Anything you say against Julius Malema to a security (van)guard, your manicurist or your little left toe is not going to be held against you. It’s not going to keep your bank balance ticking over either. Malema remains Malema, a terrifyingly unbridled voice, more persistent than a mosquito on a Highveld summer’s night. When we’ve tired of moaning about Zuma’s bed hopping, the cut of his suit and his wives’ business interests, there’s always Malema to be mocked at, crude insignia about his intelligence to be spat out and his latest statements to be tut tutted over high tea at the Westcliff. We’ve developed a morbid fascination with Malema that, if anything, has fast made him one of the most powerful politicians in the country. The ANC Youth League is a dynamic, interminable component of the country’s political and social context.
The failure of the ANC top brass to reign in Malema or offer comment on some his more colourful statements is proof that in a context like South Africa, where no formal policy making dialogue exists, Malema’s rants can function as a good guage of public opinion. Malema made noises about nationalising the mining sector, all of us, docile sheep erupted in righteous indignation and even the venerable president’s agenda on his state visit to Blighty was thus influenced, ‘Your Majesty, esteemed imperialist cousins, we’re not going to nationalise the mines. Take my word for it.’ So, far from being a trigger happy cowboy Malema’s statements can be seen as a careful manipulation of discourse in South Africa and about South Africa.
Social media has been hailed as the champion of the voiceless, innovative in changing the way politicians and their electorates communicate. Just look at that Iran election campaign, revolutionary, they say. It’s all marvellous on a slice of melba toast, but the reality is a lot of political statements on social media can easily be ignored. Facebook fan pages that propagate hate, call for murder or are generally silliness dressed up as some political consciousness are not going to influence political action. In order for social media to be politically effective, there has to be some cohesion, a common purpose and a healthy dose of common sense, just in case. It’s for this reason that I am supporting Sipho Hlongwane’s call for South African bloggers to remonstrate against the ANC Youth League’s attempts to intimidate journalists, severely endangering press freedom in South Africa. We can poke fun at Malema all day, insult his intelligence, covet his cars and pray a taxi swallows him whole on his arduous commute from Sandton to Luthuli House but it hardly constitutes fruitful engagement.
I will soon be publishing here an editorial , in solidarity with a number of other bloggers in South Africa, in the fervent hope of assuring the sanctity of press freedom in this land that is mine.