Politics provides us with the plethora of different characters, none more exciting than Julius Malema. Love him or hate him, this man has undeniably changed the face of South African politics. And who would’ve thought? From ANCYL expulsion to EFF Commander-in-Chief, Juju really has come a long way… a long, long way from his humble beginnings in Seshego.
Give or take a few thousand kilometres and we meet none other than Mr Donald Trump. As the United States marathons toward the presidential election next year, The Donald has also made an indelible mark on the scuppered face of American politics. While not enduring the lowly start our Juju did, Trump has certainly politicked his way into the lives of Americans… be that good or be that bad.
So where is this going? What can we learn about these two characters and indeed, what can they teach us about ourselves and society? Don’t get me wrong, there is a boatload of differences between these two men – but the similarities here are simply astounding. Take last week in fact, Malema unveiled a 17 point memorandum to our JSE’s CEO. This memorandum detailed benevolence after benevolence, which if implemented, would turn our Top 40 shares into NGOs virtually overnight. His socialist game is strong and this comes as no surprise – “economic freedom in our lifetimes” is as tired a catchphrase as any. Redistribution of wealth has been a cornerstone of the EFF since its very inception.
Trump on the other hand has evolved his taxation policy and similarly (and surprisingly) supports a tax on the wealthy. I say it’s surprising because Trump falls squarely into this category – he’s almost a textbook definition of wealth. Time and time again, he reminds us how he’s made “billions and billions of dollars” and is certainly unafraid to flaunt his affluence and status to anyone who’ll listen.
What is not surprising about these two stances is that they win votes, and their proponents know it. Malema presents the South African masses with a slam dunk win. For the lady ironing her madam’s Trenery blouse, for the gardener washing the Mercedes he’ll probably never drive and for the disempowered, disenfranchised and disappointed public at large: he literally couldn’t go wrong.
Trump on other hand is running as a Republican. This breed of politician has historically been steadfast when it comes to tax cuts and socialism but The Donald has decided, in his grandstanding glory, that reform is required and America’s fiscus (like a Sandton estate’s hedges) deserves a cut. Simply put, he wants to end corporate tax, lower individual tax and smack the wealthy with a one-time tithe in order to pay down the national debt (track that here – http://www.usdebtclock.org/). This was undoubtedly a brave move and is certainly the brand of upstream politics we’ve come to expect of Mr Trump.
Which brings me to the next point of likeness between these two firebrands: shock tactics. Trump has been brash, offensive and in the South African context, ‘unparliamentary’ to say the least. From calling Lindsay Graham a ‘stiff’ to labelling Rosie O’Donnell a ‘fat pig’, The Donald has not been shy to share what most would keep to themselves… and this has been his gateway into American living rooms and onto American headlines.
And then of course Julius. Our friend Julius has insulted his way to infamy and was even convicted of hate speech along the way. “Dubula ibhunu” was a Malema smash-hit and while he’s toned it down since then, white-bashing continues to be a staple of the populist’s discourse. With 90% of the local population being black, it’s no wonder really that this rhetoric has had the success it’s had: by and large, blacks distrust whites and distrust blacks who fraternise with them – Maimane’s taunt as a ‘sell out’ from an EFF teletubby proves this.
The final Malema-Trumpism that I need to point out is something I’ve spoken a lot about since Julius burst onto the scene. Donning Armani suits and Rolex watches, Julius embodies Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four double-think almost flawlessly and virtually continuously. Only an African leader could convince the poorest of the poor that he has their interests at heart… all the while wearing the blingiest bling, before jetting off in the fanciest car. It perplexes me the world over how people still attach credibility to this kind of politician. Trump, while equally in-your-face about it, has the credibility to back up his riches. He’s sodomised bankruptcy legislation for his own personal gain and his net worth fortune has been the topic of many a discussion. All that said, Trump continues to punt for the poor, claiming gross tax inequality and demonising the wealthy, the very class to which he belongs.
They are both incredible politicians: Julius and Donald. Their ability to influence is second to none and they offer the shake up that both America and Mzansi so apparently require. If you don’t think this is so, take a look at Trump’s poll numbers (currently leading the Republican primary) and find me 50 000 marchers for a DA demonstration (like the EFF did on 27 October 2015). They both sell dreams and society is buying…
Last week, we saw former-comedian Jimmy Morales elected as president of Guatemala; having the son of a domestic and a casino mogul turned reality TV star as presidents of nations are not as farfetched as previously thought. Are these two men the faces of revolutions? Are they what policy reform look like? With South Africa at the polls sometime in 2016 and Trump racing for the Republican nod on 21 July 2016, time alone will tell whether populism pays or whether their put-downs are poison.