Last week, after Malema was expelled from South Africa’s ruling party, we went back and looked at our archives to see how we’ve blogged about him and his politics. Here’s a sample.
From the go we recognized that although Malema is very much a creation of South Africa’s media, he is the ANC’s responsibility. Early in 2010, Sean wondered “how long it will take before the ANC’s leaders kick Malema out.”
In May last year we linked to Hein Marais’s description of the “work-in-progress” that is Malema:
a politics that accommodates social conservatism, lumpen radicalism and grasping entitlement … a political experiment within the ruling African National Congress.
In November, Jonathan, writing at the time of Malema’s initial suspension, suggested that Malema’s
rise was marked by an occasional penchant for tapping the zeitgeist: needling the nerves of big capital and the entrenched political elite (both black and white), while concurrently channeling the very real frustrations of poor and increasingly marginal South Africans. In a very real way his causes tapped the desperation of those trapped within the structural violence of South African poverty. Ultimately, he overstepped, over-played, and was caught in a web of his own making. He is, for the minute, politically a dead man walking, although his shadow will continue to fall across the politics of the ANC in the run-up to Mangaung, and beyond.
Jonathan then concluded:
The twittering classes, never a good barometer of South African opinion, are now ablaze with back-slapping mirth. And some analysts are overstating things. But, the material conditions that grind the dignity from so many South African lives will be reproduced tomorrow, and the next day, awaiting a new “Juju” to give them voice.
And then there was comic artist Nathan Trantaal who told AIAC:
The South African mainstream likes to have a black man they can laugh at, a black man who says something that is so obviously wrong they can jump at the opportunity to lampoon him. Take Julius Malema, for example. I don’t particularly like the way people talk or write about him. I mean, he’s a dumb bastard, but there’s just something very uncomfortably self-righteous about it. Don’t call a black person dumb in the media every single day. “Dom Kaffir” [dumb kaffir] is what the old government used to say. And whether it is deliberate or not, it has that undercurrent.
And the post we intended to write as a reaction to South African author Jonny Steinberg’s recent analysis in The Guardian, but never did, would have sounded something like this:
Steinberg puts his finger on the hysteria around Malema: the extent to which Malema highlights tensions in the ANC, all of which seem to be coming home to roost at this crucial moment, only serves to illustrate that his views are rooted in white paranoia. Malema’s real influence might be overstated, but as a figure in politics, he is significant in what it says of the fault lines in South African politics, but also of the fault lines along which the media reports on politics. Malema is portrayed in the manner of the bling and Cribs obsessed hip hop star. We all know that the danger of rap was subsumed by the siren call of consumer goods — the fearsome lyrics eaten up by clown-like distracted children. Similarly, once Breitling watches were dangling on wrists, Malema no longer allowed those South Africans relaxing at the swimming pool to enjoy it without the threat of it being taken away. Steinberg is saying: we like the caricature, because we know we can tame it. In Malema, we recognize the child who will eat too much ice cream and puke. But we became scared when said child acquired a certain momentum…driven by our own attention to him. So who converted the child to threat? The author’s own ilk. Thus, the scar tissue Malema left in his wake is found on the media’s fragile self-image (not on the ‘country’, as the title of Steinberg’s piece suggests). The media is to be held at least partially accountable. Unfortunately, a reading of reactions to Malema’s expulsion from and by the ANC in recent South African (and foreign) media shows little soul searching on their part.