Julius Malema and the emperor's new clothes

Do we join in the ridiculing of Julius Malema because we're afraid not to? (Siphiwe Mhlambi)

Do we join in the ridiculing of Julius Malema because we're afraid not to? (Siphiwe Mhlambi)

Are we all just making a bigger deal about Julius Malema's threads because if we don't we'll just feel like massive idiots who did not have an opinion about something and then ... shock, horror, suddenly, a pair of shoes slipped through the doorway of democracy and entered a humbly clad house of Parliament?

In The Emperors New Clothes, Hans Christian Andersen reveals the tale of an emperor with an attitude problem who hires two swindling weavers. They promise him a garment so special that only those deserving of their positions will be able to see it.
Those who don't see it could be catergorised as either stupid or incompetent.

Once the emperor is dressed in the garment through a process of miming the invisible clothing on, he proceeds to see the unseeable – because he too does not want to appear unfit to rule. Parading through the streets in his specially fashioned attire, many of the town's folk and the emperor's ministers pretend to see something that isn't really there for fear of appearing ignorant.

It's a funny thing, that, agreeing or being in agreement of something that maybe doesn't exist. What if we said nothing? And when in fact we do say things, like "OMG guys, Malema is visiting the less fortunate wearing loafers that are shiny and so expensive", do we just say so because we're too scared of coming across as well ... stupid? Or worse still, indifferent? Because obviously, since we see what he is wearing, it must mean that we possess a necessary insight. We have searched deep and hard, and so now we have the capacity to gain a better understanding of Malema.

You know what's missing from this metaphor? The person who spews forth truths: honesty untainted by the expectation of keeping up with appearances. In the original story, a boy in the crowd lining the streets of the parade shouts: "But he isn't wearing anything." That's what we're lacking – the naked truth, something to the effect of: "What is the big deal?" or "Get over it!" or better still ... "Do you think that Helen Zille and other Democratic Alliance leaders shop at the charity shop on some side street in Melville, or that Jacob Zuma and the rest of his ANC cronies drink R20 bottles of Tassies wine while lounging in reclaimed potato sacks?" No, we don't have that.

What we do not need is one more armchair liberal with an opinion about Carvella's, or Louis Vuittons, or whatever. We do not need some pie-in-the-sky suburban pseudo-philanthropist who is constantly irked by an innate sense of wanting to participate in a sort of public discourse while sipping a spritzer and checking the time on their own Tag Heuer. No.

Without comparing the two personalities and for the purposes of illustration, when Ernesto Ché Guevara and Alberto Granado hopped on a bike in 1952 to travel about South America and explore the social injustices on its people he was riding La Poderosa – a Norton 500cc motorcycle – a bike that costs just over R106 000 today. During that time ... a lot of money. Do you think any of those people cared what he was sitting on? Or just that he came?

In the words of American scholar Hollis Robbins, who critiqued The Emperors New Clothes, let the "value of labour be recognised apart from its material embodiment". And yes, there are perhaps those of you who would prefer to see Malema buck-naked and "on the strip". But given the option, I think most prefer him properly clad anyway.

Haji Mohamed Dawjee

Haji Mohamed Dawjee

Haji Mohamed Dawjee became Africa’s first social media editor in a newsroom at the Mail & Guardian, where she went on to work as deputy digital editor and a disruptor of the peace through a weekly column. A stint as the program manager for Impact Africa – a grant-disbursing fund for African digital journalists – followed. She now pursues her own writing full time by enraging readers of EWN and Women 24 with weekly and bi-monthly columns respectively. She also contributes to the Sunday Times and a range of other publications. Mohamed Dawjee's inaugural book of essays: Sorry, not sorry: Experiences of a brown woman in a white South Africa, is due for release by Penguin Random House in April 2018.Follow her on Twitter: @sage_of_absurd Read more from Haji Mohamed Dawjee

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