Malema: We’re not white, we’re going to wear those uniforms

When it comes to political theatre, Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) definitely does not need any help.

Yet that is precisely what the party’s opponents, the ruling ANC, has given it by evicting the EFF’s representatives from the Gauteng provincial legislature because of the choice of party uniform.

The ensuing publicity storm does everything for the EFF and little for the ANC in Gauteng, who appear to be victimising the fledgling radical party and conveniently turning them into martyrs.

Malema has built his popularity on his keen ear for a relevant cause coupled with his formidable oratory power.

Both were let loose at an EFF press conference in Braamfontein on Thursday, where a briefing on organisational planning and general matters turned into an impassioned discussion of the ideology of the party’s red uniforms. According to Malema, those who opposed it within the ANC were evincing their class bias and hatred towards the working class and poor.


On Tuesday EFF members were violently removed from the Gauteng provincial legislature after speaker Ntombi Mekgwe said their red overalls and domestic workers’ uniforms were inappropriate – this despite the uniforms being worn without issue in the national assembly, albeit sans the slogans they sported in the Gauteng legislature.

Angry rebukes
Police were summoned when the EFF members refused to leave the House causing a fracas during which a few EFF members were injured. The party has now been banned from the Gauteng legislature if members of the provincial legislature wear the uniform.

As far as Malema was concerned, this was tantamount to an ideological battle.

Delivering a volley of increasingly angry rebukes to the ruling party on the issue, Malema was moved from righteous indignation to threatening violence.

“They look down on workers’ clothes because they do the same thing with their workers at home. The same thing they do to workers at home they’re doing to us,” began the party leader, mimicking the supposed attitude of the country’s political elites who despised their humble beginnings: “‘We have visitors, go to the backroom. Don’t want something smelling badly’,” he parodied, to giggles from the audience.

But things turned serious as Malema warmed up to his impromptu subject matter over time, a common characteristic of his speaking style.

“They reject their workers at home, so they reject their uniforms in parliament,” he said, likening the rejection of the party’s uniforms to an act of self-hatred on the party of the ANC, whom he accused of betraying their parents who were gardeners and maids.

And to those critics who have called for the EFF to focus on real issues instead of obsessing over the seemingly frivolous matter of uniforms, Malema insisted that the uniforms themselves were a substantive and real issue, which stood for all the party was fighting for.

‘We are not white’
“To you proper is white, to you proper is European. We are not white, we are going to wear those uniforms,” he said. “We are defying colonialist decorum. We are not English-made. We are workers, and we are going to wear those clothes and we are unapologetic about it.”

The irony, of course, is that Malema was known in his previous iteration as ANC youth league leader for his expensive suits and flashy watches, such as the Breitling he famously sported. But these have given way to a “worker’s uniform” in solidarity with the poor and working class on the back of which the EFF has largely built its support.

Malema acknowledged as much. “It doesn’t mean we don’t have proper clothes, we have very proper clothes. But this is a political battle we are fighting.”

Like the party’s red berets, the party’s overalls are beyond mere branding and serve as a stand-in for the party’s policies, its people and its very raison d’être in one simple and tangible image perfectly pitched to its target audience.

Malema’s right hand man Floyd Shivambu noted that the party was not dealing with the uniform issue alone, but has been raising substantive issues “above the quality and depth” of the ANC.

‘Mobilise our people’
But for Malema, the overalls issue has become a simple battle, which both appeals to his supporters and garners seemingly endless coverage. He spoke at length to the subject on Thursday, his rhetoric racheting up notch by notch as he dwelt on the injustice of the situation.

“Continuation to remove EFF from legislature through unruly methods will lead to instability in this province. We will fight. We have the capability to mobilise our people and fight physically,” he said.

“We are not scared of anything. We will bring our voters into the city and they will know who we are. They must not push because we have the capacity to fight,” Malema said.

The threats of physical violence should be a concern, no matter how important the cause may be. But thanks to the Gauteng ANC’s short-sighted move, the seriousness of the violence threats are lost. Instead, Malema has been neatly handed his next political theatre script.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

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.

Related stories

#CR17 fight heads to the Constitutional Court

amaBhungane’s arguments about the disclosure of campaign funding are also expected to be heard

Editorial: Political meddling won’t save the SABC

For years, in moves that harked back to the repressive regime of the Nats, the public broadcaster has been used by the party as its political football in internal factional battles, or to censor dissent.

Ace prepares ANC branches for battle

ANC secretary general Ace Magashule is ignoring party policy on corruption-charged officials and taking his battle to branch level, where his ‘slate capture’ strategy is expected to leave Ramaphosa on the ropes

Xenophobic tensions surge in KZN

Amid protests by the ANC’s MK Military Veterans, distressed foreign nationals have shut their stalls at a Durban flea market

‘Stand aside’ rule fails the Ace test

The ANC has stalled on setting ground rules for cleanout of comrades accused of corruption

‘Probe Free State tenders under Magashule’

A centralised procurement programme in the province allegedly operated under the former premier
Advertising

Subscribers only

Covid-19 surges in the Eastern Cape

With people queuing for services, no water, lax enforcement of mask rules and plenty of partying, the virus is flourishing once again, and a quarter of the growth is in the Eastern Cape

Ace prepares ANC branches for battle

ANC secretary general Ace Magashule is ignoring party policy on corruption-charged officials and taking his battle to branch level, where his ‘slate capture’ strategy is expected to leave Ramaphosa on the ropes

More top stories

Limpopo big-game farmer accused of constant harassment

A family’s struggle against alleged intimidation and failure to act by the authorities mirrors the daily challenges farm dwellers face

Did Botswana execute ‘poachers’ ?

The Botswana Defence Force’s anti-poaching unit has long been accused of a ‘shoot to kill’ policy. Over 20 years the unit has killed 30 Namibians and 22 Zimbabweans

Zondo tightens his grip with criminal complaint against Zuma

The state capture commission’s star witness now faces a criminal complaint and another summons

Sharp sting of the Green Scorpions

Crime busters secure a 97% conviction rate and register more criminal dockets for range of crimes
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…