Youth is not wasted on the young, only on Malema

I have never believed in dampening the exuberance of youth. Throughout the world and throughout history the young have always expressed themselves more forcefully than older people and been in the vanguard of people seeking change, whether it was seeking to change capitalist societies into communist ones, or vice-versa, or wanting to change apartheid South Africa into a country that embraced non-racial democracy. 

This has helped me to understand people such as Julius Malema and his EFF, who speak mainly to a young constituency. I try to understand the real message they are conveying. 

Listening to Malema over the past few weeks and especially at Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s funeral service last week, it is clear that Malema is more interested in political point-scoring and satisfying the need (or rather want) of his constituency for soundbites and quotable quotes than in helping to build a united country. 

If that was what he set out to achieve, then his speech at the funeral was a success. He trended on social media for the past week with many people using #juliusmalemachallenge when they sought a “signal from Mama” about various issues, mainly flippant and not in keeping with the dignity of the occasion when he spoke the words.

Malema has also trended with his suggestion that Cape Town International Airport be renamed after Madikizela-Mandela. It would appear that Malema cleverly used inside information, that Transport Minister Blade Nzimande had asked for the airport in Cape Town to be renamed after Nelson Mandela, to throw a spanner in the ANC’s plans and steer the discussion in another direction. 

But there were two things that worried me about his speech. The one was the lack of acknowledgement of Jacob Zuma when he spoke about former presidents.

It was inappropriate and could have been better handled by him saying something like: “Out of respect for Mama Winnie, I will today even acknowledge Zuma as a former president, something I would not normally do.” He would have made his point as effectively. But to pretend the man was not there, as if he doesn’t exist, was childish and not becoming of a party which hopes to rule us some day.

The second thing that worried me about Malema’s speech was the mass exodus of EFF supporters, in their red T-shirts, immediately after their commander-in-chief spoke.

I could not help wondering whether this was a planned walkout and whether the EFF leadership was aware it was going to happen. It was a brilliant way of showing their support in the full glare of the TV cameras. 

One of the reasons, I believe, the EFF will struggle to win much more support than what they enjoy at the moment is because they are effectively a one-trick-pony party. They know how to oppose but they must still learn to build. They must learn that sometimes statesmanship works better than outright anger and opposition.

For the past 24 years, the ANC has had to learn the difference between being a resistance movement and a political party governing the country and most of its provinces. It has not been an easy lesson.

The EFF needs to learn that our democracy has many legs and each requires a different response. For instance, if you are a political party operating in Parliament that makes our legislation, then you should allow yourself to be subjected to this legislation and the courts that are trying to implement it.

I hold no brief for AfriForum and similar organisations, but they have the right to prosecute whoever they want. The law allows them to.

The fact that they are planning to bring a private prosecution against Malema for fraud and corruption is more of an indictment of our ineffective justice system which gives opportunists like AfriForum the chance to take matters into their own hands.

Malema’s response to the news that AfriForum is bringing a private prosecution against him has been to point out that a white organisation and private prosecutor were planning to prosecute a black man.

Malema tweeted on Thursday: “Bring it on bloody racists, you don’t scare me at all. I’m born ready!

No white man will decide my destiny, the poor masses of our people will.”

It was a predictable response from someone who markets himself as a firebrand. But maybe, in this case, his response should have been something about respecting the rule of law and the courts.

There are many people in my circles who are watching Malema eagerly because they are looking for an alternative to the ANC, especially after the past 10 years or so of craziness that beset Africa’s oldest liberation organisation.

Granted, we are not the EFF’s target market, but we do have votes and many of us do have a bit of influence.

We are looking for a signal from the EFF that they are worthy of support, but until they learn to move beyond exuberance, rhetoric and anger, it will be difficult to trust them to govern properly.

People in government need to be concerned about the entire population, even those who did not vote for them and I am not convinced that the EFF can do this.

I hope they will prove me wrong.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 21 April 2018)