Pushing racial buttons, a young firebrand stirs up South Africa
The ruling African National Congress party has suspended its youth league leader Julius Malema for hate speech, but his career is far from over.
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In March of 2010, Malema faced charges for hate speech because of his penchant for singing the struggle-era song called, “Kill the Boer.” Given that the murder of white farmers in South Africa appears to be on the rise, courts eventually agreed that a song encouraging people to kill boers, or farmers, was perhaps insensitive at best.
Malema continued to sing the song, but changed the lyrics slightly to “kiss the boer.”
In October of this year, Malema got himself in trouble for using a racist term offensive to Indians while making the very reasonable statement that poor black kids in townships should have the same educational opportunities as the better-off children in Indian neighborhoods.
Malema’s antics have naturally been a boon for newspapers, catering to a white readership constantly on the lookout for threats to their survival, as well as to black middle-class readers who frankly expect their country’s political leaders to behave themselves better. But Malema has also been a boon to comedians like Riaad Moosa and Trevor Noah, who has refined his impersonation of Malema to a fine art.
Yet while some political observers have been eager to pound a few nails into Malema’s political coffin, saying the ANC leadership has essentially dismantled the youth leader’s base of support and his access to money and power, it is important to remember that Malema wasn't a misfit on the street, mumbling to himself. At every rally, there was an enthusiastic audience of young people who had come to hear Malema speak.
When Malema talks of nationalization of mines, or the confiscation of white-owned farmlands, or the equitable education of black children, his words reverberate in a country where most major mining firms and other businesses remain in the hands of whites, where farmland remains in the hands of whites, and where rampant unemployment and illiteracy still affect black South Africans much more than other communities. Even comedians will admit that those underlying problems are not a joke. If Malema doesn’t give voice to that sentiment, someone else eventually will.
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