Love him or hate him, one thing’s for sure – he is an opinion columnist’s dream. This week, the ever intriguing ANCYL leader Julius Malema courted (yet more) controversy. In an address to ANC supporters at a rally in Cloetesville, outside Stellenbosch, in the Western Cape – which just so happens to be a Democratic Alliance stronghold – he referred to the leader of the official opposition, Helen Zille as a ‘cockroach’, who needed to be removed from office.
Predictably, the comment got his detractors hot under the collar and set off fierce protestations in Parliament, with Lance Greyling of the Independent Democrats comparing his remark to that made by instigators of the Rwandan genocide in the 1990s, and to Hitler’s use of the term for Jewish people in the late 1930s. Admirably, the mature and genteel elder statesman, Kgalema Motlanthe stepped in to dissipate the ill-feeling, pointing out that Malema’s comments were indicative of ‘downright, simple bad manners.’
And just in case you thought that South African politicians were the only ones with a penchant for displaying bad manners in public – and likening their political rivals to vermin – think again. In the same week, Harriet Harman, Deputy Leader of the UK’s Labour Party, dealt Treasury Secretary Danny Alexander a low blow. Speaking at a rally in Oban, Scotland – a town which lies in a Liberal Democrat constituency – Harman referred to the hapless Alexander – a redheaded Scot and a Liberal Democrat – as a ‘ginger rodent [that] we never want to see in the highlands of Scotland’. Scottish nationalists were quick to get militant, claiming the remark was ‘deeply offensive’, ‘anti-redhead’ and ‘anti-Scottish’. It was up to Labour leader Ed Milliband to step in and quell the riot – Harman, ironically a former Minister of Equality in the previous government, was forced to apologise and withdraw the ‘rodent slur’.
In the words of the erstwhile (charismatic) Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, ‘Politicians are the same all over.’