Making sense of Julius Malema – “Power, seduction and the art of war”

(Written prior to Malema’s suspension, but I won’t change it for now!)

One of my big yawns is the back and forth between the Julius Malema bashers and worshippers especially when this is filling up my airwaves. Julius Malema (for those who don’t know) is the sitting (fighting, marching, swearing) President of the ANC Youth League, a powerful and traditionally vocal institution of the ruling ANC party, whose alumnae include greats such as Madiba himself.

Having said that, my friend Thandi and I spent a good deal of time mulling over Mr Malema. Rather than get embroiled in the emotional bashing and worshipping, we did a rapid appraisal of the state of Malema’s game using the international best seller “The 48 Laws of Power” by Robert Greene. Greene has also authored the “33 Strategies of War” and “The Art of Seduction” and so is something of an authority on greatest manipulators, seducers and politicians of human times. Studying history and classics are not a complete waste of time. He says:

“Some play with power and lose it all by a fatal mistake. Some go too far or not far enough. Yet others make all the right moves and are able to draw power unto themselves with an almost superhuman dexterity.” R. Greene

Our first assessment was that that Julius has mastered Greene’s laws of power very well. Too well not to share! Here is a summary of what we thought (well I have elaborated from our initial conversation, so Thandi might want to add a disclaimer!

Never put too much trust in friends, learn how to use enemies (#2); Infection: avoid the unhappy and unlucky (#10); do not commit to anyone (#20); Pose as a friend, work as a spy (#14) 

From “we will kill for Zuma” to “Zuma out”, from Mbeki deposer to “Mbeki was the most intelligent leader we ever had” (or something like that) Malema is definitely not your most loyal of friends. Having said that, he has made sure he has courted friends in high places. Even his ‘revolutionary’ forays in Zimbabwe were to hang out with Zanu PF’s wealthy young Turks, many of whom were businessmen well before they joined politics.  Malema does not do ‘losers’ by any stretch of the imagination. Anyone who banks on his support on anything other than a quid-pro-quo basis should speak to Jacob Zuma first. Like the British Empire, this man does not have friends, he has interests. Law 20 (about working as a spy) is stretching it a bit, but I couldn’t help speculating that when Malema kicked out a BBC journalist from his press conference calling him a “bloody agent!” he knew more about espionage than we realized!

Conceal your intentions (#3); Assume formlessness (#48); Keep others in suspense, cultivate an air of unpredictability (#17); Play a sucker to catch a sucker—seem dumber than your mark (# 21)

Julius knows how to keep people guessing. There is no-one box to put him into. Julius has mastered the art of dissimulation. The media (who shape a lot of our thinking about JM) have underestimated him. Greene quotes one Arthur Schopenhauer: “and if a man is to be liked, he must really be inferior in point of intellect.” The media loves to crow over Julius’ “stupidity” but is this because he makes them feel superior? If so, it’s a big mistake. I have not read Fiona Forde’s book on Julius Malema (An Inconvenient Youth) so maybe that gives us more insights into the man. The DA want to be in government in 2019, but I think Julius has other ideas! He likes acting dumb so we dismiss that idea.

Court attention at all costs (# 6); Play on people’s need to believe to create a cult-like following (# 27); Enter action with boldness (# 28); Create compelling spectacles (# 37); Stir up waters to catch fish (# 39)

If you have wondered why Malema rushes in where angels fear to tread, here is the answer. He is not a person to do things by half. The ANCYL economic freedom march was a strategic coup. I hate to admit I made the wrong call on this one, but my eyes stopped rolling in their tracks once I realized that they really were walking from Joburg CBD to Pretoria … all the way! Damn! Julius has managed to make himself larger than life … try visualizing him walking into your house unannounced. As for the boldness, this is his calling card—his appeal because of his no-holds-barred speaking style, like “if they ask you why you are marching tell them we are marching because we want to live like the whites?” Who cares if he is not always consistent? It’s all about timing!

Use selective honesty and generosity to disarm your victim (#12); Concentrate your forces (#23); Recreate yourself (#25) Control the options: get others to play the cards you deal (#31); Be royal in your own fashion: act like a king to be treated like one (#34)

Julius Malema is changing his tactics–cleaning up his act, recreating himself. PR is becoming more of an issue for him. Observers have noted how he has ditched the Breitling watch which cartoonist Zapiro hilariously portrayed him with. I haven’t seen him in a suit since his disciplinary hearing began (not that I look that much). Having spent years being a rabble rouser, he is now the peacemaker, telling his supporters not to bash journalists (anymore) or burn T-shirts of President Zuma (even though they burned Mbeki Tshirts); sporting Mandela T-shirts (Nobel prize winner hint hint); almost not being able to attend sessions of his disciplinary hearing because he is sitting exams for his political science degree. Leading an 80km march where not so much as a window was broken. Oh hail St. Julius I presume? And if you wonder why he has picked on nationalization as an issue, its about Law 23 coincidentally explained thus: “You gain more by finding a rich mine and mining it deeper than by flitting from one shallow mine to another.” By championing the nationalization question, Malema has forced everyone to play the cards he has dealt. It doesn’t matter if people agree with you or not, what matters is that you are setting the terms of the debate.

“Never outshine the Master (#1) Always say less than necessary (#13) Know who you are dealing with—do not offend the wrong person (#19) “Plan all the way to the end (# 29) Do not go past the mark you aimed for: in victory, know when to stop (#47)

There are some laws where Malema could “lose it all by a fatal mistake”. Deposing one president might work, plotting to depose a second might be over-reaching yourself. All the good points Malema might make are alienated by the extreme language he uses. Is it so hard to think before he talks? Were I a Julius supporter, I might get worried that one day he will be hoist with his own petard.

Still Zuma might to do well to heed Law 15–“Crush your enemy totally”.

To read more from Robert Greene to to his blog