Mixed Messagesby Brendon Bosworth / 22.04.2009
If the walls of UCT’s Jamieson Hall were an eardrum they’d be perforated. Unlike the decades’ worth of proud clapping that’s resonated across the hallowed space, this clamour is undisciplined. The noise is making the floor shake; the rumble of an approaching Stegosaurus. Clad in yellow t-shirts, a throng of Julius Malema’s supporters, who’ve apparently been bussed onto campus, is stomping pneumatically on the gallery’s floorboards. I’m wondering if they know they’re here to listen to Julius, as they launch into yet another “uZuma my president” chorus.
It’s now ten to two. Malema’s address was supposed to start at one, but there were congestion issues at the allocated venue. The little lecture theatre just wasn’t big enough to hold the ever-expanding crowd. With people sitting on laps, spilling from the doorways, a fire would have spelled a massacre. Shortly after the man arrived in his jet black Mercedes E-Class, we were herded to the hall, now imbued with a soccer stadium atmosphere. Up front, it’s the ANCYL crew. “My ANC” T-shirts; Zuma’s eyes peering from the chests of the loyal. The mid-section is a salt ‘n pepper mix. White anthropology undergrads, black business scientists, coloured accountancy majors, anyone with a view on the controversial upstart, anyone who cares about the future of this country.
This morning’s papers spelled the end of the ANC Youth League president. “Knives are out for Malema,” screamed the headlines, with reports of ANCYL NEC (National Executive Committee) plans to remove him shortly after the elections. But the outspoken orator doesn’t seem fazed as he stands swaying to the struggle anthems. Come to think of it, he doesn’t seem that excited about speaking either. And when it comes down to it, he just seems to be missing the point.
“We will change this university; we will change the lecturers and managers,” he commands, speaking about transforming the institution and forces opposed to the revolution. If there are counter-revolutionaries in the crowd I don’t see them flinch. But then again the term is broad. In 1970s Cambodia, all you needed was a pair of spectacles to get a Khmer Rouge death sentence.
At this stage, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what he wants to change. As far as demographics are concerned, UCT is a beacon of transformation. The campus is a tapestry of colour, with graduates of all skin colours being pumped out at the end of each year. As for the lecturers, well, I’m not quite sure what he’s getting at. Does he envisage all the profs being aligned with the ANC or is he alluding to making the upper academic echelons more racially representative?
Amidst the confusion, an important sound byte emerges:
“Under Zuma we are going to make sure we give bursaries and scholarships to many poor African people to come here. We know that in this University the fees are expensive, therefore African children don’t have access…”
University isn’t cheap. That’s the truth. For too long, intelligent young South Africans have been denied access to tertiary institutions because they can’t afford the fees. UCT shouldn’t be restricted to the Claremont/Bishop’s Court clique. If the ANC is willing to put its money where it’s mouth is and actually follows through with this, that’s something to get excited about. But in times like these, when votes are paramount, promises are made and not always realized.
“People who say Zuma won’t be president must wake up,” asserts Julius. “Zuma will be the best ever president of SA.”
Cue jubilant cheering from Youth League devotees; a double-handed fuck-you from the frizzy-haired white boy near the back; and the kids in the DA T’s staring stoically onward.
Fretting about whether I could be labelled a counter-revolutionary, I listened with half an ear to the remainder. There was something about respecting the laws of our country and our constitution and then a heartfelt invocation of the great leaders:
“We must make Mandela proud; we must make Sisulu proud.”
The closest I felt to Malema was when I pictured us sharing a snoek braai and a Black Label, just after he said “SA belongs to all of us, black and white.” After the talk of counter-revolutionaries that made me feel a hell of a lot better.
A black dude who arrived late, with a smile wrapped around his face, took my hand and asked if I was ready to kill for Zuma. Pissing himself he turned and left. The two babes from Benoni who’d been watching with worried pencilled eyebrows flipped open their phones and followed him. I slipped out the door before the minstrels began their trumpeting.
Mixed messages. But there was no way I get that “uZuma my president” tune out of my damn head, as I drove home picturing Julius preaching to the two stadia worth of supporters he claimed would be waiting in Jozi when JZ is inaugurated.
Images courtesy and © Zapiro