Let's Think

Malema’s Polokwane master class

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At his court appearance last week on fraud and corruption charges, EFF leader Julius Malema delivered a master class in brand building and political strategy.

I’m no fan of Malema and his party’s radical policies, but if I were still lecturing in communication studies, my students would now have been analysing the branding strategies followed by the leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters.

For most of the year so far the picture of Malema and his fellow EFF members of parliament etched in the public mind, is one of rowdy activists dressed in work boots, red overalls and berets or hard hats, disrupting parliament.

When Malema turned up at the High Court in Polokwane last Monday, he looked a different man. He was as smartly and conservatively dressed as any of the lawyers present, and all friendly smiles.

This was a different playing field than parliament or a political rally in an informal settlement or economically downtrodden township. It called for dressing from a different kitbag and according to a different game plan.

Malema clearly obliged at the Polokwane courthouse – but, just to prove that subtlety is not beyond him, his tie was ‘overall red’ and well-accentuated by his pure white shirt.

Having all along claimed that the charges against him were politically motivated, the game plan for the court was also illustrated by his entrance. In parliament, where the EFF is on the attack against President Jacob Zuma over the Nkandla affair, it is all confrontational posturing.

By contrast, his entrance in court was described as follows by one of the journalists present: “Standing with hands outstretched Malema jokingly thanked President Jacob Zuma for ‘giving me this platform’ before turning towards the clicking cameras.”

Malema, by the looks of it, realised that disrupting parliament, where the EFF can make a case that the processes (from the person in the presiding chair to the scheduling of debates) are politically stacked against them, is one thing, disrespecting a court quite another issue.

It is probably against this background that Malema asked his fans to stay away from the trial, saying he would fight it on his own.

After the case was thrown out by Judge George Mothle on, among other grounds, that a further postponement would be prejudicial to him, Malema delivered a ‘thank you’ speech outside the court. He was quick to score some political points.

Among others, he thanked his wife, Mantwa: “I said to my wife, you do not need to accompany me to court, we are not celebrities. You will continue with your job, I will handle this one.”

Broader strategy

For Malema, at least for now, and probably permanently, the battle over his alleged involvement in fraud and corruption is a thing of the past. He declared outside the courtroom: “I stand in front of you, an innocent man, without a dark cloud hanging over my head.”

This is in stark contrast to what has been happening with similar charges against President Zuma, which might be reinstated after being withdrawn before he had his ‘day in court’.

While both men have claimed that the charges against them are politically motivated, they have followed very different strategies in fighting it.

In the case of President Zuma he has done everything within his considerable power to stay out of court.  He fought his case mostly on the front and forums of politics.

Malema, in contrast, sought to defend himself in court and constantly asked to have his day in court.

Now he has already had an application for his sequestration by the South African Revenue Service withdrawn and the chances of the fraud and corruption charges being reinstated look very slim.

In the process Malema has dramatically improved the moral and political grounds from which to launch renewed attacks on President Zuma.

I think opposition parties, in particular, will benefit from the homework I had in mind for my imaginary students.


by Piet Coetzer

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