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Nikita Khrushchev,Julius Malema and the Cult of the Individual


Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema speaks, 3 July 2014, at a party press conference in Johannesburg. Picture: Michel Bega

In 1956, three years after the death of Joseph Stalin, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union held a congress in Moscow where Nikita Khrushchev, who later was to become general secretary, gave a late-night speech warning about “the cult of the individual”. He argued that Stalin became bigger than the Communist Party, bigger than Russia and bigger than the ideology of Marxism-Leninism itself. And that it posed a threat to party and state.

“Comrades,” Khrushchev told his brethren, “We must abolish the cult of the individual decisively, once and for all… (we must) fight inexorably all attempts at bringing back this practice in one form or another…”

Judging by Tuesday’s press conference at the party’s headquarters in De Korte Street, Braamfontein there’s no indication that the EFF will heed Khrushchev’s admonition of his comrades some 62 years ago.

Julius Malema, variously referred to as “commander-in-chief”, “president” and “CIC”, held court while the assembled media listened to him and the EFF’s “presidium” dismissing any links between Floyd Shivambu and VBS Mutual Bank, castigating the media and naming Pravin Gordhan as one of the most dangerous men in the country. (The presidium is an executive body of officials in communist countries.)

Malema was the main mac in the erstwhile ANC Youth League (ANCYL) and continues to call the shots in the EFF, an organisation that remains his creation. Many attending the press conference – it was unclear if all were members of the Fourth Estate – cackled with glee as Malema offered put-down after pithy put-down of journalists, media houses, the ANC, the president and everyone in between.

Shivambu, who has been Malema’s number two since the halcyon days of the ANCYL, looked at Malema as one would gaze at a parent coming to bail you out of a tricky situation. Dali Mpofu, introduced as “the people’s advocate” (in addition to being the advocate of SARS’s Tom Moyane, KPMG’s Sipho Malaba and the UDM’s Mongameli Bobani) nodded in solemn agreement with almost every single word Malema said.

Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, the party’s spokesperson, stood to one side at a podium enjoying every statement Malema made, and whenever a shot fired by Malema seemed to hit the target he grinned like a Marxist-Leninist getting control of the commanding heights of something… anything.

Malema has certainly found his groove compared to some years ago when he infamously ejected a BBC journalist from a media conference and angrily accused him of being a “bloody agent”. There was no need to shout at and threaten anyone this time, including those who put him, Shivambu and his party on the spot with their reporting on VBS and the link with Shivambu. He is in supreme control.

Shivambu, he said, took the party leadership into his confidence and explained that he received no money from VBS via his brother, Brian. Yes, there were money transfers between the two, but that’s normal, that’s what family does, Malema said.

The party cannot suspend, dismiss or take action against Shivambu in the absence of any evidence. Besides, the report’s validity is being challenged from various quarters and as such any pronouncement on the accuracy of the report into VBS is premature. But, Malema said earlier, anyone who helped collapse VBS must be prosecuted. It’s unclear how much of the report the EFF therefore believes: perhaps only the parts that nails the ANC, and not the part that links the looting to the EFF?

Malema explained that the investigation into Shivambu was a preliminary one and that if there is any other evidence the party will look into it. But it was patently clear that not much more will come of it, given the raft of conspiracies against the EFF and Shivambu.

Gordhan further seems to be in charge of a coordinated assault on the EFF and is working with the SARS “rogue unit”, which is still operational, if Malema is to be believed. The media has also been co-opted in a strategic battle for the hearts and minds of voters while it refuses to tarnish the image of the president, he said.

Outside the Mineralia Building, where the EFF’s offices are located and where it ironically shares floorspace with the department of mineral resources, eight burly EFF members, all dressed in full camouflage battledress, were finishing off helpings of KFC and Coke. One of the fighters, who had just finished his KFC and was polishing his boots, spotted a homeless child sitting next to the building’s entrance, also eating. He marched over and chased away the boy, who disappeared down the street looking for a place to finish his food.

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