Julius Malema. Will he rise from the ashes?

Julius Malema. Will he rise from the ashes?
  • PublishedOctober 24, 2013

As the love/hate figure that is Julius Malema launches his own political party, it’s too early to say if the South African political hornets’ nest has once again been stirred. Our South African correspondent Pusch Commey examines the implications of the newly formed Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). Is Malema just “barking mad” again as his critics often describe him?

Just when everybody thought he was done and dusted, the irrepressible Commander-in-Chief of the new Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party is no doubt set to cause consternation in South African political circles. His party name choice alone speaks deeply about what is outstanding in the country after Nelson Mandela’s political freedom. It is economic freedom.

Perhaps none in the Republic of South Africa has his political instincts. And perhaps irrespective of his missteps none has his energy and commitment to a political cause. Julius Malema’s venue choice for his Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) launch on 13 October, at Marikana, where on 16 August 2012, 34 miners striking for higher wages were gunned down by police, was extremely telling. The backbone of Malema’s EFF are relatively young people in their 30s. Their trademark is a red beret, revolutionaries.

Julius Malema, the former President of the African National Congress Youth League, was expelled from the ruling African National Congress this year after months of contestation with the senior members of the ANC, including the President, Jacob Zuma. He was openly defiant at a disciplinary hearing instituted against him. The big boys got fed up with him and gave him the boot. Then followed criminal charges of fraud and money laundering, with the police poring through his affairs. Soon the tax authorities were gunning for him in unpaid taxes dating many years back, when he was the darling of the ANC and presumed untouchable. His case comes up in the high court this month.

With no ANC platform, the political pundits opined that he would wither on the vine. But as the saying goes: “You must beware of the man with nothing to lose”.  

He has created his own platform. And he is busy pissing copiously into the ANC tent, like no one has ever done.

On 8 October his party received its registration certificate to contest the April 2014 general elections. The party launch at Marikana went off with fanfare and was attended by thousands of supporters. The death of 34 miners at the hands of police at Marikana was an economic massacre that tracks the political massacres of Soweto in 1976 and Sharpeville in 1960. Also at Marikana, the ANC-aligned National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) has been jettisoned by the workers in favour of a new kid on the block, AMCU (Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union), whose members attended Malema’s launch in droves. And as they say in America: “It’s the economy, stupid.”

Now Malema is hitting hard at economic issues. Not only that, he tapped into African cultural capital by slaughtering 12 bulls to cleanse the spirits of the dead at Marikana, before the launch, recalling that on 16 August 2013 the ANC boycotted the first anniversary of the Marikana

Malema has also confronted without fear long-standing racial issues that play well into the black electoral base: the land, inequalities, black poverty, poor education, economic oppression, and ownership structures drawn along racial lines, all of which are apartheid legacies. He has appealed to the unemployed and low wage earners, articulating their struggles in plain language. And he has been saying things nobody else dare say.

“Vote for a real president, not a singer and dancer” – a broadside at President  Jacob Zuma, who sings and dances in public – Malema declared at the rally in Marikana. He had some choice words about the 10% white population: “When you took the land from blacks you committed black genocide. You are not ashamed of taking our land. And we are not going to beg for our land. Till today you are not ashamed of the killing of our people… They want us to kneel before them. We are not going to do that.” He went on to call whites thieves and said a failure to return the land would result in a generational curse. On the concept of a rainbow nation, he poured deep scorn:

“It can’t be reconciliation during rugby matches only, after the rugby match, back to reality. It can’t be the rainbow nation during the performance of (US singer) Rihanna; after the performance of Rihanna, back to reality.” Rihanna was performing that same day in Johannesburg. Malema went on to call for name changes to cities, towns, monuments and roads that bear the names of white heroes.

He then touched on popular socialist sentiments:

“When the rich share with the poor there would be no crime. If you share with the poor there will be no need to build high walls at your home. Those who are not prepared to share, worry about yourselves. Those who are prepared to share, we will kiss each other.”

As usual he was not without humour. He declared that his party was for all those who did not fear the white man. What should be feared is a new baby that when born, stands up immediately to shake your hands. In effect, the EFF is fired up and ready to go. Trust Malema to show up at every government protest in the country. If there is a quality of his that can become a game-changer, it is courage.

Julius Malema, or Juju as he is popularly known, is very well prepared. This year he went to Lagos to consult T.B. Joshua, the popular Nigerian prophet, for spiritual guidance. Prior to his expulsion, he had some prominent backers with deep pockets like billionaire/politician Tokyo Sexwale, as well as the popular Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.  

There is no indication that they have deserted him, and then there are a number of ANC malcontents like the former treasurer Matthew Phosa. In Marikana he got some overt support from another prominent ANC rebel, General Bantu Holomisa, who was also expelled from the party in the 90s.

He went on to form his own party, the United Democratic Movement (UDM), which has so far made little impact on the political landscape. He took to the podium to declare that the ANC no longer represented the aspirations of the black masses. He went on to warn against vote-rigging.

Will Juju deliver? It is early days yet, but it seems he is ready for battle. Beyond that, he has the survival instinct. It was so with Jacob Zuma when he faced numerous charges during the Mbeki era. With the state in hot pursuit, self-preservation may become his biggest asset in the political cauldron.

Pundits are still unsure of how it will all play out. Many think the EFF will win some parliamentary seats, and that there will definitely be no revolutionary change to the political landscape. The ANC is too deeply rooted in the political psyche of blacks, and the best chance of the EFF chipping away their support is through the youth, whose emotional attachment to the ANC is at best tenuous. Pundits are also unanimous on the fact that the key to electoral success is the ground game. That game will depend on organisation and resources. With no electoral law that obliges political parties to declare the source of their funding, who knows which disaffected billionaire will be secretly stoking the EFF’s embers.

Tokyo Sexwale was summarily dismissed by Jacob Zuma as the Minister of Human Development right in the middle of a strategy session of his ministry this year.

And when it comes to hard work, you can bet on Juju. He goes everywhere.

How does the ANC intend to deal with a growing negative sentiment towards the party, especially around corruption issues and poor service delivery? Already there are 19 new parties contesting the 2014 elections.

The ANC has dealt with threats in the past through its power of patronage. When an ANC splinter group, COPE, was formed over Thabo Mbeki’s dismissal from office, many of the rebels crawled back to the ANC on the back of cushy jobs and access to tenders. With an eye on the rural vote, the government has fast forwarded the Traditional Courts Bill to expand the powers of chiefs who hold sway over the rural vote. An expropriation of lands bill has been put through parliament to address the land question. Social grants for the poor have been increased. 40% of the population depend on it.

Julius Malema has a long road ahead and he needs every inspiration. In his address he evoked spirits of the South African liberation struggle. He paid tribute to all the great African kings of old, tapping into ancestral pride; from Shaka to Ngunguyani and Makhado. He cited great African National Congress heroes from Seme Ka Pixley through to Oliver Tambo, Chris Hani and Nelson Mandela. He paid tribute to other anti-apartheid heroes like Robert Sobukwe and Steve Biko. He saluted all the liberation forces of old.

There is no doubt that Malema means business. Now that he is on his own and self-employed, will he have the stamina, fortitude and firepower to outgun his adversaries and change the South African paradigm? As they say, time will tell.

Juju was hitting the headlines every week when he was in the ANC tent. Now out of the tent, and off a leash, there are very interesting times ahead in the politics of South Africa. And the life and times in this complex country called South Africa will never be the same.

Written By
New African

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