Julius Malema, the president of the ANC Youth League, is quite the character, to say the least. He’s the fodder of many front pages and almost everything out of his mouth ends up in the news—often for all the wrong reasons. In his most recent press conference today, he lambasted a BBC reporter, asking security to remove “that thingy” from the ANCYL’s media briefing. And Malema managed to squeeze in the insults “bastard” and “bloody agent” before the reporter packed up and left.
This isn’t the first time Malema’s free-wheeling, absurd antics have gotten him prime-time coverage. He recently resurrected a protest song from the Apartheid era, entitled Ayesaba Amagwala, meaning “The Cowards are Scared.” It contains the lyrics aw dubul’ibhunu, meaning “shoot the boer;” the song (not surprisingly) has drawn criticism from many sides. A court accused Malema of inciting racial hatred and banned him from singing the song. Despite the court’s ruling, Malema doesn’t plan on stopping: “This is the court ruling of the white men in South Africa but we are not going to obey it,” he argued.
And if you need more proof of the ridiculousness of some of Malema’s statements, here’s an excerpt from his recent speech to a rally of 2000 Zanu-PF youth in Zimbabwe. Enjoy.
“We want the mines. They have been exploiting our minerals for a long time. Now it’s our turn to also enjoy from these minerals. They are so bright, they are colourful, we refer to them as white people, maybe their colour came as a result of exploiting our minerals and perhaps if some of us can get opportunities in these minerals we can develop some nice colour like them.”
An editor tells me, “People love talking about Malema.” And they do—heck, I’ve just rambled about him for a good four paragraphs. But is that reason enough to grant him a significant amount of real estate in local newspapers? Are we, as journalists, pandering to his whims by printing every foolhardy word out of his mouth? Are his statements really newsworthy? I argue that we’re adding fuel to the fire, granting Malema a sense of legitimacy that he does not deserve.
In Johannesburg, we toured Soweto, a large township just outside the city. It’s home to roughly two million people, according to a researcher at the local Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital (As I’ve come to learn in South Africa, pinning down more precise numbers is virtually impossible). In Soweto, there’s a large Anglican Church, attended by upwards of one thousand parishioners.
Former President Bill Clinton attended the church when he toured South Africa during his presidency, soon after the Monica Lewinsky scandal had run its course. In an unfortunate coincidence, the priest had decided to prepare a sermon on the immorality of infidelity, with the disgraced president in attendance.