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By Gerhard Papenfus



16 April 2018

Dear Mr Malema

In order to set the tone for this ‘open letter’, I want you to know that I possess all the qualities which you despise: I am a landowner, businessman, proponent of the free market and, of course, I am white. Also, in case it is not entirely obvious to you, I am also an Afrikaner. I mention this because I am not sure, when it comes to whites, whether you treasure a special category of hate; not that it matters, I’m just curious.

Your incitement to murder, by being a proponent of the struggle song ‘kill the boer, kill the farmer’, and many other threats, is therefore aimed at me, among others.

As you might have noticed, there are many who are of the opinion, perhaps even rightfully so, that you do not deserve the attention you get. A journalist recently expressed the opinion that you are ‘no national oracle’ and that it is time to stop treating you as one. Although I fully agree with him that you are not an ‘oracle’, not by any stretch of the imagination, I do not agree that you must be ignored. My view is that you ‘deserve’ prominent attention – and do not in any way perceive this as a compliment. I base my view on the fact that many demagogues before you have risen to political prominence – after they have been ignored or dismissed by many.

You are purported to be a prominent role player on the South African political stage. In fact, according to you, you are now ‘in charge’ and not the ANC. There might even be some truth in it – which explains why the Deputy President of the ANC is begging you to come back to the party. His faction, at least, needs you back. Fact is, you are clearly blinded in awe of yourself and you behave accordingly.

You have, after all, revived a political ‘doctrine’ which focusses and thrives on racial division, hatred, revenge and nationalisation. This new doctrine deserves to be called the ‘Malema-doctrine’.

As far as the racial aspect of your ‘doctrine’ is concerned, where you isolate and demonise whites and call for the killing of ‘boers’ and farmers, cleverly just falling short of the calling for the slaughtering of whites and genocide, I want you to know that (unfortunately for you) you have already overstepped the boundary. You have, and continuously are, planting the seed for the creation of an environment conducive to genocide. People have already suffered as a result of this. A South African court might now be sympathetic towards you. The International Crimes Court will not.

Should your economic policies prevail, it will leave South Africa and its people, not only impoverished, but also devastated. I feel a bit foolish to even mention it, because it is clear for all to see – except of course your followers: firstly those vulnerable ones who sadly see in you the hope of their salvation, and those – already privileged – who see in you their opportunity of revenge and hastened wealth. They will all eventually be so disappointed. The crop you produce will be a disaster. Your followers are building on quicksand. Thuli Madonsela calls your policies a fable.

None of this is of any concern to you. For you it is all about yourself. What you seek is not the upliftment of the people you pretend to represent, but brute political power. Pretending to promote the interests of the underprivileged is merely a ploy to mislead the vulnerable – to promote your own ambitious vindictive agenda.

Furthermore, your deep resentment of whites is only a smokescreen – you resent all people. No person can reserve hatred for only some; you cannot compartmentalise the ‘heart’; a ‘fountain cannot bring forth sweet and bitter water’; similarly, ‘a tree cannot bear good and bad fruit’. You cannot reserve hatred for a particular group. Those now trusting will only discover this when, in South Africa’s worst case scenario, you fulfil your political ambition.

Although, obviously, you are politically very cunning, you possess no good judgement. I haven’t heard you denouncing the policies of Robert Mugabe – clearly because you see a future for yourself in such a failed environment.

Mugabe, however, is not your only failure in judgement. Your kingmaker’s role in bringing Zuma into power will never be forgotten. That was a catastrophic judgmental error – even measured against your own standards. However, should your current policies of revenge and nationalisation prosper in any way, the tragedy of the Zuma fiasco will faint into obscurity.

Then there is your hero-worshiping of the late Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. On a dime he did to Venezuela what you want to do to South Africa. He is your idol; you must have gotten your red beret idea from him. Similar to what you propose, he turned the rich resources of Venezuela over to ‘the people’ – however, as always is the case with nationalising the resources of a country – these resources never reached the people; it only reached the hands of a few. Venezuela with its massive natural resources (oil, gold, copper, nickel, etc.), now suffers shortages in all respects. The country is in a state of financial collapse; all because of bad economic policies (socialism).

However, this is exactly what you want to achieve, Mr Malema – there is ‘method in your madness’. Demagogues flourish in anarchy and poverty, where people are penniless, powerless, hungry and dependent on the state; weakened to an extent where they can no longer hold their rulers accountable. That is why demagogues always start with the nationalisation of all property; the first step of disempowerment. It doesn’t take much to see right through you and your political agenda.

Fortunes change; that is part of the cycle of life. Kingdoms and empires come and go – all of them. Some just last longer than others. Although you obviously do not recognise that, history commenced before colonialism and apartheid. Wars, social injustice, slavery and exploitation have existed for as long as the world has been in existence.

You are also not inventing evil. You are simply promoting a unique brand of it – an ‘opportunity’ born out of the vulnerable situation in which South Africa currently finds itself. Demagogues are opportunists; short-sighted opportunists.

