Does Malema have influence?
JOHANNESBURG – As Julius Malema grabbed the spotlight of South Africa’s mining unrest with calls for wildcat stoppages, analysts on Wednesday said his rabble-rousing is dangerous - but also simply hot air.
The self-styled champion of the poor has no official role after being expelled from the ruling African National Congress, but has taken his radical rhetoric from strife-hit mine to mine where he has been greeted like a rock star by frustrated workers.
“It is quite dangerous in the sense that people are really clearly very frustrated,” said Lucy Holborn, research manager at the South African Institute of Race Relations, who said Malema had taken on celebrity status.
Tensions at the mines have deepened since a violent strike crippled London-listed Lonmin’s Marikana platinum mine, where 45 people have been killed – 34 of them shot dead by police – in a deadly stand-off over wage demands that have spread to the gold sector.
Union heads, mine bosses and President Jacob Zuma’s government have faced sharp criticism for giving the strategy-savvy Malema an opening to push his radical views in a country known for violent protests and strikes.
“It’s a situation where it’s so volatile that anybody coming along and firing up people, that he tends to in these situations, can sweep people along,” said Holborn.
“When people are so frustrated, I think he can easily fire people up and it’s not necessarily about his power. It’s more a reflection of what people are feeling,” she added.
“That is why he is able to get so much support and get crowds so fired up. That feeling that the government actually either isn’t listening, doesn’t know or doesn’t care.”
Sporting his trademark beret and sunglasses, Malema has criss-crossed the country’s flashpoints to urge workers to render mines ungovernable, while taking political shots at his enemies in the ANC and white-owned companies.
The campaign has seen his face splashed across media around the world.
Yet while the strife-hit mines have turned into a battlefield for rival political and union factions, analysts warn against overblowing his powers or declaring a come-back for the mine-nationalisation maverick.
Analyst Steven Friedman of the University of Johannesburg cautioned that Malema was an opportunist whose bombastic speeches meet rapture but have little substance or real influence on labour relations at mines.
“This idea that he’s going to rush around the country making inflammatory speeches and people are going to be on strike is clearly false,” Friedman said, adding that the only impact was to attract “endless” media coverage.
“Marikana was several weeks ago now. If this guy was such a genius at rushing around the place getting people to go out onto the streets and to burn the place down, he would have been well on his way by now. And he isn’t.”
Since being booted from the ANC for ill-discipline, Malema has also lacked a constituency, with Friedman saying one of the “great myths” surrounding the ruling party’s former Youth League leader was that he had a giant following.
“The guy gets up and he says let’s bring the mines to a standstill and everybody writes inflammatory reports and agitated reports and nobody notices the obvious fact that mines are not at a standstill,” Friedman said.
This showed “that 99 per cent of miners pay absolutely no attention to anything he says”, he added.
Hamadziripi Tamukamoyo, a researcher at the Institute of Security Studies, said Malema was a risk in terms of South Africa’s image.
“I think the political rhetoric he’s churning out is bad in terms of international investors, in terms of tourism. I think at an image level he is a risk and he needs to be called in,” he said.
Malema’s actions were playing into the hands of the anti-Zuma camp within the ANC who want him ousted as party chief later this year, Tamukamoyo said.
“I wouldn’t say he is dangerous but he has the ability, certainly with what is going on, to reconfigure the political landscape going towards ANC elections in December,” Tamukamoyo said.
But five years after Malema was called a king-maker for bringing Zuma to the ANC’s helm, Tamukamoyo also warns against writing him off.
“I think we should not underestimate him as a politician. People laugh him off a lot and I think that’s dangerous in some way.”
– Nampa- AFP