How to respond to Julius Malema?

I want to fire off an educated and considered response to the shock of Julius Malema’s latest outbursts but I find I’m too cold, too distracted by other things and I find the situation too depressing. (To non-South Africans, Julius Malema is the newly re-elected ANC Youth League president and they have just called for the nationalisation of the mines and the banks and for land expropriation without compensation. They have backed this call with strong-arm bullying of the ANC leadership to the effect of “support us in this or you’re out next year”.)

How to respond to something like this? I think many middle-class South Africans might well respond with catastrophising. I commented to L that I was really worried that the South Africa that Baby F’s generation will grow up in will be worse than the country that we grew up in. And that is saying a lot if you consider that we grew up under apartheid. The message which I got from the ANCYL conference was this: You (whites) benefitted for too long under apartheid. It’s taking too long for us (blacks) to get rich and so we are just going to take the main drivers of the economy. It’s a powerful strategy and it plays into white guilt and black anger. How can we deny that whites benefitted under apartheid? Or that for many, many people the government has failed to deliver in 15 years what they promised? Should we blame whites for that?

But even to enter into the debate seems pointless. Malema and his group do not seem to be interested in the finer details of how to address poverty. They have seized the win-lose model of nationalisation and expropriation. There’s no space here for details, nuances, a consideration of all the efforts that have been tried before. Where’s the Constitution in all of this? A consideration of complexities? Addressing poverty is a hugely complicated thing. It requires a sustained focus on education, government and business incentives, redressing the wrongs of the past, encouraging investment and growth opportunities, regulation, entrepreneurship and also addressing the social barriers to employment such as crime and violence. What the ANCYL are doing is to take the most powerful weapon they have and threaten all and sundry with it. “Do what we say or else!”

And so I was sad and also a bit angry that they seem to get away with their talk of helping the poor while looking after their own political and economic interests first. One commenter on the Times Live site compared Malema with Hitler (and quite aptly I thought):

The policies, views and tactics of Julius Malema and his majority wing of the ANC Youth League sound familiar to those with knowledge of 20th-century European history.
Populism, nationalisation, land policies, the race card, anti free media, anti trade unions, an us-vs-the-rest mentality, “under siege” rhetoric, nationalistic bourgeoisie disguised as new socialism, It feels just like Germany 1939.
Your woodwork is bad, Julius. How is your world history? Theo Martinez

The editor of Business Day, Peter Bruce, (editor of Business Day) had this to say:

It will be hard one day for historians fully to capture the stupidity and spinelessness of Zuma and his administration. Compromised politically from the start, he has so stuffed his cabinet with people he owes political debts to that none of them now has enough authority to stand up and say that nationalisation or land seizures by the state without compensation will never happen. Derek Hanekom made a brave attempt on Twitter at the weekend, but he has no authority.

I know that it is fashionable to argue that Malema is a clever chap who knows what he’s doing. But he’s not. Like Zuma, he is an economic airhead with an instinct for politics and survival. No one in their right mind could possibly argue nationalisation and expropriation are cures for poverty and mean it. No one with a smidgen of concern for the destitute could seriously argue throwing a productive farmer off his land and settling the poor on it amounts to a plan worthy of the name.

It’s important to see Malema’s comments in context and that context is that of the ANC succession battle in 2012. Taken at an individual level, Malema’s comments about nationalisation seem to amount to idiocy. But they are not his comments and his policies alone. They are those of the ANCYL and they are designed to strike a chord with the frustrated and poor majority.

As a psychologist I find myself struggling to understand the vast gap between South African political discourse and everyday psychology-speak. In psychology we talk about anxiety and frustrations, empathy, feelings and thoughts and behaviour. In politics it’s all about power and self-interest, rhetoric and point-scoring, image-building, jockeying for position and endless arguments and counter-arguments. If we look at Malema from a psychological perspective it’s tempting to individualise his comments and call him stupid and even evil. But looked at from a political perspective he’s representing a particular group and lobbying for greater power with regards to other groups. As tempting as it is to despair at Malema as being just another “Mad Bob Mugabe”, the problem is much more complicated than that of misguided individuals. It’s a political problem which requires a political solution. The ANCYL have now declared their positions well ahead of the ANC leadership conference in December 2012. Let’s hope that the response from Malema’s opponents at the national level is a powerful one.


