Chris Zumani Zimba, Political Scientist, Author, PhD Scholar, Lecturer and Consultant
Some are praising him as ‘a great young leader’ while others as telling us that he is ‘a good young politician’ or ‘an inspiration to the youth’. But Julius Malema has refused to be associated to all these wrong conceptualizations and theoretical heresies of ‘leadership’. Such amiss interpretations of ‘leadership’ in terms of ‘youth politician’ or ‘young leader’ have become so popular in political wings, student movements and youth oriented civil society organizations. But Julius Malema, a vibrant revolutionary politician and leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EEF) in South Africa has repeatedly defiled and defied the concept of ‘young politician’ and forcefully rejected the tag of being called ‘a youth leader’. The latest evidence of this preposition was on 14th April, 2018 at Orlando Stadium in Soweto, Johannesburg when and where Malema politically stormed and rhetorically flagged off Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s funeral with a powerful nationalist speech that has been discussed and applauded across the region and globe.
By simple conception as coined by John Maxwell, “a leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way”. The classical definition of leadership denotes ‘the art and ability of creating a clear inspirational idea or vision of the future and able to authoritatively influence or motivate other people to willingly or religiously follow it’. Thus, the two conceptualizations of leadership do not refer to someone’s age, sex, gender, race, religion, creed, sexual orientation, political affiliation or social economic status. The moment we add words like ‘youth leader’ (we mean someone who is exercising leadership among the youth anywhere, not really different from ‘a church leader’, to mean an individual who leads a church or some Christian group. At Winnie Mandela’s funeral, yes Julius Malema spoke very well, not as a ‘young politician or leader’ as many commentators want to wrongly belittle him but indeed as a great African politician, renowned political leader and statesman. The tragedy of accepting terms like ‘young leader’ or ‘youthful politician’ for a distinguished politician and accomplished South African leader like Malema is that, the tag wrongly brands him to be only associated with young people and restricts his political leadership abilities, aspirations and expectations to the younger folks than old people.
King Alexander III of the Greek kingdom of Macedon, commonly known as ‘Alexander the Great’ was a young king and warrior who pompously conquered and ruled ancient Europe and Asia around 356 BC –323 BC. As a teenager, ‘Alexander the Great’ could lead huge regiments of soldiers in battle and later succeeded his father, King Philip II to the throne at the age of 20 years to become king. Both during and after his life, no one called ‘Alexander the Great’ a young king, youth leader or young warrior; he lived and died ‘Alexander the Great’ as his age had no impact or meaning to distort and change his leadership abilities. And for all the people in the EEF, South Africa, Africa and beyond, Malema whether he comes president of his country in future or not, he deserves to be saluted in the name of ‘Alexander the Great’ because, politically and ideologically, he has conquered many South African and African hearts.
We all know that Jesus Christ conquered and saved the world at the age of 33 years (a youth) and no one today refers to him as ‘a young savior’. In this life, there are many people who became leaders with less than 40 years as the case of the current President of France, Queen of England or Chief Kapatamoyo my uncle; no one called them young President, Queen, Prime Minister or Chief. Malema is far older than Joseph who became the Prime Minister of Egypt at 30 years under King Pharaoh. Hence, we need to emphasize that a leader is a leader anywhere regardless of their age or sex. Going by his political popularity and credentials, Malema has squally rejected the wrong conception of leadership associated with young people or youth by presenting himself as an equal public figure just like any other political leader-by accomplishment, ideology and style, he is better than many elderly folks.
A leader is just a leader at any age; Jesus Christ was born, lived, died, resurrected and is coming back as a leader. At the age of 35 years, many global citizens cease to be called youth or young for the simple reason that they attain full adulthood. And in most countries, 35 years is the minimum constitutional age for one to contest as a Republican President. Thus, it is both morally unfair, conceptually wrong and pragmatically misrepresentation to call Malema, who is successfully running a vibrant and influential political party as ‘a young political leader’. Malema is just a South African adult and great political leader like Cyril Ramaphosa, Jacob Zuma or Thabo Mbeki who commands inspiration, admiration and followership from thousands of people from all walks of life in terms of age, sex, gender, religion, race or social economic status.
In conclusion, to call Julius Sello Malema who turned 37 years on 3rd March 2018 ‘a young African politician’ is a moral insult to his leadership credentials. This political leader is a Member of Parliament and the founder and leader of the EFF, a far-left and racial nationalist South African political party founded in July 2013 who cannot be described as ‘a young political leader’. As an experienced politician who previously served as President of the African National Congress Youth League from 2008 to 2012 before his expulsion from the party, Malema, with his radical black empowerment ideologies and nationalist approaches must be generally regarded as the Kenneth Kaunda, Patrice Lumumba, Kwame Nkrumah, Abdu Nasser, Martin Lurther King Junior, Mahatma Gandhi, Steve Biko, Nelson Mandela or Julius Mwalimu Nyerere of modern South African politics; an accomplished African political leader.