Why Malema belongs in Parliament
I have probably already made quite a few people angry with my headline. Love him or hate him, the chaos in Parliament last week was yet another reason that Julius Malema is damn good at the political game. If his job is to make President Jacob Zuma look like a corrupt, useless leader and very uncomfortable in that R246 million throne, then he is doing his job well. You can criticise the chaos in Parliament as decorum degenerating into a circus, but don't miss the politics related to the mayhem.
I should start by saying that I am not here to put Malema on a pedestal or blow his horn; he is no angel. But I would like to point out two things. The first is that Malema is filling an important role in the current political arena against a backdrop of miners in Marikana being shot by the police, news of children evicted from their homes and scenes of service delivery protests every other day. The second is that he is asking the right questions of the ANC.
Let's look at his most recent theatrics. In Parliament last week, he questioned Zuma about the security upgrades to his Nkandla residence. Zuma laughed and swiftly avoided answering the question as to when he would pay back the money as recommended by the Public Protector, just as he avoided mention of repaying the funds in his response to Thuli Madonsela's report which he filed to Parliament the week before. Malema was quick to point this out.
While the chanting and theatrics of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) MPs may have distracted us for a moment, it did not go unnoticed that his questions to Zuma went unanswered. Zuma's laugh lingered in our minds as we watched the EFF demand the answers we all want. You may have noticed that Malema was not at the front of the screaming match with Speaker Baleka Mbete, but rather simply asked the right questions and sat back while his supporters chanted behind him.
This is just a small representation of how Malema's politics works. He speaks for the people he has promised to represent and his followers walk swiftly behind him. He is one of the few politicians to keep to his threats and promises. He wears overalls because he has built himself up to be the voice of the poor, the workers and the disenfranchised. On a symbolic level, his presence in Parliament stands for those who are left out of these civil society proceedings.
Last week's incident is the second time the EFF has been removed from Parliament, kicking and screaming. Symbolically and literally, when will the ANC realise that every time they kick out the EFF, they are kicking out the poor, disenfranchised workers? When will Mbete realise that when she screams, "I am not recognising you" to one of the EFF MPs, she was shouting the same to their supporters. This is dangerous when we have just come out of protracted strikes by workers demanding to be recognised.
We can have the conversation about respecting decorum but think about this. Respect is a two-way street and it is earned before it is given. When Zuma "benefited unduly" from security upgrades on his house and avoiding answering for it at every turn, he did not garner respect. He is the representation of our country in Parliament. How then can we be expected to respect the institution he stands for, when we do not respect him? While watching the EFF disregard Parliamentary protocol that was long fought for makes our blood boil, it is tempting to chant along with them.
Malema has garnered respect in a short time from the people whose voices are growing louder and angrier. When Malema was ousted from the ANC Youth League in 2012, we thought it was the end. True, that was a bad year for Malema, not only was he ousted but he was accused of tax evasion and money laundering. But then 34 shots were fired in Marikana and Malema was the first on the scene to point fingers at the police. Malema gained the support of the miners and their families, while the ANC's Cyril Ramaposa was embroiled in the chaos. The score was Malema with 1 from the disenfranchised, with the ANC at 0.
In 2013, Malema started what seemed to be a short-lived party, the EFF. Note that their celebrations took place in Marikana on top of the infamous koppies, telling of his growing support. The media launch showed the beginning of his red berets and his promises to serve the people. Just as he was there in the Marikana aftermath, he was there when the poor were evicted from their homes across the country and he stood behind the workers asking for a better pay in the recent strikes. The new score: Malema 2, the ANC 0.
Politicians rolled their eyes and giggled at the prospect of Malema's party, but less than a year later, Malema and his red berets were in Parliament asking the right questions. He has quickly built a role for himself to represent the voices that the ANC would not hear and he is playing that role well. The ANC kicks him out of Parliament twice and look at the respect he gains. Now when we think of the EFF, who Malema is and what he stands for and how uncomfortable he makes Zuma, his faults are no longer centre stage. Before Zuma has managed to say the words 'Honourable Malema', Malema has exposed his dishonourable conduct. Malema 3, the ANC 0.
Malema is a not a new breed of leader. Rather, he fills a particular role and the noise around Zuma is getting louder under his pressure. South Africa needs a Malema to play that role if we are to recognise the voices crying out.
Emily Corke is a third year journalism and politics students at Rhodes University. She is the news features editor for student newspaper The Oppidan Press, a reporter for Grocott's Mail in Grahamstown and an Eyewitness News correspondent.