On the home front, all is still good. By ‘good’ you understand that there are the usual joys, frustrations and anxieties attendant with parenthood. L is going back to work in July and I’ve been practising giving ‘pie’ her bottle. I’m pretty confident that I can hold the fort for the first week until our routine kicks in properly. And both grannies are besotted with pie and are ready to take her two mornings a week each (with B our domestic covering the last day).

What amazes me is noticing the small but incremental changes. Baby F is now four months old and she has just moved over from her crib to her cot. She looks so small and yet so much bigger than she was just a month ago. I look at her 1-year old cousin who is already walking and so much more alert and it’s incredible to think of the developments that are in store.

Incidentally, it was funny to see how A (her cousin) reacted when she saw her on Saturday. She walked right up to the pram, took pie’s blankets off and then took off her pink socks. I was astonished. I know that A has had to become a lot more assertive in relation to her other cousin (who is two weeks older and very busy and assertive) but why remove pie’s socks? Well it was quite simple. She has a pair just like them and she assumed that pie had taken hers! She’s so used to battling for toys with cousin S that she wasted no time in reclaiming ‘her’ socks. L’s sister calmly showed her that the socks were way too small for her feet and she allowed them to be taken away again.

As a photo-obsessed first-time parent, I’m naturally taking hundreds of pictures. Now if we can only find the time to put them all into an album (and then find some more time to finally put our wedding photos into another one!)


4 Responses to How to respond to Julius Malema?

  1. litlove says:

    World politics is so distressing at the moment. Is there anyone out there thinking intelligently and sensitively about the problems that beset us at present? Well, perhaps Obama does to the extent that he is permitted by events to do so. Malema’s tactics remind me for some reason of the brutal epuration that succeeded the withdrawl of the Nazis from occupied France. It was as if the imprint of Nazi power tactics had bitten so deep into the French imagination that they could do no more than turn the violence they had undergone back on those who displeased them. Poverty really is a terrible problem, but there’s no quick fix to it, however upsetting that thought may be. Ultimately, it’s less upsetting than a continued policy of bullying and threatening and expropriation.

    So glad alll is well with your family. Getting back to work is a funny thing at first – it sounds as if you have some really good arrangements in place, and that’s excellent. The quality of your support network determines the quality of your life for the next few years.

    • Pete says:

      Thanks Litlove. That’s an excellent comparison with the reaction of the French to the Nazis. I think it helps to see the violence and greed of people like Malema being partly a response to the violence and deprivation that blacks suffered under apartheid. I’m feeling more confident now that some sanity will prevail next December when the ANC gets to choose its leaders for the next five years.

      And you’re so right about the support network. Things are looking good so far.

  2. doctordi says:

    Pete, I so enjoyed this post for the insight into Malema and SA politics at present. Llew and I watched the badly disappointing film Invictus the other night, and it took me back to a time when I was much more abreast of what was happening there. I’ll forward this to Llew and look forward to more.

    Pie already four months?!?! And into her cot?! Oh it clutches at my heart! Master J is pivoting on the floor like a breakdancer so crawling may not be too far away…So thrilled to be sharing this parenting journey with you and L!!

    • Pete says:

      Thanks Di. As depressing as SA politics is at the moment, it does help to talk about it and to hear from others that there are alternatives and that we’re not locked into a ‘doom and gloom’ scenario with Malema and his group. It’s madness to think that they don’t even have an economic advisor and yet they want to determine the economic policy for the country!

      And yes, am equally thrilled to be sharing this parenting journey with you and Llew! I can just picture Master J doing a little breakdance to Michael J 🙂 I find that the changes are so slow and yet before I really know it she’s moved on to the next mini-stage of development. I guess the trick is to savour the moments.

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