CHARISMA: HIS INFLUENCE IS UNDENIABLE, LEADS CONVERSATIONS ON DIGITAL PLATFORMS
Published The Citizen (Gauteng) |
Remains to be seen if this will translate to growth at polls.
Just like everyone wants to know what the Kardashians are up to, it seems that South Africans cannot get enough of Julius Malema. The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader is charismatic, has an incredible sense of throwaway soundbites crafted for his target market and scares the living daylights out of many level-headed South Africans.
So, while Malema’s antics provide enough material for reams of reportage, the fact that he is leading online conversation and is the most searched for politico in the country doesn’t mean it’s a litmus for his popularity, but his influence is undeniable.
South Africans really want to see Malema, President Cyril Ramaphosa and Democratic Alliance (DA) leader John Steenhuisen in a debate. “It’s a trending topic with many people calling on the media to make it happen,” says digital analyst Carmen Murray.
She says it seems the debate may not be as much about policy and electioneering as it may be a call for a sideshow to watch the three leaders test their mettle against one another.
To date though, none of the leaders have entertained it.
“Give his online graft, one would have expected Malema to jump onto this opportunity and challenge his rivals,” she says.
“Breakout search terms for Julius Malema, and by default the EFF, are very telling.
“Everyone wants to know what the party is up to, and it’s more of a news-trawl based on the cult of personality. It’s a narrative of antics, publicity and wild statements.”
In the personality stakes, Malema’s net worth and his relationship with Jacob Zuma are points of curiosity, says Murray.
Interestingly, questions about party funding have followed the EFF for almost a decade and with the November local government elections, it’s ranking high on the list of searched topics.
The EFF opposed the Political Party Funding Bill in 2018, saying then it was not reliant on donations.
“Malema’s extended visit to Nigeria and his consultation with charismatic pastor TB Joshua in 2013, fuelled rumours about God’s cash funding the party and they have not died down.”
And Malema has never confirmed, nor vehemently denied it. “After all, isn’t any publicity, good publicity?” she quips. But at the time the red-beret leader claimed to have sought spiritual guidance.
He likely also found resonance in the TB Joshua prophecy that SA will see a revolt by its disillusioned youth. The spiritual leader said as much in mid-2013 and by August, Malema was in Lagos.
Malema knows how to take advantage of competitor’s woes. In recent online conversations, he is building compelling arguments about sound financial management and party liquidity. He recently revealed the EFF had, in a space of five years, purchased an office block, a Sandton property investment, and added that the EFF’s financials are audited, and no worker has ever gone without pay. “He takes calculated digs at other parties and institutions, building his and the EFF’s reputation on their failures, cleverly.”
ANC staff did not receive salaries for three months in a row, but the party managed to build a reported R50 million kitty to campaign in the upcoming polls. The ANC labelled these allegations as malicious and sensationalist. But it couldn’t say what it was spending.
This week, Malema announced his campaign will be debt-funded through bank loans. This, while the funding debate is ramping up on social media, again. EFF secretary-general Godrich Gardee said their books are open and will show no donations for its campaign. “Nobody plays the media and social media quite like the EFF,” says Murray.
“With such influence they may not need to spend a fortune on posters and free T-shirts as the column centimetres, tweets and searches keep rolling in.”
She notes, however, that it’s really a challenge to gauge Malema and the EFF’s actual popularity. “There is no doubt the EFF is newsworthy, makes headlines and drives online discourse. But will it translate to growth at the polls?” she asks.
Murray adds that people are starting to question whether the EFF will walk its talk. She cites the VIP guest accommodation at a luxury Sandton hotel for its manifesto launch as an example.
“The ANC is inextricably tied to conversations about corruption and service delivery, while the DA cannot seem to spark debate beyond its critical tweets,” she says, excluding ex-leader Helen Zille’s ability to create high-impact narratives from the equation.
“The EFF, on the other hand, solicits love-hate speak almost daily. It’s a media machine that seems able to effectively penetrate every possible channel with propaganda.” –