Julius Malema and the postapartheid public sphere

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Peer-Reviewed Research
  • SDG 16
  • Abstract:

    Julius Malema has been one of the most prominent and controversial public figures in post apartheid South Africa. This article examines his impact within the post apartheid public sphere as a space of spectacle. Working with a notion of the public sphere as constituted through a hybrid of rational and affective modes of communication, the article shows how a politics of spectacle articulated commercial and cultural changes in the country’s mass media after 1994. This confluence shaped Malema’s public persona and impact on the terms of public debate during his tenure as president of the ANC Youth League. The angry, unruly bad boy of post apartheid politics, Malema’s racial populism provoked garrulous public talk, often with far more heat than light, and traversed by racist invective that the earlier years of public dialogue had largely held at bay; yet he also exposed the force of old and emergent fault lines in the new social order more directly and acutely than many others have done. I argue that, symbolically, Malema entered the public sphere as a counterpoint to Nelson Mandela unsettling the iconography of non racialism, reasserting an angry and confrontational version of race that reinstated the spectre of violent conflagration that Mandela’s ‘miracle’ held at bay.