In 2011, Malema was sent into South Africa’s political wilderness after he was fired from his job as African National Congress Youth Leader.
But the South African police killings of 34 striking miners have propelled Malema back into the political fray, stoking striking miners’ anger and further antagonizing his former boss, South African President Jacob Zuma.
Cartoon caricatures show Malema depicted as an opportunist blowing his own horn; a superhero named “Opportunist Man”; and a Nazi-looking figure announcing “Mine Kumback.”
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Lisa Mullins: I am Lisa Mullins and this is The World. Miners in South Africa are refusing to end a deadly strike that’s now in its fourth week. The violence came to a head last month. Police opened fire at the Lonmin platinum mine; they killed 34 strikers. Now the unrest is spreading to other mines in South Africa and critics say that’s partly because of the actions of the former youth leader of the ruling ANC, the African National Congress. His name is Julius Malema. He has been accused of inflaming tensions at the mines including urging strikers to make the mines ungovernable. Here’s Malema speaking to the BBC.
Julius Malema: What do I mean by ungovernable? I mean they must put down their tools. I’m not calling for violence. I’m not calling for the killing of anybody. Workers must refuse to sell their labor. Enough is enough, unless capitalists are prepared to pay enough living wage.
Mullins: Malema’s presence at the mines has been controversial. Some say he’s fueling the unrest to try to unseat his former boss, South African President Jacob Zuma. They say he’s also trying to revive a political career that stalled when he was kicked out of the ANC last year. Malema dismisses his critics and he says people mistake his brash manner for arrogance.
Malema: I’m not arrogant. I just tell the truth. People don’t like the truth, especially those who have benefitted from a murderous apartheid regime. They don’t like the truth. I only tell the truth; I tell it the way it is. You either take it or you leave it.
Mullins: Julius Malema says he’s never pretended to be a diplomatic leader.
Malema: I’m a political activist. Let me leave the word of diplomacy to diplomats. I enjoy being a radical, militant, political activist.
Mullins: The World’s Carol Hills monitors political cartoons around the globe and she has been observing just how Malema has been portrayed throughout his career. How is he being depicted right now though Carol?
Carol Hills: Well, he’s being depicted as a complete opportunist. In fact, there’s one cartoon that says, “Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird; it’s a plane. No, It’s Opportunist Man!”
Mullins: Meaning him.
Hills: Yes, meaning Julius Malema flying. So, it’s very much a kind of comeback, an opportunistic comeback for him. He was really in the political wilderness since April when he was dumped as ANC youth leader so he’s being portrayed as somebody who is completely taking advantage of the miners’ tragedy to get back in the political spotlight.
Mullins: And so again, how are the illustrators, the cartoonists showing this? What kind of metaphors are they using?
Hills: Well, there’s one where he’s kind of sitting in a mine with all these miners who are angry and the caption says, “I’ve struck political gold” with the discontent of the miners. There’s another one where it says, “When pigs fly” and there’s 2 pigs up there and there’s a banner next to one saying “Malema, President of South Africa” and the other saying “Nationalization of the South African mines”, something he’s pushing hard for without a real grasp of the facts, but he’s throwing that out there.
Mullins: I saw one of them where he is walking, kind of strutting over the bodies of some of the dead miners all in cartoon.
Hills: Yes, and he’s blowing a trumpet with the word “Opportunist” on it.
Mullins: So, why is he such a ready-made figure for cartoonists in South Africa?
Hills: He’s incredibly provocative. He’s kind of the populist ‘let’s enrage the masses’ kind of guy. He’s just always saying provocative things whether it’s kind of supporting Robert Mugabe when the rest of the world thinks that he’s doing a bad job, and even…
Mullins: President of Zimbabwe.
Hills: President of Zimbabweâ€¦ and advocating kind of drastic land reform measures in South Africa. He’s just somebody who is constantly saying provocative things and appealing to kind of people’s base feelings.
Mullins: Any kind of sensitivities though among the cartoonists about him?
Hills: Well, there is sensitivity in the cartooning world in South Africa just because so many political cartoonists there are white. It’s changing slowly.
Mullins: And Malema is black.
Hills: Malema is black, and that in itself makes political cartoonists easily criticized. That said, there’s almost kind of universal disdain for Julius Malema among cartoonists. So, I would say the imagery by non-white cartoonists is slightly tamer, but not by much. He’s just somebody who really, really provokes people.
Mullins: And, you can see the cartoons about Julius Malema that Carol has been describing; they’re at theworld.org. The World’s Carol Hills, thank you.
Hills: Thanks, Lisa.
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