Like Zuma, Malema has now reached for his machine gun
It was the inevitable next goose-step in the EFF’s march towards kragdadigheid
Of course Julius Malema fired an assault rifle into the sky. It’s the ultimate metaphor for populist politics: a man, making a mighty noise, getting off on the adrenaline and testosterone rush of waving around a phallic death machine, and not giving a damn about where the bullets land or who they maim or kill.
It was also the next inevitable goose-step in the EFF’s march towards kragdadigheid. Years ago I wrote that the party’s infatuation with military uniforms and jargon worried me, not because of its allegedly revolutionary connotations (if you believe the EFF won’t play ball with global capital I’ve got a bridge to sell you) but because that sort of performance has to be endlessly ramped up and amplified if it is to keep delivering the same hit of dopamine.
Yes, it was always bound to end with a bang.
The ANC has recycled hackneyed Soviet-style war rhetoric for decades, declaring war on this and that, urging comrades to man the barricades or join the party’s vanguard. Now and then, when it really wanted to make a splash, its senior members would dress in camouflage. Jacob Zuma sang about his machine gun. War talk was so commonplace that even singing about shooting Boers after 1994 was seen not as an exhortation to violence but a sort of rhetorical device in a beloved singalong golden oldie.Given that history, the Malema and the EFF understood what they needed to do. If they were going to step out from the shadow of the ANC, they needed to dial that militarism up to 11. Rhetoric wasn’t enough. They needed uniforms and military berets. People who voted for the EFF could not be “supporters” or “members”: they were “fighters”. And fighters need to fight. If fisticuffs ensued, all the better: a bloodied Malema being shoved around by Jacob Zuma's white-shirt goons in parliament was revolutionary manna from heaven.
Those glory days, however, disappeared with Zuma. The EFF has been rendered largely redundant by the ANC’s willingness to expropriate land, offering little to the country but vocal opposition to government excesses and draconian, patently ruinous economic policies. With an election heaving into view, it was essential for Malema to make himself dangerously, sexily revolutionary again.
And so, like Zuma, he reached for his machine gun.
He and his loudest supporters have denied that the weapon was real, but if that’s true, it simply makes the act even more transparent. It confirms that this was political theatre of the lowest order: an acting out of the violent, macho posturing of history’s shittiest regimes in some of history’s shittiest countries.
We have seen this before. Stalin did it. Saddam Hussein did it. Al-Qaeda and Islamic State did it.
And now Julius Malema has done it. Inevitably.