For some reason, as I read through British journalist Max Hastings’ Vietnam, a tome on the modern history of that country, the image of Julius Malema came into my mind.
Was it that the communists in Vietnam were supported by international communism through the Soviet Union and China, whose marching colour was red, the hue the Economic Freedom Fighters have chosen as theirs?
Was it because both groups claimed they were fighting for the freedom of their people?
I am not quite sure – but I was struck by the marked differences between Malema – who styles himself as the “commander-in-chief” of his organisation’s “fighters” – and Vo Nguyen Giap, who was the military commander of the Viet Minh forces in his homeland, first in their struggle against Japanese occupiers in World War 2 and then against the French, who resumed their colonisation of the country after the war.
Giap was an almost comically spartan and austere man, living for years at a time in caves in hillsides, or on a sampan on a river, working with his general staff.
Hastings relates a curious story about the woman Giap (who already had a wife and family) took as a wife from among the guerrillas around him.
Even after their marriage, she worked side by side with him, suffering food deprivation as he did, having only one set of clothes, as he did. The only time Giap did something out of character was when she returned once from a mission, he ran over to her and swept her up in his arms.
By comparison, the expensive tastes of Julius Malema – and those around him – have been documented and talked about for a while. High-end booze, Breitling watches and Bentley limousines have all been associated with him.
Sandton nightclubs and Johnnie Walker whisky rather than sampans and handfuls of rice … We in this country seem to have a relaxed definition of revolutionary compared to the driven Vietnamese, who eventually kicked not only the French out of their country but gave the mighty Americans a military and political blood nose.
In 2004, we had ANC national spokesperson Smuts Ngonyama saying: “I did not join the struggle to be poor.”
That was after he was questioned about a BEE deal involving the sale of a R6.6 billion stake in Telkom to a consortium led by former director-general of communications Andile Ngcaba. Ngonyama supposedly would have (and did, apparently, because he dropped out of politics shortly afterwards), taken home up to R160 million … just for existing.
Giap’s military skill engineered one of the most embarrassing defeats yet suffered by the French, at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, and he presided over the long war of attrition that eventually saw the US withdraw its troops and then ignominiously abandon its allies in Saigon in 1975.
Malema’s military skills are borrowed, apparently, from the white bodyguards who supply him with assault rifles to fire into the air.
His “fighters”, too, are nothing as hardened or committed as those in Vietnam, who literally had nothing to lose.
Many of the most vocal, who swear they will die for land, are Twitter warriors whose racism would get them fired if they did not remain anonymous.
Finally, Giap remained convinced of the benefits of communism until his dying day in 2013. Malema, despite his quasi-socialist/communist utterances, appears to have the “now it is our turn to eat” ideology.
And he doesn’t mean a bowl of rice …