Sunday, February 22, 2009



By Mondli Makhanya
Feb 22, 2009

At our leaders’ behest, we are beginning to accept the normality of the abnormal and the morality of the immoral

Shortly after Julius Malema was elected president of the ANC Youth League last year, I asked a senior member of the organisation how a movement with so noble a history could choose a hooligan to be its leader.

Malema was a guy who had no ounce of rational leadership in him and probably couldn’t tell the difference between the sun and the moon unless he stared at them with his naked eye. He would be better suited to lead an English football mob during a clash with Serbia.

The answer I received was nothing I could have expected.

You see, the leader educated me, the youth league is about militancy.

He explained that each generation of youth league leadership had to be more militant than the previous one.

He said that after Peter Mokaba stepped down as president of the league in the late ’90s, the organisation had erred by electing Lulu Johnson as its president and later putting Malusi Gigaba in charge. These two reversed Mokaba’s militancy and committed a historical sin, he argued.

The election of Fikile Mbalula had corrected this and re-injected militancy into the youth league’s blood.

“After Mbalula we could not go backwards. We had to get a leader who was more militant than him,” he said forcefully.

And after Malema? I inquired.

“We cannot go backwards,” he insisted. “We will need somebody more militant.”

At this point I tried to engage him as to when exactly the youth league’s militancy would reach maximum volume. Surely the rules of political science limit how far militancy can go?

We deadlocked.

Anyway, Malema is now in our lives. He graces our newspapers and our screens and his gruff voice jolts our radios in the morning.

In the eight months that he has been president of the league, he has lurched from controversy to controversy. He has horrified us with his war talk and amused us with his imbecility.

Malema announced his arrival on the big scene in spectacular fashion, pronouncing that he and his followers were prepared to commit murder on behalf of ANC president Jacob Zuma.

“Let us make it clear now: we are prepared to die for Zuma. Not only that, we are prepared to take up arms and kill for Zuma,” Malema told a Youth Day rally last year.

From then on it was downhill, with the woodwork genius spouting inanities week in, week out. His party has generally tolerated his barbarism, at worst giving him a pinch on the thigh if they felt he was embarrassing them.

Now Malema has become both a national ogre and a national joke. Social gatherings are never complete without some kind of Julius joke, and seminars are incomplete without reference to the phenomenon of Julius.

But in laughing at Malema, we mask the peril that he is to our society. Not to accord the young too much stature here, but he is an embodiment of some of the bad turns our society has taken in the recent past.

We are at a point where, at the behest of our leaders, we are beginning to accept the normality of the abnormal and the morality of the immoral.

Malema’s rise to power was the triumph of this acceptance of bad.

Here was a youth leader who embodied everything that young people should spurn: ill-discipline, lack of respect for elders, hatred of education, being prone to mob violence, an uncontrollable mouth and a general uncouthness of being.

In putting him forward as an exemplar for South African youth, the ruling party was telling us what were the acceptable standards of leadership and what level of aspiration young people should have.

It is the same with the story that has dominated headlines this week. Carl Niehaus, a struggle veteran who went rotten, was propelled to a position of prominence even though ruling party leaders knew he was a con man.

In putting him forward as its face and voice, the ANC was saying to the public that it trusted him and so should we.

As with Malema, the ANC was telling the South African public that the standard of rectitude that Niehaus represented was okay. He was on radio, television and in newspapers every day, preaching the good gospel according to the ruling party. And all the while the people who had employed him knew that their truth-teller was a liar and a fraudulent individual.

I will not even begin to talk about the other highly deficient individual that the party wants to have lead this republic, except to say that he, too, is the standard of probity and intellect that the people of the republic are expected to aspire to.

This is an ugly moment in South Africa, a moment to press pause and wonder out loud how we had got to a point where bad is okay, when the nation’s leadership has decided that the “Forwards ever! Backwards never!” slogan should be flipped around.

At this point I would like to mangle a wisdom propounded by the great African writer Ben Okri, who said: “To poison a nation, poison its stories. A demoralised nation tells demoralised stories to itself.”

My mangling: “To poison a nation, corrupt its leaders.”

I think we are at the point where our leadership has been poisoned.

Leaving the people very demoralised.