I dread seeing Malema's photo on state walls
Friends sometimes ask why I continue to hang a picture of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela in my small collection of struggle-era news photographs signed by the colleagues who took them.
It is there because it reflects the person she was rather than the person she became; because her dreadful mistakes do not cancel the good she did at a critical time in our history; and because she was a woman of extraordinary courage.
"Circumstances forced me into becoming a political activist," she wrote in an angry letter to Nelson Mandela after he had sacked her from his government in 1995.
"As you will know, when you were forcibly prevented from exercising your inalienable right to free speech, I and the children, with others, spoke up for humanity."
It was a privilege to follow and report on that woman and terribly sad to watch how, as she reluctantly conceded to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, "things went horribly wrong".
Perhaps the unquestioning global media coverage after her lonely struggle became a worldwide cause celebre helped to lead her off the straight and narrow.
There were years when local and, particularly, foreign reporters would travel to Brandfort and later to Soweto to record every word and every opinion as if it came from the still-jailed Madiba himself.
In the way of the media tribe when it is out to create a hero, early doubts about her habits and behaviour went unreported, until she made the fatal error of judgment that brought the sky down on her head.
That was in April 1986, in Munsieville, when she endorsed killing suspected traitors to the struggle with burning tyres, saying: "With our boxes of matches and our necklaces, we shall liberate this country."
Then came her role, which may have been central, in the death of Stompie Moeketsi. Her TRC concession made no amends for that.
Now Julius Malema has chosen her as a role model for his career, though with the thoughtless opportunism that seems to be his habit, he tries equally to cast himself in the contrasting moulds of Winnie and of Nelson Mandela.
The obvious similarities between Malema and Winnie refer mainly to the dark side of her legacy.
For a start, both live large on means of murky origin.
Malema, without even the relatively modest salary of his former ANC Youth League job, is building a mansion in Johannesburg, travels in luxury and wears a Marikana miner's annual wage when he pops out for a drink with friends.
Mandela, with only her salary as a mainly absent MP as known income, keeps a mansion and an entourage worthy of a pop diva, travels in style and clearly does not shop at Pep.
They share also the populist skill of making impossible promises to the most poor and desperate, briefly plausible as glimmers of hope. Both are prone to saying and doing things on the spur of the moment which they seem later to regret.
And they tread a narrow path between reconciliation and racism with frequent references to white people as a common denominator in the country's problems.
But though she speaks of Malema sometimes as "my son", Winnie is, and always has been, in a different league to the derivative upstart from Limpopo. Her commitment to liberation under an ANC banner has been consistent throughout her flawed career, and standing up for it was often painful and costly to her and the children she mothered alone.
She might be out there less today than she once was, but even in the dark days of her exile from the social and political elite, Winnie worked directly for and, more importantly, with the poor.
When she cried at a struggle funeral, it was because she really did share the pain of the people she sought to comfort.
Politicians regularly feel upstaged when they arrive at the scene of a tragedy to find her already there. But often, in the past at least, she would also be there long after they had spoken and left.
There is renewed argument since Malema managed to hijack the Marikana mourning about the media's role in creating and sustaining his profile.
Avusa's public editor, Joe Latakgomo tackled the issue in his Sunday Times column this week, summarising the challenges, but going no further than to issue a general caution.
That newspaper warned in its editorial comment that it was the leadership vacuum left by the moral implosion of the ANC that had created space for Malema to begin to resuscitate his career.
I am with Wits journalism professor Anton Harber, who wrote on his blog this week: "I believe we must confront head-on those who suggest the media should play down (Malema's) utterings, or give him less or no coverage. It is extremely dangerous for journalists to start deciding who is or isn't newsworthy on the basis that someone is in or out of favour with their party, or loses their official position."
Ignoring Malema will not make him go away. If society and politics do not fill the dangerous void he exploits, he will - like Winnie - rise and rise again.
But where she fought back within the movement that forged her, he threatens to create a dangerously non-aligned coalition of the wounded that is neither defined by values nor disciplined by the wisdom of experience.
I don't expect to hang Malema's picture alongside Winnie's, but I dread seeing it on the wall of a government office I might visit.