Julius Malema comes to town

PHAKAMISA MAYABA  / Even without the rather showy Michael Jackson-type platform, conveniently latched onto a truck, Julius Malema clearly has a taste for the theatrical. Why else would he go all out, even in remote places like Colesberg, to put on the sort of showboating that brings an entire town to a virtual standstill?

Maybe that’s because even though the intelligentsia mostly regard him as a jabbering flip-flopper, the man is way bigger on the ground than many would admit. And also because they  place a greater premium on personalities than on realities at the grass roots: people are hungry and restless, and the ruling party has its hands full, seemingly with no idea of how to get itself and the country out of the deepening mire.

From early morning on the day of Malema’s rally in Ward 3 (mysteriously dubbed a ‘community meeting’ on the EFF’s Facebook page), the streets, as one local remarked, were a ‘sea of red’. And by the time the EFF motorcade – so long that it stretched almost along the entire main road – arrived, they were a hive of blaring hooters, supporters leaning out of car windows, and onlookers not sure what had hit the normally sleepy town.

Whether this was an underhanded rent-a-crowd is still unclear, but what is clear is that this hoe-down dwarfed anything the town has seen this year and – I’d put my head on the block – perhaps many years before. A child knocking a football around probably summed it up best; ‘Hay ezinye ngabantwana’ – all the other parties are child’s play in comparison.


A rapturous welcome … part of the crowd gathered in front of the mobile stage. Image: EFF Facebook page.

When Malema last came to town, ‘Generations’ was a hit television soapie, and he was the bulky, brutish president of the ANC Youth League. Representatives of the ruling party were sauntering about as the mainstay force around here, bagging election after election without really having to try too hard. That the ANC would always emerge victorious seemed undisputed. (Besides a general loyalty to the party due to its role in ‘liberation’, they had also embedded into the local psyche the idea that material or economic progress was a right reserved for party supporters).

Back then, there were a few alternatives to the ANC, certainly none that spoke the language of ‘economic freedom in our lifetime’, or qualifications as a prerequisite for employment. Although known for sometimes ‘going rogue’, Malema’s power was stifled under the mother body, making him come across as little more than a rabble rouser with spoilt-brat tendencies of taking broadsides at his elders. During that visit, Malema was in the company of snazzily dressed soap stars who’d clearly come out to woo the youth vote. The community hall was packed to the rafters, with hundreds more milling around outside, breaking into song.

The elderly also get in on the song and dance. Image: EFF Facebook page.

Much has happened in the intervening years. The Umsobomvu municipality has been dogged by accusations of corruption and nepotism, among others in a report which is now the subject of a court review, and during hostile spats at public events.

The ruling ANC has been splintered, leading to the formation of the Colesberg Residents Association (URA), a hasty ruffle-together that nonetheless occupies four seats on the local council. Its members have seemingly thrown in their lot with the EFF, and with at least two making that party’s provincial and national lists, they have dented the common perception of the ANC being the only vehicle for personal advancement.

And, yes, they are vigorously intent on upstaging the ruling party with every chance they get. This would explain the pomp and pageantry surrounding Juju’s arrival.

After an electrifying performance by Lady Du, a hip and happening amapiano artist, and her dancers (this may not seem like much, but in these neglected places, these things count volumes), a grinning Malema comes out to resounding cheers and applause.

True to form, and obviously having been briefed on the contentious issues plaguing the town, Malema immediately goes for the jugular. ‘We are here to demand that the rules of Umsobomvu to be hired by the municipality, and when they hire, they must not use surnames and membership of the ANC, because when you’re not ANC, they don’t want to give you a job. They want to sleep with you first before they give you a job. So when we take the Northern Cape, we’re going to make sure that that nonsense stops.’

Malema in ‘responsible statesman’ mode. Image: EFF Facebook page.

Should his party take over the province, the first order of business would be to fix the roads, because here one finds ‘potholes the size of [Jacob] Zuma’s swimming pool’. (This is the first in a string of jibes that has the audience in stitches). In white areas, there are no gravel roads or potholes, so he would ensure that the township has roads built for purpose, and there’s running water in every home.

A lecture follows on how vital industries are closing down, and how the country’s minerals are being shipped abroad to be processed, something which he vows to stop. On top of this, he would introduce a minimum wage for farm workers who are being exploited and denied the basic right to dignity, because ‘the ANC has not given our people flushing toilets in the past thirty years.’

‘There was one billion …to build houses here in Colesberg,’ he claims, ‘but till today there’s no roads, because they stole the money. Zamani Saul and his people have stolen the money that was meant for houses.’

Why are they so proud of building houses when they are incomplete? ‘You pass those houses every day. You’re a mayor, you’re a councillor, why are you not ashamed that you’ve got incomplete houses?’ Under the EFF, those houses would be completed within a year, because the money is there.

He would build proper houses (three bedrooms, a dining room, kitchen, bathroom and a passage), not the cheap RDP-style ones that hardly allow for privacy or dignity. Here he adds some suggestive references about the lack of privacy that has the audience in fits of laughter.

He also embarks on a grand vision about toll roads and high-speed trains, and how he would invite countries like China to build said railways on condition that in thirty years they would be handed over to the state.


The EFF’s National Chairperson, Veronica Mente, addresses the Colesberg ‘community meeting’. Image: EFF Facebook page.

