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Richard Poplak Launches Until Julius Comes: The EFF Will Change the Way Politics is Done in This Country

Gareth Cliff, Richard Poplak and Ranjeni Munusamy

Until Julius ComesAward-winning Daily Maverick journalist Richard Poplak launched his new book, When Julius Comes, at Love Books on Wednesday, with Gareth Cliff and Daily Maverick associate editor Ranjeni Munusamy.

The launch was prescient, as the very next day Julius Malema and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) disrupted parliament in spectacular fashion, insisting they wanted answers from President Jacob Zuma about Nkandla and chanting: “Pay back the money!”

But back to the launch, where Poplak explained how some of the articles in the book came about, and spoke about his crazy writing process as “Hannibal Elector”, the pseudonym he adopted for his coverage of the 2014 General Elections. The conversation veered from Mamphela Ramphele, to Nkandla and, finally, to the EFF and Malema, whose career Poplak believes will “outlast most people” who were gathered at Love Books.

Radio DJ Cliff opened the discussion, saying he finished Until Julius Comes in one evening, and calling it “unbelievably gripping” and “some of the finest writing you can get, with some extraordinary insight coupled to sarcasm and sometimes nastiness, which I just love”.

Cliff singled out Poplak’s description of Ramphele as “really just a nothing held together by her own make-up”, saying “it’s just so scathing but so absolutely erudite and to the point that it’s very difficult to avoid the truth if you’re reading what Richard writes”. He added: “If you’re not bright, you just won’t get this book. It’s the idea that intelligence isn’t knowing things, it’s being curious about things.”

“This book is going to stand in a hundred years’ time as a very good testimony to what we’re all going through in this country.”

Munusamy said: “Let me tell you why I like – or love – Hannibal Elector. Because now, I am not the most hated person at Daily Maverick!”

Munusamy said the highlights of the past few months are moments when she and Poplak “look at each other and raise our eyebrows”. One of these moments was at the Nelson Mandela memorial service at FNB Stadium.

“I was running around and I heard this noise and I turned and I scanned the entire media centre until I found his eyes, and immediately we were able to exchange that look, because Zuma was getting booed, and you need somebody you think is extraordinary and can put this perspective, and straight away I could see that piece he was going to write and that it was going to be absolutely incredible. The world’s media was gathered there but I knew what he was going to write was going to be extraordinary.”

“That event signalled the start of industrial scale insanity that has swept us along over the past six months. First of all there was Zuma’s booing. Second of all, there was a guy speaking to angels while signing fake language for deaf people. Then there was the whole Obama selfie thing. For a few beautiful moments we were on top of power. We sat at FNB Stadium and underneath us walked the celebrity-thon … it was insane. It was raining, there were jets flying overhead and it was just lunacy.”

Poplak then spoke about the EFF closing election rally in Atteridgeville, which spawned his infamous piece on the Daily Maverick, “Julius Malema & The Rally That Rocked”.

“It was the most awesome party I have been to in my life. It was just brilliant”

“By the time Julius Malema rolled in, in a Mercedes truck, backed by guys on hogs on motorcycles and race bikes and revving their engines in smoke that reeked of kerosene, and all this noise and all this theatre, I’m getting shivers thinking about it now. It was absolutely awesome.

“I mean, the ANC are incredible campaign machine, they are an incredible political party in that respect, but this was another order. This was a guy who’d learned from them and gone ‘nah, nah, nah, this is how it’s done’.”

Poplak admits that he did not name the book Until Julius Comes, adding: “Julius Malema sells books, he will sell books for the next 50 years, and I would say rightly so because he is a very, very, very interesting and very smart politician.”

“But the title makes sense. Because I think we understand that this campaign signalled the end of a certain element of political complacency in this country. The development of a genuine radically left voice – and we can argue about whether Julius is reactionary or radical – but I think the pull that the EFF exerts is going to change the way politics is done in this country. We can’t argue that point. So the name of the book seems very, very apposite and feels very much of the moment, and I stand behind it even though it wasn’t my idea.”

Poplak explained where the name came from, saying it originated from an interview he did on the day the DA “decided to deliver some paperwork to Luthuli House and shut the CBD down”.

“There I was, having rocks thrown at my innocent head, and the EFF guys were there as well, and somebody said to me ‘the ANC think they’re going to rule until Jesus comes’. That’s the classic Zuma line. No. Until Julius comes.”

Poplak says the benefit of hindsight has not changed the stance he took up in his writing during the elections: “One of the reasons that this book was written by an individual called Hannibal Elector is because this was the coalface. What time brings is nuance, and what I kind of didn’t want from these pieces was nuance. I wanted this stuff to be as raucous and in your face and as bareknuckle as it could possibly be. Hannibal Elector writes with witblitz next to him, I only occasionally write drunk.

“I stand by every single one of these pieces. Would I look at them and go ‘wow, that is harsh’? Absolutely. The same way you would reading them now. I mean, I barely remember writing some of this stuff because it was just, like, grrr! Let’s go! But the truth of it is, I stand by each and every word of this book. It was written in the moment and that’s how it’s meant to be interpreted and I think it’s about something larger and longer than the campaign itself.

When asked whether he thinks Julius Malema has a political future, Poplak said: “Julius Malema is 33. His political career will outlast most people in this room. It’s going to go through a lot of dips and turns and rollercoaster rides, but if you ask me most of us are going to be in the cemetery and Julius will still be around. He’s become a better politician in five years than most politicians who have been working for 40 years.”

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Jennifer Malec, Ben Williams, and others, tweeted from the launch using #livebooks:


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