Julius Malema. Picture: GIANLUIGI GUERCIA / AFP
Julius Malema. Picture: GIANLUIGI GUERCIA / AFP

Last week, the FM’s former editor Barney Mthombothi wrote in the Sunday Times that pharmaceutical company Clicks, in reaching a deal with Julius Malema’s EFF, had "set a terrible precedent which the country will live to regret".

Clicks, he said, had been coerced and had no option but to reach a deal with SA’s third-largest political party, to prevent further violent attacks on its stores. It had a business to run and families to feed — but the result was that it made common cause with thuggery. "Violence, apparently, does pay," wrote Mthombothi.

Of course, Malema himself will say the Clicks advert was racist and demeaning to black South Africans — but nobody is disputing that. What they are disputing is the violent means which the EFF used to reach its end goal of forcing an apology. And they’re wondering why police minister Bheki Cele, so bombastic in most situations, utterly disappeared when he was most needed to reassure South Africans that the rule of law still holds.

This reassurance was needed too. When Malema tweeted "ATTACK!!!" on September 8, it resulted in seven Clicks stores being damaged, and 37 affected. It was significant: the leader of a political party with 44 seats in parliament, calling for his red berets to actively break the law by attacking businesses.

More bizarrely, the police stood idly by, effectively leaving Clicks to sort out the mess. How come? SA has laws to prevent mob justice, and a police force mandated to protect citizens and businesses from illegal behaviour. Why is it that no criminal charges have been laid? Is it because everyone is too afraid to challenge Malema?

Perhaps. Certainly, Malema has worked out how to weaponise SA’s fragile political situation to ensure his actions are free of consequence. If charges are laid against the "commander-in-chief", as he vaingloriously refers to himself, he will use it to portray black people as victims.

Despite a life of luxury watches, expensive cars and premium alcohol, Malema has artfully convinced his constituency that he is still a man of the people. After years of carefully choreographed protests, Malema knows any arrest warrant is an opportunity to play the victim.

Which is fine for him, but what message does this send to international firms about SA’s commitment to law and order? If police ignore wanton criminality, why should a multinational invest in this country?

There are, of course, legitimate ways for the EFF to object. They are members of parliament, after all. But the fact is, they prefer the politics of spectacle; they love lighting the bonfire.

The Clicks protest wasn’t a "peaceful form of direct action", as the EFF’s Mbuyiseni Ndlozi claimed it was. But when one Clicks store was bombed, Ndlozi even suggested that "perhaps Clicks petrol-bombed itself".

The EFF, like its leader, is great at delivering drama — rather less adept at addressing the underlying issues.

On the same day as the Clicks "attack" tweet, Malema retweeted a post with pictures of finance minister Tito Mboweni and former public protector Thuli Madonsela, who were described as "SA’s chief house negroes". Malema frequently attacks Madonsela and her professorship at the University of Stellenbosch. It tells you all you need to know about his character.

At this point, the brazenness of the EFF’s outright criminality has rattled the establishment into not taking action,

Malema and the EFF have created an environment where they hope shooting the messenger means the message will vanish. There’s too much at stake for this to be true.

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