The controversial nuclear power station deal? Our man is a fan of the idea, believing that it was only thwarted because it would’ve been the Russians who benefited from the windfall rather than western Europe. His geopolitics are not necessarily centred around East or West, but rather informed by seeking only what’s best for the people of South Africa, he suggests.

He also believes in free education. When children turn three, they should start at an early childhood development centre, with one or two such facilities operating in every ward. Free high school education plus uniforms, shoes and a daily meal.

Where would the money come from? Well, he says, the money will come when you stop buying prisoners uniforms, ‘because you buy prisoners uniform, but you don’t buy children uniform’. And prisoners have their three daily squares and flushing toilets, and no experience of loadshedding, courtesy of the government.

‘If you can buy a generator for a prison, why can’t you buy it for every township where you know they’re affected by loadshedding?’

NSFAS, the state’s fund for tertiary education, should be wound down, as it’s little more than a slush fund for the corrupt, specifically the South African Communist Party.

Some 18.6 million South Africans live in extreme poverty – this while 18.8 are recipients of social welfare that is intended to defeat poverty. ‘Extreme poverty is when a person can’t spend more than R41 per day…then how much budget does Cyril Ramaphosa’s dogs spend per day? Because Ramaphosa’s dogs can’t survive with R41 per day.’

How do you fight inequality and defeat poverty? The old age grant should be increased to R4 000 or more, and the child grant to R1 000.

Clinics should be open 24/7, ‘because government health facilities have become mortuaries’. Then he takes a swipe at the boys in blue, an entire contingent of which has come out. The police, he declares, are in cahoots with criminals. ‘The people who are supposed to apply the law are the ones who are violating the law.’

Then follows Malema in sermon mode: ‘We will police ourselves. We are not scared of anyone. We are not scared of the ANC. We are not scared of the DA … let police fight criminals, let police fight drugs and nyaope. Anyone who takes out a gun and point[s] it at a policeman, that person should have said goodbye, because that’s the end of him.’

He calls for better police visibility, and when old people go out out to vote, to forget Nelson Mandela. ‘This person who is the ANC president now, nothing of him looks like Mandela. If you doubt that maybe he’s a Mandela in another form, just go look at his nose; you will see that Mandela never had this nose.’

He goes on to declare: ‘Ramaphosa is a criminal. Mandela has never stole money and hide it in mattresses and sofas.’ Elaborating on the Phala-Phala scandal, he says prosecutors were ready to prosecute Ramaphosa, but the National Prosecuting Authority’s Shamila Batohi made the docket disappear. So people should vote and send Ramaphosa back to the Union Buildings where he could search for that docket and stop corruption, as he claims to have done with his ‘pay back the money’ mantra aimed at former president Jacob Zuma.

In the aftermath of Malema’s visit, the discourse has been around whether the man has made real inroads into Colesberg, or whether people were just there for free t-shirts, an amapiano concert, or to see the guy they usually see on TV in the flesh.

On the day, the ANC had arranged a soccer tournament, and several funerals (usually major crowd-drawers) were under way. So the question was whether the crowd at the Malema rally signalled that the EFF should be taken seriously, or was just a passing fad. The responses are as divergent as the parties straddling the political spectrum.

For the lay observer, one thing is certain: the EFF has challenged the status quo, jolting those on the gravy train, and leaving everyone else wondering what the new political order will mean or look like. Previously, when people openly supported any other than the ruling party, this was thought of as political and economic suicide. Now, the numbers of people proudly wearing red t-shirts before and after the event have been a powerful marker of how things are a-changing.

More than anything else, it shows that, whether disillusioned or desperate, people are no longer cowering before threats of economic exclusion. ‘When you ain’t got nothing / You got nothing to lose,’ Bob Dylan would probably remind us at this point.

The first of these flare-ups of ‘courage’ emerged during the last local government elections where people openly campaigned for the newly formed URA. At Malema’s function, one caught glimpses of former die-hard ANC bigwigs in red t-shirts, seemingly unperturbed. This is seismic.

Moreover, in a political landscape where ‘race’ rather than policy is a powerful determinant of how people cast their votes, Malema has been handed a fortuitous advantage. Laced with searing humour, his speech touched emotively on local issues that residents have been harping on for decades — the incomplete Ou Boks houses that we’ve written about, less than desirable public health care, and hopeless joblessness.

Malema greets elderly people after the rally. Image: EFF Facebook page.

Two days after the event, I eavesdropped on a conversation in which an elderly woman lamented how – no thanks to the local clinic — she’d had to spend the festive season without her chronic medication. Real, persistent gripes that those currently in power are unable to address. Potentially vote-attracting issues in a place where most residents survive on social grants and petty jobs.

More importantly, at least one local EFF member – Simphiwe Mrwarwaza – has made it onto the party’s provincial list, and at one point shared the stage with Malema. Imagine the message this sends to wannabe careerists. One of our own alongside Commander-in-Chief Juju — imagine the possibilities that lie ahead?

One expects to see similar scenes with parties like the Patriotic Alliance in Lowryville. It would seem that the local political scene is not so advanced or evolved as to allow affiliation outside of racial boundaries. Of course, come 29 May, this judgment may be proven wrong. For now, though, this is my story, and I’m sticking to it.

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