18 May 2012

Malema: CyberShrink comments

The political soap opera of the ANC Youth League grinds on and on, but its psychological elements continue to be very relevant and largely ignored.


The political soap opera of the ANC Youth League grinds on and on, but its psychological elements continue to be very relevant and largely ignored.

There are lessons to be learned about disciplinary processes, the creation and abandonment of troublesome junior politicians, and rehabilitation.

Groomed to be a loud-mouth
Malema was presumably at the start a fairly naïve but ambitious and keen youth, but was effectively groomed as a troublesome loud-mouth by both the organisation within which he worked, and more especially by the media. Politicians, especially junior ones, are often ignored unless they say something outrageous or something which can be interpreted as such. He seems to have grown fond of, and then almost dependent upon, the attention of the reporters and cameras. If he'd proposed a sensible policy for increasing grain production, that might have been valuable, but would certainly have been ignored.

The more annoying and outrageous his comments, the greater and more rewarding the attention he received - but more outrage was expected, and needed to be delivered, to achieve maximum attention. Statements didn't need to be coherent, reasoned or helpful - but spicy and scandalous. Had he disappointed with moderate comments, he'd have been punished by no headlines, empty press conferences. Behaviourally, he was consistently rewarded for doing what people complained about, and not for being constructive or even, usefully silent.   

Increasing misbehaviour ignored
At the same time, the parent organisation behaved like a benevolent but ineffective parent. It ignored  increasing misbehaviour, either vaguely defending the Youth League for no apparent good reason or ignoring it. When it occasionally sprang into action to scold him, it was at what seemed like random intervals, and for offences far tinier than those actually annoying so many people.

Astonishing abuse of opposition figures such as Helen Zille was tolerated, but then he was pounced on for speaking slightingly of some minor Minister's accent. We know that erratic and inconsistent, illogical parental attempts at discipline are more than ineffective. Instead, they teach that the rules are fickle and need not be taken seriously, and that unwelcome consequences for your choices of action and speech are unpredictable and can usually be evaded.

Inevitably, on the rare occasions a parent then tries to scold, the child, actually very reasonably, protests loudly that this is unfair. If I could smack my sister every day last week, why can't I do it today?

Poor system of discipline
Obviously, any organisation wants a conspicuously fair system of discipline, and to avoid challenges to the process or outcomes. The Byzantine complexity of the ANC process must have needlessly extended the stress for all those involved. Avoidable prolonging of proceedings is bad for everyone. There should have been no need for long waiting periods for committees to be assembled, documents to be drafted or delivered, decisions to be reached and announced. It seemed that every press conference was inevitably and mysteriously delayed.

Then there was the prospect of a seemingly endless series of appeals. If you take too many bites at a cherry, you tend to break your teeth on the pip. After the central process, to allow further appeals to the NEC, then the Courts, then potentially even to the party conference, opened the prospect of endless conflict and uncertainty. Why stop there? How about a national referendum, and then an appeal to the United Nations? Maybe a team of international peacekeepers? (If they could actually find any peace to keep, by that stage.)

Bling for the blingless
Malema seemed to evolve a unique philosophy about the potential profitability of having significant political influence. He developed a special policy to provide virtual bling for the blingless: he would personally accumulate wealth and the trappings of wealth, nobly carrying the awful burden of bling on behalf of the blinless masses.

Remarkably, he sought to persuade the poor that their lives were somehow enriched by him accumulating wealth - so though their own material lot didn't change, they could prosper by proxy.

Return to tender
The question remains: what will Malema do now?

For someone fed so generously on fame and notoriety to be expected to go cold turkey and calmly return to anonymity is unlikely, despite his recent comment about having been summoned to return to Johannesburg while he was tending cows.

Taking these matters to court is still possible, and could become a full-time occupation, so long as he could continue to raise funds to cover the inevitably large legal costs. He has insisted he won't do so, with the typically modest argument that "I am the ANC --- I cannot sue myself". 

He could return to dabbling in business, but generous sponsorship for such dabbling may well have evaporated. Though we've been told he is under investigation by various authorities for allegations concerning his various financial dealings, they're taking an extraordinarily long time, as investigations of politically sensitive figures inevitably do in this country, prolonging the tension. Should any of these lead to prosecutions, these could keep him occupied and pre-occupied for years.

What would probably be most good for his health and growth, and even for future political prospects, would be something terribly rare amongst those who have tasted the fruits of political activity. He should set aside some years in which to ignore politics, and get a real and modest job, amongst genuine workers, and learn at first hand about the needs and worries of ordinary people.

It's time to go
This will be especially difficult as the media seem so reluctant, having helped to create his public persona, to let go. As some of his traditional audiences seem to be uninterested in hosting his speeches, he may feel neglected and unloved. Having lost easy political platforms, he is still being invited to address an eager press, and has obliged with picturesque and very quotable comments.

Among his recent utterances have been a remarkable set of crestfallen comments I think of as "The Used Condom Blues". He's quoted as saying : "The ANC used me like a condom ... used for its own purposes, then threw me away". And something about being used, like toilet paper, and then flushed away. Maybe these are poetically sad expressions of how he feels; maybe he has at last hired a skilled speech-writer. Or maybe they're flashes of genuine insight. He could indeed be seen as someone who was used to advance other people's agendas while thinking of these as his own, and then disposed of when he was no longer convenient.

One is reminded of the concept of the "useful idiot" (no disrespect whatever intended with regard to Mr Malema personally). Ascribed to Lenin though not traced amongst his writings, and originally used for western supporters of the Soviet Union, it describes people who become naïve but sincere propagandists for a cause they do not fully understand, and who get cynically used by the leaders of the cause they support. While they're useful.

(Professor M.A. Simpson, aka CyberShrink, Health24, May 2012)






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