Apathy will prove most explosive

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malema oct 8 INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS EFF commander-in-chief Julius Malema holds his partys registration certificate at Election House in Centurion moments after it was issued. File photo: Phill Magakoe

You can say what you wish about Mr Julius Malema, but the man has courage and ferocity, Murray Williams writes.

Meet “Big Boy”. A clue? He’s a politician. In one recent description, he’s described as “a candidate without any phoniness about him. A candidate with a pair of clanging brass balls you could hear from around the corner”.

“His voice was like an air horn, cutting through the clutter. There was no one better at nailing the president to the wall with ferocity and caustic humour.”

A “big-hearted street fighter”, “a brawler”, who famously upstaged his own president, Barack Obama, as Hurricane Sandy ravaged the east coast in October 2012. And then hugged Obama, to the dismay of his Republican party bosses, and aspirant president Mitt Romney.

“Big Boy” is the governor of New Jersey and is, of course, Chris Christie.

Christie is larger than life, thanks to a startlingly large girth. Romney once mocked him, as Christie battled to make his way down the narrow aisle of his campaign bus. But Christie is bigger in far more important ways too: Christie inspires, energises, rallies. He’s the first man into battle. There’s a word for all that – it’s called “leadership”.

He’s fearless – unafraid to even take on his voters. As Hurricane Sandy neared, some still refused to evacuate, and were blasted with the words: “Get the hell off the beach, get out. It’s 4.30, you’ve maximised your tan. Get off the beach!”

It was Christie-type skills which Romney was shown to have such a dire lack of, in 2012.

These observations are from a dissection of that election, Double Down. The authors, Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, boast such razor-sharp intellects and rapacious wit that their work is routinely described as “political porn”.

They describe how the US election of 2012 was the most expensive in history – with both Romney and Obama spending more than $1 billion (each) on their campaigns. And yet, for all those resources, Romney lacked a crucial talent: leadership.

This week, in South Africa, we saw the DA and Agang’s little dalliance descend into farce. Everything was cited as reason to unite, and then separate – money, organisational capacity, gender, struggle credentials, expertise, race – but nary a mention of the “L” word.

On the opposite side of the political spectrum, another politician has been making his voice heard. Now say what you wish about Mr Julius Malema, but tell you what: the man has courage, ferocity, a booming voice, and balls (as referred to above). Like him or not, he’s a “leader”, judged against the most fundamental definition. And leaders inspire. Unlike a single element or character in the DA-Agang circus.

One might counter that Malema is nothing more than a rank populist. And that populism is dangerous.

Sure, it can be. But it’s not the ultimate danger. The really powerful poison, the most explosive element on the political periodic table, is apathy. Because then democracy becomes irrelevant. And then you’ve really got a revolution on your hands.

So in the lead-up to this election, don’t blame the opportunists for their rhetoric.

Instead, blame almost all established leaders’ profound inability to genuinely inspire and the cavernous vacuum that has left.

Cape Argus

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