“Straight line thinkers struggle in a world of no straight lines,” says Irish academic, author and journalist John Naughton.
CONWAY TUTANI ECHOES
Despite a host of scandals — including corruption — surrounding both Jacob Zuma and his nemesis Julius “Juju” Malema, they didn’t do too badly in the South African general elections held last week.
At the end of the day, the scandals — despite being published non-stop and in detail — did not matter that much to the majority of the voters.
Could it be that many people recognise the Zuma and Malema hidden in them? That the dissonance in all of us is magnified in them, so when it’s played out in them, it’s cathartic (provides psychological relief through bringing our repressed ideas and feelings to the surface, getting something out of your system)? Enough of psychological diversion!
Or, in Zuma’s case, that people are not that prudish; they are not easily shocked by matters relating to sex or excessively concerned with sexual propriety? Social conservatism of the past is gone.
Or Malema championing the anti-corruption crusade when he himself has been probed for that? Here are two opposite things right next to each other, co-existing. For sure, life is not a straight line; it’s a winding and troubled road, detour after detour.
Malema was the biggest winner of them all. Juju’s Economic Freedom Fighters party made a more than decent debut in the elections, coming third overall, with other parties suffering losses of the demolition variety. Now, he is Honourable Malema, having tapped into ANC voters disgruntled by corruption, widening income inequality and growing poverty following his expulsion from the ruling party after his fallout with Zuma.
Many people see Malema as a buffoon and demagogue — and quite rightly so because he has used inflammatory and hateful language and been convicted of that in a court of law. Others view him as bombastic and refreshingly different from the prim and proper politician who is not his own man or woman, who is establishment through and through, who is whipped into line.
Both views are correct. Malema is too opinionated, garrulous and blunderous. Certainly, there is never a dull moment when he is around. Though Malema might not be a smooth political operator, he has certainly been an effective one.
This is not to condone or condemn Malema. It’s purely to look at the issue from a political science point of view. Hate him or like him, there is no doubt that Malema has shifted the political sands in South Africa. He is certainly a bully and a braggart, but there is need for professional detachment.
People ought to ask themselves as to what conditions allow characters like Malema to rise to prominence and who, if at all, is to blame.
They ought to talk of this in terms of cause and effect because Malema is but a mere effect, not the cause. A cause is something that makes something else happen. A chain of circumstances could be what catapulted Malema up. Spreading corruption, increasing poverty, the widening income gap and high unemployment made his voice heard and heeded.
Way back in Rhodesia, Ian Smith, because of his stubborn, uncompromising nature, unintentionally caused the hard-line and militant Robert Mugabe to rise at the expense of relative moderates who were seen as ineffectual in confronting the diehard system.
In those darkest days after UDI when colonial power Britain left blacks in the lurch, extremism began to be seen as the only option. Smith played no small part in the rise of Mugabe. So, what we have today is the creation — inadvertent as it is — of Rhodesia.
That said, both Zuma and Malema speak the language of the common man and have prevailed against their more illustrious opponents. This shows the establishment — including academia and the media — can be far removed from sentiments on the ground.
These two characters — Zuma and Malema — are the most criticised by commentators and the most caricatured by cartoonists in South Africa.
Said Zuma this week, in reference to the scandal which was supposed to severely damage his electability after State funds were corruptly used to upgrade his
Inkandla rural homestead at a cost of $23 million: “Inkandla is important to the upper classes and intellectuals, but not to the average voter.”
Naughton describes “straight line thinkers” as “literary intellectuals”. When systems change, you have to change the way you think about a problem or situation or else the carefully gathered data becomes meaningless and irrelevant. A too intellectual base without taking into consideration the endlessly changing world when there are different types of processes and logic at play is not helpful.
In contrast, Mohandas Gandhi, who led India to independence in 1947 in a non-violent struggle against colonial power Britain, was a non-literary intellectual who led the masses from the front and lived and ate with them. You don’t have to be as ascetic as Gandhi, but to be as humble and real as him.
Gandhi was intellectual – and a lawyer to top it all — but he came down to the people and identified with them in every way. His feet were firmly on the ground. You don’t need just one attribute, but many. Saying people should not be hold themselves prisoner to intellectualism is not being anti-intellectual.
Wrote former TIME Magazine senior editor Joshua Coper Ramo validating Naughton: “Unfortunately, whether they are running corporations or foreign ministries or central banks, some of the best minds of our era are still in thrall to an older way of seeing and thinking. The problem is that our leaders lack the language, creativity, and revolutionary spirit our moment demands. In many cases they have been corrupted by power, position and prestige.”
Sounds suspiciously like Zimbabwe, doesn’t it?
Juju’s rise is no fluke — there is no juju.