Saturday, November 06, 2010

Airports and Malema as Narrative

I am sitting at Oliver Tambo International waiting to board my 2pm fight to Kenya.  In about six hours I will be in Nairobi for the next 22 days.

The social scientist in me likes airports as much as any other temporary place/space where people gather to do the 'business' of moving through.

Most airports are the same.  Even the travelers seem the same as they go about the motions of arriving and departing.

I have been thinking about the manner in which spaces and bodies relate, or rather narrate, stories.

More specifically, I have been thinking about the manner in which political spaces and political bodies narrate political events and political outcomes.

The African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) leader, Julius Malema, is a prominent political body.

His body travels through the political space that is post-apartheid South Africa quite frequently and very prominetly.

Like him or loathe him.  Malema cannot easily be ignored.  Some of the baggage he carries is his own, most not.

Some of the travel is of his own making.  Most is not.

In recent days Malema has publically referred to the white leader of the Democratic Alliance, Helen Zille, as a "cockroach" in the presence of President Jacob Zuma.

His comment opened up a contentious and fiery debate about the limits of free speech.

"Is this not hate speech," a colleague enquired?

"He is saying that all whites are cockroaches and should be eliminated like pests," a white caller to a local radio show said angrily.

"Africans do not see cockroaches as dirty.  He was referring to her will to survive and multiply her message," a black caller responded.

"Saying she is an insect is just wrong.  No-one likes a cockroach.  The Nazis called the Jews cockroaches before they sent them to gas chambers," an elderly immigrant to these shores complained.

In the middle of the noise sits Malema.

Some of what he has stirred is understood.  Most not.

South Africa's vice-president rebuked him for being rude.

"Aaaah man the vice-prez is just saying so because the white people want the governemnt to say something.  They know, and we know, that Zille is a cockroach," a student intern told me.

And so the narrative drawn from Malema, but mostly from around him gathers.

Some have made it known that his right to free speech is absolute even if many thought his comment was inappropriate.

Others just cannot find the reason to see reason in Malema.

"He is a hateful so and so.  His eyes tell just how much he hates whites," I heard an older white woman say once.

Malema has moved on.  Checked his bags so to speak.

Next week or even later on today he will make another controversial comment and draw praise and ire and apathy all at the same time.

The actual events may be the same but the narrative will not, well not until the political space is forever changed.

It is for the same reason that airports anywhere are mostly like airports everywhere.

There are types of travelers that inhabit this space.  You know them.  You've seen them.

As long as there are passengers there will departures and arrivals and the narrative of traveling will be the same, mostly.

Malema's political narrative is not unique.  His story is not his own and certainly not reflective of his own making, mostly.

His eyes, like the old white lady above commented, tells a story that was foretold before he was born into this structure, this political space.

In my present airport space the crying baby three tables across from me has been here and elsewhere before.  It is a familiar story of tired parents and increasingly irritated co-travelers.

I am just hoping, praying in fact, that the poor mother and her baby are not seated next to me or even close to me.

I think the same story is true for just about every one of us sitting in this lounge as we wait to depart. ;0)


No comments: