Sunday, 26 June 2011

Ayanda Kota on Julius Malema & the Pitfalls of National Consciousness in Contemporary South Africa

Julius Malema is a Demagogue and his Nationalization Would be Nothing but a Massive Public Subsidy for the Rich

The mass movements that have raised progressive governments to power in Latin America, the global financial crisis, the recent uprisings in the Arab world and the ongoing rebellion of the poor in our own country have all created more space for the left. The days when so many people believed that there was no alternative to capitalism and imperialism are passing. Socialism is back on the agenda. It is clear to many people that we cannot continue to organise our economy around the interests of big capital while leaving the people to suffer as they are.

But the person who has stepped into this space most confidently is Julius Malema. The media are portraying him as someone who speaks with veracity for young people of this country, the oppressed, the shack dwellers and the unemployed.

I wish first and foremost to appreciate the role played by Julius Malema in raising both the issue of Nationalisation and the Land question. He has done this in the face of adversity and hostilities. We do need to be discussing economic alternatives and the agrarian question. Malema is right to recognise that we cannot carry on along the same path that we have been on for the last 17 years. That path has made the rich richer and the poor poorer. It is unacceptable and we have to make a new path, a path that puts the interests of the people first.

But there are contradictions - antagonistic contradictions - in Malema’s call for Nationalization and the fact that the media portrays him as someone who speaks for the poor. The Youth League might speak in the name of the poor to advance its agenda but everyone knows that it is not a poor people’s organisation. You will not find it having branch meetings in the squatter camps. But you will definitely find it having branch meetings in the university campuses. You will find the Youth League getting support on Facebook from people who are frustrated that their jobs are not making them rich. When the Youth League does have a presence in the township it’s not properly constituted. It’s just a way for a few young people to get jobs by demonstrating their loyalty to the party bosses, usually by intimidating activists and closing down their meeting. The Youth League is where a young person who wants to get a job at the local council or to become a tenderpreneur goes to network and to advance their class interests. We have many vibrant poor people’s organisations in this country but the Youth League is not one of them. It is important for the media to do proper research before just writing things on the basis of their assumptions.

We must never forget that the tenderpreneurs plundering our resources while unemployment is hovering around 40%, with the majority being young people, are an elite. Their money is going into mansions in Sandton, sushi parties and Italian sports cars. It is not going into the communities that they came from. They are, as Zweli Vavi has argued, turning the democratic state into a predatory state.

Here in Grahamstown we have been reading Frantz Fanon for the last two months. Fanon is clear that if national consciousness does not turn into social consciousness then a predatory elite can capture the state and enrich themselves in the name of the nation. He his clear that when the national bourgeoisie is given the freedom to claim that it represents the people it is a real danger to the people. For Fanon the national bourgeoisie can never liberate the people. The people have to liberate themselves by a second struggle to turn national consciousness into a social consciousness.

In 2010, City Press revealed that Julius Malema’s company SGL Engineering won at least R140 million in government tenders. When some of the municipalities were asked anout this they refused to respond. It was reported that:

Malema (28), and his business partner at SGL Engineering, Lesiba Cuthbert Gwangwa, 31, are multi-faceted young businessmen. Their company has won tenders for road construction, street paving, sewer reticulation, bulk water supply, landfill sites, cemeteries, central business district upgrades and provision of drainage systems.

City Press also reported last year that at least three of several multi-million-rand bridges and roads built by Julius Malema’s company in Limpopo were washed away within weeks of their completion.

So Malema become rich off public money while the public were left with nothing. It is clear that Malema is a multimillionaire through unjust means. He is the man who gains riches by unjust means. He is like a partridge that hatches eggs it did not lay. He is like the ruling class that owns and controls the means of production, the means of production created by the working people who own nothing at the end of the day, and are alienated from it. He is like those who control our land through unjust means, everyday they tell us that they worked hard to secure their place in the sun, and that now we must buy our land back. This constitutes rape and plunder. This makes Malema a hypocrite, condemning self enrichment while privately indulging in massive personal enrichment. This is Malema’s treachery, indulging in slogans and songs of liberation from the days of apartheid whilst at the same time enriching himself through unjust means. He and his supporters are trying to privatise the people’s struggle to make themselves millionaires while the people starve.

We must never forget that Malema’s power does not come from the self-organisation of the poor. His power comes from the support that he gets from BEE millionaires and billionaires like Tokyo Sexwale. It is their money, and the money from tenders, that he is using to build Youth League branches and make the Youth League a strong force in the ANC. We must not forget that in Germany in the 1930s it was big business that supported the fascists.

How does Malema feel about the fact that the unemployment rate in this country has reached alarming proportions and that the majority is young people? How does Malema feel about the fact that we have the highest rate of HIV and AIDS and that the majority is young people?

The real leaders of the poor young people, those who threatens the status quo, those who are active in social movements, in people’s daily struggle get a stick. While they struggle for a better tomorrow for everyone they remain in shacks with other young people, they remain without work, they face arrest and assault at the hands of the police. They face intimidation by the goons from the ANC Youth League.

Those who agree with the status quo are dangled with the carrot. They live in suburbs, drink expensive Johnny Walker Blue Label whiskey, are awarded tenders and become multimillionaires. They are conformers. They have no desire to change the status quo. In fact they are becoming the leaders of the status quo. Despite his rhetoric and slogans Malema is one of those that gets the carrot.

You cannot become a multi-millionaire in a struggle for the oppressed. But you can become a multi-millionaire in an attempt to capture the struggle of the oppressed and use it to advance the interests of a predatory elite.

The ANC is riding on us. Bheki Cele is giving us the whip while Malema is dangling a carrot of ‘economic freedom in our life time’.

A demagogue is a rabble rouser that appeals to the emotions and prejudices of the population. They are dangerous. They do not allow the people to think for themselves. They cannot withstand criticism and will always attack viciously whenever they are exposed. There have been some demagogues in the movements of the poor. They have done terrible damage to our struggles. Now the ANC has sent a demagogue to claim that he represents the struggle of the poor. But real leaders encourage the people to think for themselves. Real leaders encourage the people to organise themselves. Real leaders are calm and thoughtful. Real leaders tell no lies and claim no easy victories.

The call for Nationalization is nothing short of a greedy call to institutionalise corruption. Malema’s BEE friends, the carrots friends, Zondwa Mandela (Nelson Mandela’s grandson), Khulubuse Zuma (Zuma’s nephew) and Michael Hulley (Zuma’s attorney) own Aurora mine. They have not paid the workers since February 2010. The call for nationalization of mines is a call to bail out Malema’s friends. If Aurora mine is the future then God help us.

Malema needs us to deliver political support for his predatory friends. He is again riding on us, dangling the carrot in front of us, while Bheki Cele is whipping us with the stick. This is not socialism. The idea here is to use the public purse to enrich the elite. Real socialism would mean taking over the mines and the commanding heights of the economy by the government of the working class, to be run democratically under those who produce the wealth, the workers. Production would meet the needs of the society not the profit of the few. Socialisation must be under the workers’ control and workers’ management. The problem here is that Malema’s cronies who are unable to operate the mines profitably, now want the working class to pay the bill so that they can remain billionaires despite their failure to run the mines well. This is not in the interest of the people.

I grew up using the idea of nationalization before it was corrupted and lost its meaning and became the buzzword in the hands of the tenderpreneurs that it is today. They have no clue to its original intent and definition. It has become Malema’s carrot on a stick.

But we have news for Malema. We will not be ridden to our doom by the ANC Youth League. The rebellion of the poor will continue. We will continue to organise ourselves. We will not allow Malema and his billionaire backers to hijack our struggle to advance his own interests. We know who our leaders are and they are in the shacks and the jails of this country. We need an alliance between the poor and the workers to defeat Malema and the predators that he represents and to take forward a genuinely progressive political project.

Ayanda Kota
Chairperson of the Unemployed People’s Movement, Grahamstown
078 625 6462

A version of this article was published in the Mail & Guardian.