Harare — IT WAS inevitable that Julius Malema's visit to Zimbabwe two weeks ago would generate much interest.
People on both sides of the Limpopo wanted to know the implications of such a visit to both Zimbabwe and South Africa. Knowing the sort of person that Malema is, the drama that happened at Luthuli House, where he ejected a BBC reporter from a Press conference, marked the highest point of the dramatic journey. It is certainly not the way things are done but it is easy to understand the young man.
His outburst was reflex reaction to several centuries of humiliation and domination by the whiteman since the day Jan van Riebeeck landed at the Cape of Good Hope in 1652 that clearly seems to be continuing 15 years after they are free.
Their courts will soon try to establish the motives behind Eugene Terre'Blanche's murder whose party wants to perpetuate white domination. The courts may grapple to find the motives but whatever they will find, the motives cannot be completely removed from the bigger context of the AWB party fundamental policy to perpetually dominate the blacks. Malema's anger is easy to understand if one is black.
Already, the Western media are on full throttle to portray the unfortunate BBC reporter as a victim and ultimately a hero and Malema as the disdainful villain. Insinuations have already started that its part of what he learned on his visit to Zimbabwe. But the real focal point of Malema's visit and utterances is (a) Jacob Zuma's leadership and (b) Nelson Mandela's legacy.
There are suggestions that Malema is a liability to both the ANC and Jacob Zuma. I don't think it's entirely correct. If you take away his excesses and youthful flamboyance, Malema represents a genuine and legitimate voice in the ANC that anyone would try to stifle at their own risk.
It is common knowledge that Zuma's ascendancy to president of the ANC at Polokwane was facilitated, among other people, by the ANCYL that Malema leads. There are also suggestions that Zuma might not have approved Malema's visit to Zimbabwe. Considering Malema came to Zimbabwe just two weeks after Zuma was here, it is highly likely Zuma knew or even requested for the visit.
Julius Malema is Jacob Zuma's problem child but there is no way he can throw him out through the window. In my opinion, the bigger problem with Malema's position and utterances is what that does to Nelson Mandela's legacy.
There is no doubt that Nelson Mandela is a hero but he is a big African disappointment. Perhaps we expected too much of him. The man who was imprisoned at Robben Island in 1963 was a creation of people's resistance to apartheid and white domination. The man who came out of Robben Island in 1991, wearing a broad smile and preaching reconciliation and forgiveness was a bit of a myth.
Considering that he had been incarcerated for nearly 30 years, one would have expected some anger and bitterness, it's only human. But because to us he was larger than life, we quickly understood. We were totally unprepared for the war with the West that followed, a war to appropriate him. We lost that war. Suddenly, he was more theirs than ours: he was more the West's hero than ours.
South Africans must be applauded for the dignity and maturity they displayed in accepting the loss. In other circumstances and with other people, they might have doubted and questioned his commitment.
The first person to notice the problem was his wife then, Winnie. At the beginning we could not understand her and some even called her names. But when in 1999, Nelson Mandela flew over Tunisia where the OAU heads of state and government summit was underway on his way to Europe and America to bid the leaders there farewell because he was retiring from South African politics, it was the final nail on the coffin of a miscarried African dream.
Africa was too pained to say anything. But we should keep our minds open for possible further surprises. When he eventually dies, someone might suggest to bury him alongside Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln or Charles de Gaulle. Of course all these men are heroes but they are not exactly ours.
Last December, I had the occasion to visit the Walter Sisulu Memorial Square in Soweto. It is an awesome historical monument. Engraved on stone around the circular square are the 15 fundamental provisions of the Freedom Charter. At the height of the struggle against apartheid and white domination, the Freedom Charter was the bible of the ANC.
I remember during the days we trained as freedom fighters in Tanzania in the 1970s, Umkonto weSizwe (MK) cadres recited it from back to back. Nelson Mandela read it from the dock before they whisked him away to Robben Island back in '63. The Freedom Charter must be the basis of the current constitution of the ANC. It was here at the place later designated to Walter Sisulu that they say the document was drafted.
Everything is there in the provisions inscribed on stone around the square: equal access to land, creation of equal opportunity in commerce and industry to all, access to education, access to health, access to housing, access to transport etc, etc.
A guide, a former MK member we were told, took us through the provisions, his voice becoming agitated each time he got to those provisions he thought were not yet fulfilled 15 years after independence and there were many. In fact, most of them were still unfulfilled.
It is the frustrations and disillusionment generated by these unfulfilled promises that are giving rise to the radicalism we are witnessing in young people like Julius Malema. Things are not going exactly according to the prescription of the Freedom Charter.
There are many other things happening in South Africa that the young people find frustrating. For instance, the decision by the courts to ban a liberation war song on the grounds that it has the potential to incite people to commit violence has got frightening implications.
It could be seen as an attempt to erase from people's memories all images and stories about their heroic struggle against apartheid. If the South Africans abide by such court rulings, it must be certainly within their power to promulgate new laws that defend and promote the values and stories about their liberation struggle.
They surely cannot allow such an important part of their history to be killed by laws from the apartheid era. Otherwise the only documentation that will remain is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the new heroes it has created the credentials of whom the likes of Julius Malema are questioning. The story of the struggle must be told and re-told over and over again. We faced a similar predicament with our so-called 'born-frees.'
Although there were no laws to prohibit us from swamping them with the liberation story we just relaxed and assumed they knew and the next day they were challenging us to return the country to the whites and see if they can't liberate it. We are still grappling with that crisis now. The liberation war was not a stroll in the park. There is a deliberate effort to re-write the history of South Africa.
A colleague from Zambia once suggested that Africa should take the West to court for taking away Nelson Mandela from us in such a callous manner. In fact that whatever they did to him at Robben Island was unforgivable and criminal. It happened with our own nationalist, Ndabaningi Sithole during the struggle.
They worked on him in prison to the point he signed documents renouncing the armed struggle as part of conditions for his release. Such futile thinking like taking anybody to court only helps to demonstrate how angry people are over the issue. The Freedom Charter contained ideals that people gave up their lives for. It is those ideals that people like Julius Malema are fighting to uphold.
Julius Malema has obviously got a lot of enemies, some of whom wish him dead. For people like me, it's not the man that is the issue; it's the ideals that he stands for that are difficult to kill. Some people might regard Malema as an eccentric but most of the things that he goes around saying are contained in the Freedom Charter.
Malema has come and gone. It is clear that his visit was intended to express solidarity with Zanu-PF. After all, MK forces fought and died alongside our own Zipra forces on the northwestern front around Hwange and Lupane during the struggle.
Our relationship with the ANC is steeped in blood. It is also evident the visit was intended to revive memories of the liberation era, sending a strong message to the South Africans that the ANC had not abandoned the original agenda of the struggle as enshrined in the Freedom Charter. Malema was the perfect person to do that.
If there are any people to learn anything from the Zimbabwean experience, it is certainly not Julius Malema but those with the economic power and the land. They must accept to share some of it with the previously dispossessed and disadvantaged people.
That is the idea behind the willing-seller-willing-buyer provision.
If they continue to succumb to greed and resist to share, one day, laws would be promulgated to share the land and wealth compulsorily and that can be quite messy.
Malema's visit to Zimbabwe has nothing to do with them accepting to share.
Jacob Zuma has the enormous and unenviable task to assert the African identity of his country while keeping the aspirations of people like Malema on the leash as he skilfully manoeuvres his country out of Nelson Mandela's white controlled legacy.
In the one year that Zuma has been in power, he has managed to do it in an amazing and sometimes old-fashioned way.