EFF Commander-in-Chief Julius Malema has proved that it’s not where you come from that matters, but how you finish.
Since his matric results made it into the public domain he has been the butt of many jokes. But on Wednesday, the controversial leader and self-professed revolutionary will graduate from the University of South Africa with a Bachelor of Arts degree. He has been commended for his hard work, and his comrades in the EFF have called on others to follow his example.
While this achievement will certainly change how some people view Malema, will it score him any political points?
Political analyst, author and academic Eusebius McKaiser says the degree will definitely help to boost Malema’s brand, but will do very little for his political career.
“In general, I don’t think South Africans will give you special political love just because you are educated. You can have a PhD or you can have very little formal education and be well-loved. So, take for example when Jacob Zuma unseated Thabo Mbeki at Polokwane. One of the attractive things about Zuma at the time for those who were supporting him was precisely that he is an everyday man and he doesn’t speak in complicated academic language like the formally educated Mbeki,” McKaiser says.
Although Malema’s new qualification might not convince anyone that he is more competent than a less-educated person to run the country, the degree can only be a good thing for the EFF leader’s brand and his party.
“I think for Malema and the EFF it is a good thing politically because he is seen as a firebrand. In middle-class people’s eyes he is a ruralitarian and so they probably don’t think of him as someone who has the patience to sit down, to study and to fulfil the requirements of a degree. So he will benefit politically,” he says.
Leaders such as Zuma are often criticised for their lack of education, but he still has a large support base. We ask McKaizer if a leader’s, or a potential leader’s education affects the way voters see them.
“I think that what comes out of your mouth is important. Take Pallo Jordaan for instance. We all accept that it was unethical to never correct misconceptions about his qualifications, but he is one of the sharpest minds we’ve ever had in politics. I think South Africans have the ability to distinguish between sense and nonsense. And sense does not depend on a university degree.”
We asked several ordinary South Africans to weigh in on this issue.
Babalo Yanta says education is very important, but even more important than degrees and qualifications is the character of a politician.
“Having a couple of papers does not change anything. What is most important to me is that the politician is politically experienced and has the right mindset, the right ideologies and wants to serve the country,” he says.
Fezisa Mdibi, on the other hand, believes education plays a vital role in politics in terms of giving politicans credibility.
“I think it’s great, and certainly motivating, for leaders to be educated. This is a great example that is being set by Julius. Education gives politicians more gravitas – politicians and ordinary people alike . . . Look at Zuma for instance, sometimes the fact that he’s uneducated comes up, and it’s usually when he messes up,” she says.