Our saviour, who art in red

Daily Mav­er­ick jour­nal­ist Richard Poplak’s vi­gnettes of Julius Malema go from hi­lar­i­ous and tragic to ter­ri­fy­ing in his new bi­og­ra­phy about the EFF com­man­der in chief, Un­til Julius Comes. This is an edited ex­tract

CityPress - - Careers & Voices -

Ihave just vis­ited the selfie cap­i­tal of the uni­verse. I wit­nessed roughly 1 200 South Africans in their busi­ness best stretch­ing out their arms and snap­ping away, each click of a cam­era phone forg­ing a dig­i­tal bond that con­firmed a po­lit­i­cal af­fil­i­a­tion which, if all goes well, will one day lead to a busi­ness op­por­tu­nity.

This was the Gaut­eng ANC man­i­festo en­dorse­ment reach-around, where the faith­ful gath­ered to pay fealty be­fore the iron throne, a sort of ANC speed dat­ing event that en­gulfed the fifth floor of the Sand­ton Con­ven­tion Cen­tre with faux ex­cite­ment.

The joint was full of peo­ple who used to be called Black Di­a­monds, but are now called “rich”. The ANC, we for­get, is a broad church, and broader still when there is free food and net­work­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties avail­able. The smell of power hov­ered in the air like Co­hiba cigar smoke, and while the Eco­nomic Free­dom Fight­ers (EFF) was in­hal­ing ex­haust fumes on a protest march to the SABC, we at the man­i­festo launch were in­hal­ing veg­gie samoosas and beef sa­tays while swap­ping busi­ness cards.

This was the ANC bub­ble, and within it all were safe. The white guys wore their finest min­ing-logo fleeces, the young black dudes wore town­ship chic, the go­gos wore flow­ered hats, and no one in at­ten­dance was un­der any il­lu­sions about where the power lies in this coun­try. You are ei­ther in­side be­ing blessed, or out­side scrab­bling through your neigh­bours’ re­cy­cling bin.

The event was or­gan­ised by the Fo­rum of Pro­fes­sion­als, Aca­demics and Busi­ness, and served, ac­cord­ing to the pre­am­ble, “as a cul­mi­na­tion of the work we’ve been do­ing in Gaut­eng since June last year”. I wasn’t aware that any work had been done in Gaut­eng since June last year, but as we were ush­ered into the main hall, be­fore a stage with mul­ti­ple screens and a big light­ing rack, I un­der­stood what I’d been miss­ing.

“In the re­cent past,” we were re­minded, “it has been said that the pro­fes­sional classes are not those who are with the ANC, that we’ve lost touch with you. Tonight, we want to thank you for your sup­port, emo­tional and ma­te­rial.”

Paul Mashatile, in his ca­pac­ity as ANC’s Gaut­eng provin­cial chair­per­son, noted that this event was “the fi­nal push to vic­tory. Your pres­ence here is ac­tu­ally an en­dorse­ment of the ANC.” And then we were off down the Good Story to Tell road – a slo­gan I am con­vinced will be re­mem­bered as one of the finest elec­tion ploys in the his­tory of democ­racy. The ANC has be­come ex­pert at craft­ing its own re­al­ity, at shut­ting out what it doesn’t want to know – or doesn’t want you to know.

A sam­ple of this party-man­dated schizophre­nia: Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma was sup­posed to be present at this event, but there was no apol­ogy or ex­pla­na­tion for his ab­sence. Re­al­ity was re­con­vened, and ANC deputy pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa was subbed in. The coun­try has be­come Fan­ta­sia and Ja­cob Zuma is Mickey Mouse. He snaps his fin­gers and the brooms start danc­ing.

The other su­perb stroke of ANC-minted ge­nius is the party’s co-opt­ing of the strug­gle. At the im­pres­sive swag ta­ble, there was a be­daz­zled leather jacket em­bossed with a Long Walk to Free­dom logo – the most baf­fling piece of cloth­ing I’ve en­coun­tered since break dance pants were all the rage in Orange Grove in the 1980s.

