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Give us a sign, Julius

Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya reflects on Economic Freedom Fighters' Julius Malema's address at the funeral of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. He wonders if Malema will listen to the people he claims to speak on behalf of. Will Julius 'give us a sign' that ensures the marginalised are not just voting fodder?

In keeping with how she lived, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s death and funeral gave South Africans much to discuss and argue over. The eulogies have been as effusive as they have been controversial but this was to be expected from a woman who courted controversy.

In death she is as controversial as in life. As it had been throughout life, the apartheid spin doctors were determined to have the last word pronouncing what they wanted us to believe to be true or false of the 'Mother of The Nation'.

The documentary on her life and times, gave the apartheid intelligence community an unasked for opportunity to divide supporters of the liberation movement. It cast doubt as to who the real heroes and villains of the apartheid struggle in fact were.

Thanks to the documentary thousands witnessed her burial on Saturday. Many who were at Orlando Stadium or watching at home were no longer sure which Mandela, Mr or Mrs, was deserving of praise and which of scorn.

But the funeral showstopper was Julius Malema’s: “Give us a sign mama, what do we do without you?”

Social media latched onto the phrase instantly. Within minutes, smartphones were buzzing with what has since been dubbed the #Malema Challenge.

Taking the podium, the EFF’s commander-in-chief said: “I’m here to speak on behalf of the dejected masses of our people, I speak on behalf of the landless people, the unemployed youth, the fees must fall generation, the security guards, domestic workers, farmworkers, cleaners, waiters and waitresses, the shopkeepers, teachers, nurses and all of those workers who are paid low wages.”

Given just how clearly he identified those who are excluded and marginalised, the sign that Malema is looking for is all around him.

All he and many others who have joined him on social media need to do is provide a platform for those he has mentioned, pay attention to what they have to say and become partners with those affected to find lasting solutions to the challenges they face.

South Africa, including civil society organisations, has a long history of talking about the marginalised – without asking their opinions – just as Malema did at Mama Winnie's funeral on their behalf.

The state’s record on “nothing about us without us” is unflattering.

A recurring theme amongst those in marginalised communities is that the state uses the consultation process written into the law as a mere formality, to tick the required box. Once this requirement is met it goes ahead and does as it had planned to do regardless of what the input from the consultation process might have suggested.

Examples that come to mind include how, after a lengthy consultative process, the government went ahead with e-tolls despite the overwhelming opposition to urban tolling.  Another would be the dispute around municipal demarcations. The Merafong and Vuwani communities in north western Gauteng and Limpopo went through, what ultimately proved to be a charade because, regardless of their input, the state went ahead as per its own initial plans.

Paying close attention to Malema’s speech suggests that he was probably looking for a sign as to what to do for the underdogs, now discarded and left to their own devices, despite the triumph they had helped achieve. This is how Malema characterised Mama Winnie.

If that was the case, the answer to “what do we do without you” would have to be found in what is done for other underdogs as a primary concern, and what to do with those who have for too long kept the underdogs marginalised giving them only secondary consideration.

To know “what do we do without you” the EFF commander-in-chief needs to walk the streets of the townships, villages, cities and towns and see just how many are still excluded from the democratic dividends. He needs to ask them what they want.

If they feel strongly about the marginalisation of women, as per Malema’s comments on the podium, then they need only speak to their own sisters, daughters and mothers to determine what is the best way to acquire the gender justice denied to Winnie and millions of other women.

They should speak to their work colleagues. They should spend a bit of time with women who take their lives into their own hands every time they take a jog around their neighbourhood block.

If they want a sign, they should pay attention to the sexual objectification of women in popular media and the violence they meet in the streets and in their homes.

The history of political funerals in South Africa shows that they are great places for platitudes before what is in fact a captive audience.

The people of South Africa will be entitled to look at Malema for a different sign: will he listen when those he claims to speak for tell him how they see the future? Will he pay attention to the millions, who like Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, are abused and spewed out by patriarchy?

To misquote Marx, the philosophers and the spin doctors have pointed to who betrayed the masses, when the point was to free them from manipulation.

Give us a sign Julius. Will you hear the cries of the marginalised and the forgotten or are they just voting fodder for you?

Image: GCIS

* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.