DURING the 1997 French legislative elections, a lady was pulled aside by a France Inter radio journalist and asked to share her views about two opposing candidates she had gone to listen to during the campaigning, one earlier that day and the other one a few days before.
The first candidate was Alain Juppé, who had been prime minister before his boss, then president Jacques Chirac, decided to call a snap election in a bid to catch the Socialists by surprise and reduce their numbers in the National Assembly.
As opinion polls seem to have been doing with astounding consistency even in those days, French polls had it at the time that Chirac’s right-wing majority would be re-elected with relative ease and that the opposition Socialist voices would be comfortably reduced. It was not to be.
Fast-forward to November 2016; former president Nicolas Sarkozy is still licking his wounds after having been eliminated this past weekend in the first round of a three-man run for the French Republican Party’s primaries to elect a presidential candidate for 2017.
The same Alain Juppé will face François Fillon, also a former prime minister, in the second round this coming weekend. But Juppé is trailing far behind Fillon, a sweet and sour surprise lead for many observers. Sarkozy’s trouncing also means that his political career has effectively come to an end.
The second candidate under discussion back in 1997 was one notorious Jean-Marie Le Pen, founder of the extreme right-wing National Front and father of the party’s current leader, Marine Le Pen. The two have since had a fall-out. But Marine Le Pen’s popularity has been growing in recent months.
She also felt re-energised after Donald Trump was announced winner of the recent US presidential election. Le Pen sees herself as a natural member of a global anti-establishment movement, led by the likes of the unstoppable Donald Trump and the incorrigible Vladimir Putin; she considers her turn to be imminent.
Speaking straight into France Inter’s microphone, the lady back in 1997 told the journalist that when she listened to Alain Juppé speak, he spoke and spoke and said a lot of intelligent things; but after he finished speaking she struggled to remember what he spoke about.
Turning to Jean-Marie Le Pen, she related that he also spoke and spoke and said a lot of things; but after he spoke, she remembered everything he said because she could identify with the issues he addressed.
Unlike Alain Juppé – a clever white whose polished and learned style could be compared to that of Thabo Mbeki, a clever black in South African terms – Jean-Marie Le Pen knew how to stir emotions. He touched on issues like high unemployment levels and criminal violence, which he blamed on ‘uncontrolled’ immigration, and called for the return of traditional French values.
He reminded the French that their country was slowly being stolen from under their noses and that their Republican values were being progressively eroded to accommodate increasing numbers of foreigners, many of whom did not share the same religious and cultural values as the French.
But Marine Le Pen is not the only politician believing there is a new wave of politics progressively replacing the post-World War II arrangement all over the world and that she, like Donald Trump, will eventually benefit from the spread of this wave when it touches French soil in 2017.
The rise of our own Jean-Marie Le Pen
Here at home we have our own Julius Malema; charismatic, clever, witty, even though he’s sometimes a tad too angry and lacks the emotional intelligence to lead a country as diverse as ours. Malema is also a charmer and often a pleasure to listen to, when he’s not making genocidal threats against our fellow South Africans.
He knows how to entertain even when addressing serious issues. To many, he is even irresistible because he stirs emotions that make many poor people believe the economic freedom they’ve heard so much about is attainable, and that he will deliver it if given a chance, no matter by what means. When he speaks, they can close their eyes and almost see themselves doing better under his leadership; they can almost smell the sweet taste of that elusive economic freedom.
Though he doesn’t openly identify himself with the likes of Donald Trump and the others, Malema seems to share the self-confidence and the swagger. He walks as if, for him, it is just a matter of time before he takes over.
He may be a lot of things, but Malema is not a fool. He’s also not always wrong either; and that is what makes him potentially dangerous. He can be sneaky and manipulative, like modern-day pastors who convince people to eat live rodents and agree to have insecticide sprayed into their faces. He easily sneaks his way into people’s hearts by telling them what they want hear in the language they understand.
Malema speaks hardcore local
And he doesn’t try to speak in a fake accent. He speaks hardcore local; his followers love that. And he always makes sure to remind his followers that he’s not a clever black.
In a recent recording that made the rounds on social media Malema, like a pastor behind a pulpit, railed against high levels of poverty and unemployment in a way that no other South African politician can. He railed against dirty cleaning, clearing and back-office jobs apparently being reserved for blacks, especially in the hospitality sector, and against continued racist violence against black workers. Those are real issues one cannot attack Malema on, and he knows it.
If the ANC continues in its reputational downward spiral, there is a big chance that Malema will be South Africa’s Donald Trump in 2019. If that happens, and if Malema continues to fail to appreciate the need to genuinely assure all South Africans that they belong and this is their home, as written in the Freedom Charter of the Mass Democratic Movement and the constitution of the Republic of South Africa, there will be much uncertainty ahead.
While ANC stalwarts are busy calling for a consultative conference that will no doubt include ANC members only, the broader South African population which is affected by everything happening in the country should not stand aside and let others decide for them. They should continue to mobilise and call for a review of the powers allocated to the Office of the President to introduce checks and balances against possible abuse.