Julius Malema out, Mcebo Dlamini in: Mainstream media is about to elevate yet another crass populist - Daily Maverick

Oct 29, 2018
29 October 2018 - Does South Africa’s media have a destructive love affair with bad boys? Does it ensure our exposure to people who become leaders but are bad for the country?

Sara Gon

Does South Africa’s media have a destructive love affair with bad boys? Does it ensure our exposure to people who become leaders but are bad for the country? 

The coverage of Julius Malema and Mcebo Dlamini is instructive.

Julius Malema has been a member of the African National Congress (ANC) from the age of nine. Between becoming the national president of the Congress of South African Students (Cosas) in 2001 and being expelled from the ANC as ANC Youth League president in 2012, his activities included but were not limited to the following:

leading a Cosas march by school pupils through Johannesburg, which was characterised by violence and looting;
contributing to or inciting the chaos and violence that accompanied the elective conference which first saw him voted as president of the ANCYL;
declaring very publicly that the youth were prepared to take up arms and kill for Zuma;
being charged three times for hate speech;
praising Robert Mugabe and the violent seizure of land from white farmers;
calling a BBC journalist “a bloody agent” at a press conference he had called;
calling for regime change in Botswana and claiming that President Ian Khama was a “puppet” of the United States;
being charged with fraud, money-laundering and racketeering;
raising the prospect of urging people to kill whites, saying “we’ve not called for the killing of white people, at least for now. I can’t guarantee the future”.
frequently uttering racist remarks against whites and Indians; and
threatening to “slit the throat of whiteness”, referring to his threat to remove Athol Trollip as mayor of the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality;
From his ascendancy to the presidency of the ANCYL, Malema has had the attention of the mainstream media out of all proportion to the importance of what he had to say.

Malema’s publicity-rich brilliance carried through to his leadership of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). The EFF has been treated as the “real official” opposition because of its theatrical attacks on former president Jacob Zuma and its self-projection as the slayer of corrupt ANC dragons.

Notwithstanding the blatant racism and threats of violence, and a political programme that is undemocratic and likely to destroy the country, the media has not turned against him. Anguish over his racism against whites wasn’t matched in the media. His oratorical flair, tub-thumping style and inflammatory articulacy have won the day.

This has only started changing recently – his inept, rambling and excessively long press conference about the EFF’s possible link to the VBS scandal showed a firebrand under pressure for the first time.

But is the mainstream media about to elevate another crass populist who is even less deserving of attention?

Mcebo Dlamini, president of the Students’ Representative Council (SRC) of the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) in 2014, was suspended from his position for a number of acts of misconduct in early 2015.

Prior to this, Dlamini had falsely declared himself to be the lost grandson of Walter Sisulu.

In a Facebook post, made while disciplinary action was taking place, he declared that he loved Hitler for his charisma and organisational skills and that every white person had an element of Adolf Hitler in them – hate.

In a letter to students in April 2015 about Dlamini’s disciplinary process, Wits Vice-chancellor Prof. Adam Habib said: “As someone who claims to love this institution, I believe that Mr Dlamini has single-handedly wrought more damage on its reputation than any other person who I can think of in at least the last two decades.

“This damage has the potential to impact on the credibility of our degrees, and therefore on the employment prospects of all of our students and graduates.”

And this was before #FeesMustFall.

In an interview with Power FM late in 2015, Dlamini referred to Habib and the Jewish community at large as “devils’’ and “uncircumcised at heart”.

Then came #FeesMustFall. A number of ex-Wits SRC presidents, Dlamini included, took on “leadership” roles in the protests. The protests were characterised by violence, damage to property, threats against students and staff, bad faith negotiations with management, and racism. However, the movement did not have a defined leadership structure with appropriate levels of authority to whom the “movement” was answerable.

Dlamini, who was in his element, led protesters into the streets of Braamfontein. As a result of the chaos that ensued, Dlamini was charged with six offences for theft, assault, public violence and malicious damage to property.

Dlamini also led a frightening shutdown of Wits Medical School during the protests.

Dlamini’s trial is still ongoing and has been postponed to 2019. Presumably his legal fees are being covered because he has been represented at various times by high profile advocates Dali Mpofu SC and Tembeka Ngcukaitobi.

Dlamini has now declared that he is ready to run the ANCYL, the election for which has been postponed numerous times this year and is now due to be held from 17 to 20 December 2018.

Dlamini has appeared in reports by TimesLive, EWN, Daily Sun, News24 and similar mainstream media. In the past few weeks he has been interviewed by the SABC and eNCA.

Thirty-two-year-old Dlamini, currently studying for a Masters in Law at Wits, has had his university fees subsidised by the Gauteng Department of Education.

Dlamini represents no organisation – #FeesMustFall no longer exists. He faces the possibility of incarceration for criminal activity. He is a racist, a demagogue and a megalomaniac.

Is the mainstream media aiding and abetting the creation of a monster who represents no one just because he screams the loudest, is photogenic and talks rubbish that is never interrogated?

Dlamini keeps being described as a “student leader” in a sort of romantic spasm by the media, harking back to a protest whose substance became subsumed by the nastiness of its execution.

There is no justification for Dlamini’s glorification; only the opposite. 

Sara Gon is a Policy Fellow at the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), a think tank that promotes political and economic freedom.


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