features 22.11.2016 02:22 pm

Is Malema on sangoma power, or is it just pure genius?

EFF leader Julius Malema gives the keynote address on the Freedom Charter in Zamdela, 27 June 2015. Picture: Refilwe Modise

EFF leader Julius Malema gives the keynote address on the Freedom Charter in Zamdela, 27 June 2015. Picture: Refilwe Modise

Depending on who you ask, Malema’s apparent political invincibility is not down to causes purely of this earth.

“It must be witchcraft! You can’t have such influence in politics without the use of sangomas, and muti. Remember, his grandmother is a sangoma.” I was overhearing a man in a taxi not that long ago on the way to Polokwane.

“He’s only popular because of muti,” he claimed, full of conviction.

There were others in the taxi who appeared to share his view, and it got me thinking.

Is Malema running on sangoma power? Or has his continued political survival – against rather astonishing odds – and rapid climb been down to nothing more than pure, individual genius on his part?

Don’t scoff. You’d be surprised how often this question comes up, and it’s linked to the one woman everyone who knows Malema says he takes more seriously than anyone else on this earth: his grandmother. When his granny berated him and told him to publicly apologise to Naledi Pandor for mocking her accent years ago, he went and did it immediately. By contrast, he took months to apologise when ordered to do so by the Equality Court.

But if granny snaps her fingers, Juju jumps – at least according to Fiona Forde’s biography on Malema, An Inconvenient Youth.

Malema is obviously very respectful towards her – although claims have been made that she also happens to be a very effective sangoma…

At the age of nine, Julius joined politics, when apartheid was going through its death throes. The young Juju apparently preferred hurting the apartheid enemy on its street poles … the young Malema would wait (eagerly under a tree, I imagine) as election campaigners for the apartheid ruling party, the Nationalists, put their campaign posters on street poles in his area. And as they disappeared, Malema sporadically ran to the poles and removed the posters.

Admittedly, this probably didn’t bring down the apartheid government all on its own … but apartheid tumbled not long afterwards. Coincidence?

At the age of 14, he was elected chairperson of the ANC Youth League branch in Seshego and, at 16, became the chairperson of the Congress of South African Students (Cosas) in the area of the country that would later become Limpopo. At 21, now as the president of Cosas, Malema led a march by school pupils throughout Johannesburg – a march that was reportedly marked by incidents of violence and looting.

Six years later, in 2008 – unsurprisingly to those who were tracking his rise – Malema was elected president of the ANC Youth League. Just a year before, the outspoken young man had been in the front lines of recalling the second president of democratic South Africa, Thabo Mbeki.

In 2012, Malema was expelled from the ANC for, among other reasons, bringing the ruling party into disrepute. A year later, in 2013, he co-founded the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), which is now the third-biggest political party in the country.

Many had declared his political death after his expulsion (because it’s supposed to be cold outside the ANC, right?), but Malema has made life outside the ruling party very hot indeed.

He looks like nothing other than a very savvy, keen and ruthless politician. Perhaps the most politically gifted of his age.

So what’s with all these Daily Sun-style murmurings of witchcraft and the use of traditional medicine? Well, that depends on who you ask.

In 2012, after he was expelled from the ANC, Malema was reported to have warned his detractors against “disrespecting” his grandmother.

That same year, a month after Kgaugelo Motjopi carried a coffin and replica of a tombstone to celebrate Malema’s “political death” (which made the front pages of newspapers), Motjopi died in a work accident.

Rumours of witchcraft at work – especially in Limpopo – abounded.

While speaking at the burial of Alina Malebati, a local councillor in Malema’s Seshego township outside Polokwane, the EFF leader is said to have jokingly remarked that: “O ralokela ka ga ngaka!” [Don’t mess around with a sangoma].

“Obviously you don’t have parents, because if you had any, they would have cautioned you against your actions,” Malema warned the gathering.

Although this was apparently said jokingly, it only added fuel to the witching fires.

Forget Netcare and Medi-Clinic. Sangomas are the business

Don’t scoff. Remember this is South Africa. This is Africa.

On our continent, reliance on traditional healers is still a big practice. In Mozambique, it is said that the more than 70 000 traditional healers who ply their trade in our northerly neighbour country far outnumber their 1 500 professional doctor counterparts – and they are often the only ones serving remote populations.

“Hospitals and medical supplies are not always available in the provinces, and local people have more confidence in ‘spirits’ that enter the healers’ bodies, than in prescriptions from pharmacies,” writes Vlad Sokhin, a documentary photographer.

The belief that one can gain political, social or economic power through the use of muti is no less popular. You only have to look at the classifieds sections of any daily newspapers in SA or those pamphlets about bringing back lost lovers and enlarging things that may not be large enough for their owners’ liking to know that this is very, very true.

Many believe it’s not possible to be successful in one’s career without the use of muti or witchcraft. It may sound far-fetched if all you’ve known is leafy suburbs and former Model C schools, but it’s a belief that predominates in many communities, though is not often often talked about at the coffee shops of Melrose Arch.

Whether Malema is really powered by the dark arts or not, he’d probably be the last person to dispel the superstition, as it probably works in his favour in rural areas. That comment at the Seshego funeral would suggest he gets a kick out of the thought.

A recurring rumour  

Even former SABC COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng and President Jacob Zuma have been part of all this sangoma talk, with the allegation having been made that the former’s mother is the president’s sangoma.

ALSO READ: Is Hlaudi’s mom Zuma’s sangoma?

As evidence of this, people merely have to point to the fact that no allegation or attempt to do in the career of either man ever apparently succeeds.

Not even the Constitutional Court or Supreme Court of Appeal can bring these guys down, it seems.

American rapper Jay Z, who’s often linked online to the Illuminati, raps in one of his tracks that “conspiracy theorists screaming Illuminati … they can’t believe this much skill is in the human body”.

Malema would probably agree.

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