In a sim­i­lar vein, af­ter Mashatile had done his thing, we were treated to a sneak peek of the Bala Broth­ers’ new mu­si­cal, about “life on Robben Is­land”. A Bala Brother wanted us to imag­ine Madiba alone in his cell, a spot­light il­lu­mi­nat­ing his for­lorn fig­ure. “The words in this song talk about a light that sur­vives,” he said in a stage whis­per.

Re­gard­ing the song, if Lau­rie An­der­son was cor­rect, and writ­ing about mu­sic is in­deed like danc­ing about ar­chi­tec­ture, then let me just say this: pic­ture Mi­ley Cyrus twerk­ing about the Voortrekker Mon­u­ment. The ANC and its en­ablers are en­deav­our­ing to turn the strug­gle into a theme park, scrap­ing out al­ter­nate nar­ra­tives and slather­ing it all in yel­low, black and green.

And this was a night for the en­ablers. We heard an en­dorse­ment from Jimmy Manyi – was his sup­port ever in doubt? – in which he ac­tu­ally said: “We, as black busi­ness, we are happy with where BEE is headed.”

The party dragged out one of those old mus­ta­chioed Afrikaner dudes who al­ways gets the floor rock­ing, in this case Chris van Biljon, CEO of the Ekurhu­leni Busi­ness Ini­tia­tive. To whis­tles and yells, he said: “Go and talk to peo­ple – we’ve got seven days left to vote. And let them vote ANC. We don’t want to vote for some­one else and go back to 1994 and start all over again. No! No!” The room went wild. Then came the Chi­nese com­mu­nity rep­re­sen­ta­tive, fol­lowed by the Jewish com­mu­nity rep­re­sen­ta­tive and the women’s busi­ness rep­re­sen­ta­tive. They all cel­e­brated a Good Story to Tell, re­peat­ing the slo­gan like it was tat­tooed un­der their eye­lids. The sleaze, the back-room deals, the cor­rup­tion, the gunk that has jammed up the South African ma­chine and pushed us to the edge once again? This was a night for the col­lab­o­ra­tors to col­lab­o­rate, and col­lab­o­rate they did.

Fi­nally: Ramaphosa, ev­ery busi­nessper­son’s favourite African politi­cian. It had been a big day for Cyril – he had told a joke that morn­ing. When asked at an ANC break­fast what his as­pi­ra­tions were, he said: “I want to be pres­i­dent [long pause] ... of my golf club.” I pic­tured portly Cyril pound­ing out 12 putts on a par three while his quis­lings com­mended him on mak­ing par, and the whole thing felt right – Cyril for Pres­i­dent [long pause] ... of South Africa. He’s up for it.

“Ask not what your govern­ment can do for you,” said Cyril, “but what you can do for your coun­try.” Well, jeez, Cyril F Kennedy! Cit­i­zen-govern­ment en­gage­ment be­longs to a dif­fer­ent age. This is the age in which an in­ci­dent like Marikana is cer­tain to be co-opted by the ANC and turned into a branded mu­si­cal; when there are no Bad Sto­ries to Tell; when 1 200 prom­i­nent Gaut­eng cit­i­zens don’t have the min­er­als to do any­thing but fill a room, eat canapés and ap­plaud the loud Afrikaans guy who runs a busi­ness in­sti­tute by the air­port.

The ANC has per­fected the art of liv­ing in the pos­si­ble. Its ver­sion of re­al­ity is as im­mutable as ac­tual re­al­ity. When I left, I looked around for the uni­corns and the fairies. I guess they were hang­ing in the VIP room, tak­ing self­ies.


PEARLY WHITES Julius Malema was all smiles at the Eco­nomic Free­dom Fight­ers’ first an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tion at Thokoza Park in Soweto last month

Un­til Julius Comes by Richard Poplak; Tafel­berg; 240 pages; R156 at kala­hari.com

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