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Malema continues to ride the populist horse

By Ido Lekota | Feb 25, 2010 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

THE recent saga around ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema's lifestyle and his alleged benefit from government tenders has raised several questions about relations between the ruling elite, the state and the masses.

THE recent saga around ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema's lifestyle and his alleged benefit from government tenders has raised several questions about relations between the ruling elite, the state and the masses.

In the first instance the response by Malema and his comrades, including President Jacob Zuma, leaves much to be desired.

Arguing that Malema is not a public figure and that how he earns his living should be a private matter is disingenuous.

If indeed Malema was another Joe Citizen, the public would ordinarily not worry about how much he is worth and what the source of his wealth is. The Hawks and SA Revenue Service would be the most appropriate institutions to worry about that.

However, Malema is an influential leader of the youth wing of the ruling party.

He, with the support of his foot soldiers, has a huge influence in who becomes what in the ANC and the government.

How can we forget his fateful words on national TV when former president Thabo Mbeki was about to be recalled.

"I don't care who says what, Mbeki will not be president next Monday," a brazen Malema told viewers on Morning Live.

Recently Malema declared that though nationalisation may not be ANC policy - the ANCYL will make sure that it eventually becomes the party's policy.

This is a clear indication that Malema is aware of how powerful he and his organisation are when it comes to influencing government policy. It is on the basis of this influence that there is concern about whether Malema has unfairly benefited from government tenders - as it is alleged.

All he has to do is to disprove the allegations. Not to become belligerent and show the public the finger by saying he is only accountable to the ANC and the ANCYL.

It must, however, be said that his response is somewhat not unexpected. In his response Malema does something that his political ally, Zuma, has perfected. Playing the victim.

Zuma perfected this art during his ANC leadership contest with Mbeki. He played the victim and managed to win the hearts of ordinary people who identified with him as the underdog. Together with his allies, he rode on the back of populism straight to Mahlamba Ndlopfu - his official residence in Pretoria.

Malema continues to ride the populist horse - projecting himself as someone committed to the universal participation of the common people in the politics and economy of this country.

He argues that those who project him as a corrupt power broker are actually trying to discourage "the African child" from becoming entrepreneurs and sharing the country's wealth. In doing so he conveniently forgets that to a large extent the only African child who has so far benefited from government business is politically connected to the ruling elite.

Being the quintessential populist, Malema also runs his ship with some sort of authoritarian but charismatic leadership. Those who question his modus operandi are branded collaborators and serfs of white capital.

His claims that he is a victim of conspiracy by people within the ANC and government is a reflection of how the cookie crumbles in populist movements - à la Polokwane coalition.

The glue that made this coalition of nationalists, communists, the liberal elite and the lumpenproletariat, stick together was the desire to depose Mbeki.

But as author Ernesto Laclau argued in On Populist Reason, splits happen in populist movements. According to Laclau they happen because "the different factions that provided the populist frontier begin to vie for their individual and faction interests".

The trouble, Laclau argues, is that there are never enough positions and there is never enough patronage to go around.

Malema, himself, has said that those who were against him within the ANC were afraid that the ANCYL would not vote for them come the 2012 ANC election.

Where does all this leave the masses that the likes of Malema claim to represent.

Largely they are expected to show gratitude towards the leaders.

In the South African case, the leaders indulge in conspicuous consumption justifying this by projecting themselves as black radicals who are reclaiming wealth from the hands of white capitalists and their cronies.


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