Superstar Justin Bieber and EFF leader Julius Malema have a common need for attention, argues Tyrone August. Malema is in the news for contradicting statements he made at a media briefing and Bieber is in hot water for videos of him making inappropriate remarks.
Johannesburg - Julius Malema is to South Africa what Justin Bieber is to North America: both of them are always at the centre of attention, and usually for all the wrong reasons. This week was, alas, no exception.
Malema once again made it into the headlines when he contradicted the statements he made at his first media briefing on Sunday as parliamentary leader of the EFF. Then, he lambasted government leaders for not using public services.
“We want schools and hospitals to be upgraded,” he intoned. “They will never be of (good) quality if MPs are not using them.”
Yet, just days later, he confirmed that his own son would continue to attend a private school.
“Why must I subject my child to poor education when people who are in power don’t do it?” he scoffed. The logic of that statement isn’t altogether clear. But then again, that’s just another day in the life of Malema: all bluster, very little intent.
He also declared that he would hang on to his medical aid which, of course, entitles him to private health care. “I will never give away my medical aid until they (cabinet ministers) go to those (public) hospitals,” he declared.
The Bieber, too, was making waves on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean – also for all the wrong reasons. On Sunday, a video surfaced in which the young singer, then 15, made a racist joke.
He issued a fulsome apology: “I didn’t understand the power of certain words and how they can hurt. I thought it was okay to repeat hurtful words and jokes, but didn’t realise at the time that it wasn’t funny and that, in fact, my actions were continuing the ignorance.”
But then, on Wednesday, he was in the news for another video.
This time, as a 14-year-old, the troubled youngster is shown singing a version of his hit One Less Lonely Girl in which the original lyrics are replaced with racially offensive language.
The headline-grabbing behaviour of the two, as we know all too well, comes in the wake of a long litany of troubles.
Just last week, Malema was in court over the more than R16 million he owes Sars in unpaid taxes and interest.
Never mind the invective that he directed so readily at all and sundry. Ridicule and abuse were his favourite weapons of political engagement.
Now that he is an MP, he seems to have exchanged insults for double standards.
Bieber, too, struggles to conduct himself in an appropriate manner. During the last year, his tribulations include being charged with driving under the influence, a pending charge for assault and possible vandalism charges for throwing eggs at a neighbour’s house.
Yet, somehow, Bieber’s apology on Sunday seems to come across as a little more sincere than any of Malema’s increasingly long list of retractions (even bearing in mind that every word in the singer’s statement was carefully crafted by a small army of public relations experts).
Bieber can also offer his age in mitigation for his misconduct. And, in the flaky, publicity-driven world of showbiz, he can still get away with his antics (or, at least, some of them).
Malema, on the other hand, cannot make similar excuses: the fig leaf of youthful indiscretion has long fallen away. And, most important of all, he is now the leader of a political party in Parliament.
Publicity stunts can only get you so far. Just ask Justin Bieber.
* Tyrone August is a former newspaper editor
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers