Rough diamond?: Firebrand Malema polishes up

JOHANNESBURG - Julius Malema slipped quietly into the room, looking cheerful, perhaps a little slimmer than on our last encounter, and quite the opposite of the rabble-rousing, Mugabe-in-the-making demagogue that his enemies and critics in South Africa and abroad still like to portray.

"Marriage," he said by way of an explanation, and fell onto a sofa with a happy sigh. He recently married a woman from his neighbourhood in Limpopo.

But as the "commander-in-chief" of South Africa's Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party began our interview, two things soon struck me.

The first is that Mr Malema has evolved from a hectoring, skittish, "rough-diamond" of a politician into something much more polished and impressive.

The second thing - which grew on me over the course of perhaps half an hour of talking - was quite how imprudent South Africa's governing ANC were to lose hold of him, and let him break off to form the EFF.

"The ANC is not only threatened [by us], it repeats us. Everything we say, the ANC comes after us to repeat. We're fighting the issue of the land, we're saying economic freedom in our lifetime, they're saying the same," he declared.

And he has a point. The EFF won only 6.3% of the national vote last year, but they behave - and rattle the ANC - as if they were the official opposition, routinely setting the agenda.

"I know for a fact that the EFF is listed as a threat to the state by the intelligence [agencies]... The instruction is 'find anything wrong so we can nail him down,'" said Mr Malema, while admitting he had no proof.

#PayBackTheMoney

Mr Malema still calls himself a socialist, anti-imperialist revolutionary, determined to destroy the system from within. "I'm not a member of the establishment," he told me vehemently, when I mentioned his MP's perks and salary.

But he's found a way to merge that rhetoric with a more aspirational, individualistic message about getting ahead that borrows from figures like Hugo Chavez.

I suggested that his approach was riddled with hypocrisy - a claim he batted away with his usual confidence. "We are finding a way of living with capitalism while fighting it. Our struggle is not to stay in the shacks - it is not a struggle of sameness."

For months, Mr Malema and his fellow MPs have managed to energise South Africa's parliament with their red uniforms, heckling and demanding furiously for President Jacob Zuma to #PayBackTheMoney - as the online campaign has it - from the state-funded renovations of his Nkandla homestead.

Now, Mr Malema told me he is planning to disrupt the president's State of the Nation address to parliament next month.

"First he must answer questions," said Mr Malema.

"And if he does not?" I asked.

"We are going to insist... we will make him answer. We will put more pressure on him. There is no need for publicity stunts - there is a need for political principles. We have taken a decision to fight and confront corruption - and the face of corruption, which is President Zuma."

Apartheid strategy

Julius Malema is currently facing his own charges of racketeering and fraud, which should come to trial this August. He blithely rejected the case against him, insisting he is "the victim of a [political] witch-hunt".

Next on the EFF's agenda is a nationwide escalation of the "land occupation" activities it has already begun around Pretoria - which the city's mayor has condemned as "perpetuating anarchy".

Pretoria "is just the start. We are not going to stop now. We are putting the necessary pressure. Let the people have land", said Mr Malema, of the crowds brought in to seize unoccupied plots.

Comments (5)

This is Afrika and belongs to Africans. It would make no sense to have Africans without land in their own home land.

top heavy - 27 January 2015

that is if the land comes with titles otherwise kungo vharwa maface. let it come to the masses with deeds then yobva yaita kulungile chaiyo.

tula - 27 January 2015

thula

Gerald - 27 January 2015

The first thing is to give the people land and not along political affliation or other unworthy attributes.Then we create a mechanism to operationalize production.Some of our brothers who got just 5-40 hectares since the year 2000 have even failed to put even a horehole.They only wait for the rainy season to produce.this is what we should not do if we talk about land redistribution.Those deserved to be given maybe just little land for subsistence purposes and those who need bigger land should be in a position to finance the project and of course get somehow some assistance from the bank to boost

carson Macate - 28 January 2015

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