Class is in session and Malema's in detention

Economic Freedom Fighter leader Julius Malema. (Gallo)

Economic Freedom Fighter leader Julius Malema. (Gallo)

Woodwork: the highlight and the bane of Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema’s academic existence; the fact that he failed woodwork. He also didn’t finish school. Is excellence in academics as it pertains to life really such a big deal though? We have a president who didn’t finish school either, so if academics is the norm, then at least Jacob Zuma and Malema are speaking the same language? 

I hated high school.
I was a loner, part of the “blazer brigade”. A collective of other losers who gathered at break times under the big tree next to the lapa at the tennis courts. We weren’t even friends with each other. Besides having the odd cigarette in common and exchanging conversations about available lighters, we didn’t say much to each other. Academically, we didn’t work hard. We all passed. It was what you did. We got by. It wasn’t hard to do. But we didn’t understand it. We didn’t understand school. We didn’t understand the rules. We didn’t understand the convention of it all and we didn’t understand the system. It wasn’t for us. 

Most kids at school thrived, whether in social circles, popularity contests, academics, arts, culture, sport, you name it. The “go-getters” they were called. This has never been a compliment to me. It’s easy to be a go-getter and get things when society has such a standardised way of measuring it, when you can do it with the help of a crowd. By those standards, a herd of cows is the most successful thing on any given day. Doing what they’re supposed to do. Collectively grazing in their cow way. Herd mentality. But if one Jersey cow just once got his back up off the wall and did a little dance and was anti-herd, wouldn’t that be so much more interesting? Perhaps the other cows wouldn’t like it, but we humans certainly would. It would be a big deal.  

These anti-herd cows are like the students that hopped around – even when it came to subject choices. 

Like the blazer brigade, some took business economics one year and then dropped it for computer skills the next, eventually ending up with a final mark for woodwork on their matric certificate. Some didn’t get a matric certificate at all.

And now, with Parliament in session, we find the perfect metaphor. A classroom full of monitors and prefects – herds – if you must, and the red overall, non-uniform, uniform-wearing student in attendance; there to push all the boundaries and break all the rules. Whether he understands them, or not. 

We all know this student. In many cases, we are this student, or have at least been this student once in our lives. And the usual suspect gets detention. Yes, Malema is in detention, but that’s okay because the same rules apply here as in school. It’s the head boy’s job to be handpicked, groomed to say all the things that other people want to hear, or that other people tell him to say. It is certainly not the job of the envelope-pushing, rule-breaking, detention-sitting, woodwork-failing student. 

And just for interest’s sake, how many of you actually know what your head boys and head girls went on to become? I certainly don’t know. I can’t even remember them properly to be honest. 

But I do remember the Yugoslavian student who wrote an entire paper on the movie  Fight Club when it was supposed to be on some Shakespearean set work (he didn’t know if he was going to pass or not – he didn’t – hard lesson, still worth it). Or the Portuguese kid who could not spell for shit, but could make massive and intriguing analogies about Coldplay (then a very, very new band) and Radiohead. Or the time I myself stood in front of 30 students and a teacher and kept silent for two and a half minutes as my prepared speech for a final oral exam in Grade 12. 

Granted, I didn’t get detention, I did however need to meet with adjudicators from the department of education so that they could “test my intelligence”.

None of these have the magnanimous effect of Malema blaming the ANC for the deaths of the Marikana miners, but in that context they were no less ballsy. 

I’m not saying any of the blazer brigade are successful. In fact, some of them may well have failed miserably at being constructive human beings, while others might continue to exist in the grey between go-getter and complete loser (whatever that means and depending on who defines it at the time). But I will say this: they had ideas; some good, some bad, none of them foolproof, but other ideas. Like Malema – other ideas. And more than that, instead of just filling the voids in their minds with the thoughts of these ideas, they voiced them with fire.

“If you want to get laid, go to college. If you want an education, go to the library,” said American musician and composer Frank Zappa.  

In terms of the classroom that is the South African Parliament, if you want to get pats on the back and benefits and well, probably laid as well, be a follower. If you want to get an education … listen to Malema. After all, learning doesn’t always mean good lessons, the bad lessons are just as important.

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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