area on Wednesday. 

When the president first visited on Friday, he went to see the survivors of the shooting in the hospital. He acted presidential and spoke presidentially. Still, he did not address the mineworkers. This is where Malema took advantage and, in speaking to the miners, did what the president should have done the day before. But Malema could never act presidential and be above the fray. He is a desperate man. Desperate people do desperate things. Even taking advantage of even more desperate people, like the miners. 

There are so many different players and issues complicating the whole Lonmin incident, from the mine bosses, the unions and the workers, to the readiness of the cops and, above all, how we treat the people who extract the mineral wealth of the country. We never really see them, for they stay hidden underground. It was as if they were tired of being invisible to their bosses, their unions and to us. They have made us take a deep and honest look at ourselves. 

What are we doing to ourselves as a nation? What does this self-inflicted wound tell us about our leaders and ourselves? 

It tells us that we are a deeply wounded nation, still hellbent on inflicting even more pain, not just on the poor, but on each other. We have become so used to it that we no longer even recognise it as pain, we just count them as events, one after the other. Distractions.

Malema really took advantage of the aggrieved and grieving workers. He even went to lay a charge of murder against the police. There is nothing new about taking advantage. Even for Julius Malema, someone who never ceases to amaze us – but whose actions, paradoxically, hardly come as a surprise.