/ 18 November 2013

Malema’s supporters party the night vigil away

At the launch of the Economic Freedom Fighters
At the launch of the Economic Freedom Fighters

One would have to be liberal with the truth to call Sunday night's outpouring of support for Economic Freedom Fighters's (EFF's) commander-in-chief Julius Malema a vigil. 

The event, lasting from Sunday evening to sunrise on Monday, was attended by well over 1 000 people, most of them in the organisation's red regalia.

There was plenty singing and dancing – from South Africa's concessionary national anthem to the song Malema defended in court, Dubul' ibhunu – but what transpired at the Cosmo Leisure Lodge and Conference Centre this past weekend felt more like a carnival than a sombre affair.

In fact, judging from the tone of the event, which centred around Malema's corruption trial that was due to begin on Monday morning at the high court sitting in Polokwane, one could venture that his supporters, from his Seshego neighbours (apparently bussed in), to supporters from as far afield as Durban, were celebrating the outcome of a foregone conclusion. 

Malema is accused of making nearly R4-million from corrupt activities. He is out on bail of R10 000 and faces charges of fraud, corruption, money-laundering and racketeering.

The EFF leader's co-accused are his business associates Kagisho Dichabe, Lesiba Gwangwa, Helen Moreroa and Makgetsi Manthata, who are out on bail of R40 000 each.

The state alleges Malema and the others misrepresented themselves to the Limpopo roads and transport department, leading to a R52-million ​contract being awarded to On-Point Engineering.

Given that everyone in the EFF professes Malema to be innocent – or at the very least, innocent until proven guilty – one could be forgiven for imagining a Durban-at-the-beach scenario as opposed to bodies huddled solemnly around a bunch of coffins.

In fact, a group that captured both the intended spirit of the event and its actual performance – in song – was a 17-strong contingent from the Alexandra branch who sang about "kneeling and praying for Malema then bending over and farting on President Jacob Zuma's face", with nary a hint of irony. 

Changed form
​EFF member and actor Fana Mokoena said on Sunday while the form of the "vigil" had changed over the years, its symbolism was still the same as there was essentially still a "sad" occasion during which a comrade needed the support. "In the struggle days in Soweto, we would hold vigils during mass funerals. The idea is that you support the family by keeping them company." Mokoena joined the chorus of EFF members who felt Malema was being targeted as the corruption charges did not emerge before he was excommunicated from the ANC Youth League last year.

While speeches from the podium were, without exception bland and formulaic, the ground level was an intoxicating mix of age and youth, sobriety and drunkenness, lucidity and denialism.

From young boys with their shirts out seated on cooler boxes and professionals from the arts to the sciences, to the screaming queens braving stares, the rhetoric was impassioned but ultimately predictable. "In the ANC, they were doing corruption, so if they're innocent, then he's innocent," said 21-year-old Seshego native Lebogang Mohlaloga, expressing a popular view. "If he's guilty, then they're guilty too. If Zuma can get off that chair in eNkandla, they'd do the same thing to him as he is doing to Malema."

As the response from Lephalaphala, Waterberg resident Andries Ledwaba illustrates Malema is now perceived as being part of a wider smear campaign, pitting the forces of change and transparency against the forces of evil and darkness. 

"They just want to destroy a young, talented mind who calls a spade a spade … we won't be scared, we are tired of the ANC, the Guptas and all these scandals. Zuma wants to stop Thuli Madonsela now," he said, referencing the recent bid by Parliament's security cluster to stop the public protector from releasing her report into Zuma's Nkandla home's upgrades. That bid has since been withdrawn.

Seven pillars
​Ledwaba said party members were prepared for the worst should Malema's fate land him in prison. "The EFF will continue guided by its seven pillars, which we came up with as a collective in Soweto."

Thembi Msane, an engineer from Kwadukuza in KwaZulu-Natal, who arrived in Johannesburg on the back of her boyfriend's racing bike, said the image of Malema as a corrupt individual was merely a perception at this point that would hopefully be laid to rest. She emphasised though that the organisation would continue to grow, with or without him. "The EFF is not Julius," she said. "It's all of us that are here."

Msane said the movement's growth in KwaZulu-Natal had been on the back of the ANC's negligence, where the party failed to build on the Inkatha Freedom Party's track record as its support waned when the ruling party assumed dominance in that province.

Meanwhile, Malema's trial gets under way at the high court sitting in Polokwane on Monday.

Security is expected to be tight at the court, Limpopo police said on Sunday. They would monitor and patrol the area in and around the court, Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi said.

'Peace and stability'
The city centre and Seshego would also be monitored.

"The aim is to ensure peace and stability. No lawlessness will be tolerated and those who break the law will be arrested immediately," said Mulaudzi at the time.

The trial is expected to run until November 29.

On Monday, streets around the court would be closed to traffic.

A supporters' march was scheduled to take place on Monday from Oost Street down Bodenstein Street to the court. – Additional reporting by Sapa