Friday, October 8, 2010


I  recently started teaching an English & Communications class at the Durban University of Technology (DUT). I always try and engage the students outside of the textbook, because it's such an amazing opportunity for Previously Advantaged White Suburban Boy to swap ideas with young African and Indian students. There aren't any white students anymore, but that's another story.

So this morning, I had a class of Electrical Engineering (Light Current) students, made up of young Zulu men and women, and during our customary Veering-Off-Course, I happened to ask the class who thought ANCYL president Julius Malema was a good leader. I was shocked (although I was careful not to register it) when most of them said yes, he is. A few were particularly adamant that Malema's "calling a spade a spade" was the thing that made him great.

I pointed out to them that already, not even having completed their first year of technology-based tertiary education (which most of them are failing), they are better-educated than Malema. That didn't phase them. "You don't need education to be a good leader", one of them said. "Look at Zuma", another one agreed. Look at Zuma indeed.

The final straw came when one guy said to me, "Malema is a great leader, just like Mugabe". I wasn't sure how to respond to that. When I told them a few Zimbabwean Horror Stories, they all agreed that no, Robert Mugabe had made a mess of Zim, but that nevertheless, Malema is going to be president of South Africa one day, and he and Mugabe have much in common.

These are fairly intelligent, urbanised young South Africans.

They completely believe this.

Nkosi sikilele iAfrika.
Because nobody else will.


  1. I think deep down many of us believed (read: WISHED) that this wasn't the case with "fairly intelligent, urbanised young South Africans".

    Clearly it was wishful thinking. Or a mistaken notion of "intelligence".

    Strange how some people confuse "being president of a country/organisation" with "being a good leader"...they aren't mutually exclusive terms...

  2. I'm interested to know how JM has inspired the masses, how has he given hope to the individuals you have written about? What hasJM achieved in their minds? Are they dancing to JM music or whats going on in their heads? AW

  3. everyone seems to get all euphoric, even orgasmic about democracy (especially us white western europeans) - well here it is, in full flight. the students are correct, leadership has nothing to do with education, nor intelligence, nor character, nor civility, service, honesty, truth etc... (when did it ever?) under our glorious messianic democracy it has all to do with manipulation, coercion, deception, and control of the masses for specific gain. neo-colonialism, nothing more, nothing less.

  4. A good friend once said to me that people get the government they deserve...

  5. Don't jump to conclusions. Have you considered WHY they believe such things? I would guess it has a lot to do with politics - and a history that you are standing on the other side of, John. I'm not saying they are right - I also think Malema is silly and definitely not a good leader! - but jumping to conclusions about the "intelligence" of a group of people is a very risky thing to do... Actually, let's not beat about the bush here - it's called racism.

  6. I guess the majority rules then. It does not matter whether the 'majority' is right or wrong. They rule. If people still think leaders like Mugabe are good leaders maybe one needs to be in many Zimbabweans' circumstances to understand what 'good leaders' do. Maybe then can we take such utterances with a bit more salt.

    So Malema is a 'good leader' a much as Jacob Zuma and Robert Mugabe are. I just pray we do less with good leaders and get servant leaders like Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu etc. After all what good can a 'good leader' do


  7. I was actually talking about this to my co-blogger yesterday! We both study politics 1 at varsity, and in his last tutorial a similar thread of discussion came up. The amazing thing is that many students, both black and white, fail to make rational or informed political opinions. Most fall into sensationalized camps that do not look at any potential value in the other side of the argument, or any potential weaknesses in their own. It is not a racial thing at all.

  8. one of the things that democracy assumes is that freedom to choose is free and educated. this is questionable. in reality we do not make informed decisions, rather we make tribal, cultural ones. check out these very interesting research results as some food for thought...

  9. Well said nK.
    a leader has followers. JM has followers. JZ has followers. Hell even Charles Manson had followers. that makes one think about 'good' leaders

  10. I have never been accused of racism before, until now. Isn't blogging just so democratic! Thanks Stephen Buchanan for Ludicrous Accusation Of The Year. I see you are some sort of editor. You should possibly practice a little of that on yourself, and return to blogging when you are able to offer something constructive and cogent. The rest of you: thanks for contributing. Viva JuJu Viva!

  11. As they say leadership isn't about your position, it's about your influence. And JM clearly has the influence. As a non-JM supporter this scares me, white or not.

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  14. HAHA..Stephen Buchanan needs a weggie! Well said John! howz does Stephen come up with that conclusion anyway? Being truthful doesn't mean racism! For instance: I can't play basketball...does that mean I'm a racist?
    One word for Stephen...doff, I sure you're a good guy who loves to cause trouble, but you just made yourself look small.
    Go John!
    P.S. Did you grow a Mo for Movember?

  15. To think that JM will not be president is wishful thinking!
    Ironic how we always attempt to argue South Africa's affairs from what we except to be an intellectual and logical perspective (dare I say European perspective) and then stand to be disappointed when the vast majority of African people have a different opinion or stance on any matter?
    One should except the fact that JM will one day be president and from JZ to JM there will be another couple of gentleman that will be president that understands the african people just as good as JZ and JM.
    My question to everyone that differs from this fact is: What about this notion frightens you so much? What are you doing about it!?

  16. a distinction needs to be made between a leader and a 'good' leader. not many people would deny hitler was a good leader. you get my point.