You must have heard how the fortunes of your idols, the Mugabe’s, are currently changing. Recently one of their farms were invaded by ‘illegal gold miners’. Apparently, the police aren’t doing much about it. The Mugabe’s, who instigated and oversaw violent land seizures, are now subjected to the same fate. Should your current policies prosper, you will eventually suffer the same fate.

That’s simply part of the irony of the world, that demagogues sometimes succeed in their pursuit of power and greed, before they are, without exception, rejected and forced out of power. Their last days are always, without a single exception, horrific. The lucky ones end their days in isolation, exile or in jail; the unfortunate ones are executed. In a South African worst-case scenario, where you assume the power which you strive towards, will therefore bring you a similar fate.

Or do you perhaps for one moment believe that, since you teach your followers to disregard others and the law, it will not come full circle and haunt you? The land you now ‘take’ will later be taken from you. You call for the killing of ‘boers’; however, it is those who now act as your soldiers, killing the ‘boers’, who will eventually come for you, when they see through you and your intentions, when they discover the price they have paid for following you. When they realise that they have paid a much higher price than the man of straw they followed. The eternal truth ‘he who takes up the sword, will die by the sword’, still rings true.

Notwithstanding your poor judgement, and all that goes with it, there are still those who follow you. That, however, does not make you a leader. The demagogues of the world – Hitler, Mussolini, Mao Tse Tsung, Stalin, Pol Pot, idi Amin, Nicolae Ceausesco, Robert Mugabe (to mention a few) – all had followers. But, like you, they were not leaders. Leaders take people to higher ground, empower them and bring out the best in them. On all counts you do exactly the opposite. Yes, you have followers, but you are no leader.

South Africa finds itself in a fierce battle for the soul of the country. There are those who want to make South Africa a better place, not only for themselves, but for others, irrespective of race and social class. Those are the ones who take responsibility in acknowledgement that we are the custodians of the country, for the benefit of future generations. On the opposite side, there are those who only act in self-interest. Race, economic and social status does not determine in which category a person falls.

This war will be fierce and protracted. Many, both cultivators of good and evil, aren’t necessarily always even aware of the contribution they are making, whether good or bad. Every word and every action counts; it either builds or destroys. You, Mr Malema, have positioned yourself on the side of that which is destructive, and those with evil intentions and those being misled, follow you. Firmly against you will be those who have sided on the side of that which is good.

Daily I observe those who have sided with ‘good’ and I admire their conduct, contributing to a better South Africa. I experience the goodwill among people of all races; I see them walking and driving to work; I see them working, supporting their families – often with little means; I see them going to school together, playing sport against each other and with each other; I see them supporting sports teams; cheering on sport-stars of opposite races. I see farmers, notwithstanding all your raging, continuing to develop their farms, continuing to plough, plant and reap – because if they don’t, South Africa will perish. All these South Africans do not wait for you. They are all part of the constructive forces on the side opposite from where you find yourself. From your point of view, a formidable enemy.

It is all these good things that you, Mr Malema, wish to destroy, in order to advance your own cause. In a prospering South Africa your policies and your false propaganda will have no traction. It is when South Africa perishes that your message will prosper, and you know that. But it is only for as long as your true intentions are not revealed. However, your true intentions will eventually shine through.

The forces against you are by far the majority – many times over; a formidable force. You just don’t see it. When you and your supporters assemble, when they come to listen to you where you rant and rave, when you threaten slaughter and genocide (‘but not yet’), the proponents of a stable South Africa are not there. They do not see any future in you, notwithstanding the fact that many of them are living in poverty. They know that, although they are impoverished, being faced with very dim prospects and hope, that the dispensation you wish to establish will be even worse; much worse.

What you wish to achieve remains a stark reminder of what South Africa will look like if we fail to find a better way to address the imminent challenges we are facing. In that sense you almost play a constructive role: you cause reasonable South Africans to wake up, being confronted with either a ‘Malema-future’, or a future with the potential of a better life – for which we will have to work very hard.

There is so much that needs to be done to make South Africa a better place. We have to talk to each other; we need to get to know and understand each other. Attitudes need to change in respect of many issues – and that applies to everybody. We must all strive ‘to do unto others as we would have them do unto us’. Since the past is in the past, it is not possible to fix it; we can only learn from it in order not to repeat its mistakes. Although we must recognise the bad and attempt to improve on it, in some cases even radically change it, we cannot afford to destroy that which is good, on which we can build a future.

‘Those who light fires … will lie down in torment’. This is according to the prophet Isaiah and this truth stands. However, ‘the righteous will inherit the land’, stands in stark contrast to this. By what you stand for and propagate, you have chosen the first option. However, it does not have to be your final decision. I have chosen the better option.


This open letter is by Gerhard Papenfus, Chief Executive of the National Employers’ Association of South Africa (NEASA). He writes this in his personal capacity.

For more information:

Marietha Thirion