News / Opinion

Austil Mathebula
4 minute read
3 Mar 2017
3:03 pm

A blessed birthday to Malema, from ‘an agent provocateur’

Austil Mathebula

The EFF leader is celebrating his 36th birthday on a high note.

EFF leader Julius Malema. Picture: Refilwe Modise

Today is EFF leader Julius Malema’s birthday, so let’s talk about him, and him alone.

I, personally, have previously criticised the EFF leader on the question of his consistency in political direction of the EFF. Such discussions are what journalism is, and what it’s supposed to do. We like to debate and stimulate debate in our newsroom. We are supposed to criticise, but let’s also give credit where it’s due.

As things stand, it’s seldom that a journalist will criticise or congratulate a political figure without being given a strange label in either event.

When you write positively about the ANC, you are a “Gupta agent”. When you write positively about the DA, you are a “defender of white monopoly capital”, and when you criticise the EFF, some of its supporters will call you “an agent provocateur” or “intellectually bankrupt”. There’s seldom a grey area for some readers – it’s either you are for them or against them.

Today, Malema turns 36. He leads a political party he co-founded in 2013 after being expelled from the ruling ANC, and you know what? The EFF has not only managed to effect major change in the activities of parliament – they’ve also managed to remove the 104-year-old ANC from big metros Tshwane, Nelson Mandela Bay and Johannesburg following the 2016 local government elections. For the first time since 1994, the liberation movement is sitting in the benches as an opposition party.

State of the nation addresses are no longer events where members of parliament just go and sleep. Phela, EFF MP Mbuyiseni Ndlozi will call you a “sleepist”, as he did to Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane when he caught her napping in the National Assembly.

Malema is a leader you don’t want to undermine. He’s brave, and commands lots of influence on a level unprecedented even by some politicians in their late 70s. He speaks his mind, and he’s one politician who’s not afraid to raise unpalatable issues unequivocally. He tells Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa that he murdered people in Marikana. He tells President Jacob Zuma that he’s a thief directly, in and outside parliament. He tells landless people to occupy land – an act that could possibly land him in jail.

Whether you agree with his views or not, you can’t deny that he expresses them all utterly fearlessly.

I saw the EFF leader in person for the first time in Marikana in 2012. This after 34 protesting miners were gunned down by the police in broad daylight.

Malema visited the striking Lonmin mine workers on August 20 2012, four days after the massacre; Zuma himself had not even attempted to set foot at the koppie where most of the miners were murdered. Zuma’s avoidance of the area was conspicuous, and the miners felt neglected by government and even felt like the president was responsible for the massacre.

Malema visited the miners when they really needed leadership. The miners had a tendency to group themselves next to a nearby informal settlement called Nkaneng, just next to the Lonmin mine. It was common practice for protest leaders to kneel in a circle when caucusing on matters relating to the march.

I must say I was impressed by how humble and sympathetic the EFF leader came across towards the miners. Upon arrival, he did not look like a king demanding to be given a tall, golden chair. Instead, he knelt on the dusty ground with the protest leaders and they addressed with him as they would any ordinary person.

Addressing the miners [see this video], Malema melted the hearts of the miners who had been crying out for Zuma’s attention when he said, in Sepedi: “Many are afraid to come close to you. Especially those you have elected. We took a decision that we are going to come here and listen to you one by one. And when you speak, we are not impatient because we are here to listen to you.”

His support for the miners was not only in rhetoric; the then future EFF leader and his deputy, Floyd Shivambu, brought food for the miners who had run out of food due to the protracted protest action. And if that’s not leadership, well, then I don’t know what is.

He’s shown skills in leadership that are evidently lacking in most sectors of our government. They make promises during elections and never return when you have voted them to power.

The EFF leader’s record in fighting for poor people’s rights speaks for itself. He is fearless in the fight against corruption, which sets a good example of the kind of leadership most young people could learn from.

Senior Content Producer Austil Mathebula

Senior content producer Austil Mathebula