BusinessDay

Julius Malema, his Nigerian friends, and the new South Africa

There is a young man who is making waves in South Africa. Anyone who is interested in the future of South Africa would do well to take notice of him. His name is Julius Malema.

Incidentally, he loves Nigeria and Nigerians. He has been a strong voice defending Africans, especially Nigerian ‘brothers’, against the widely prevalent xenophobic sentiment which has led to eruptions of bloodletting and arson against foreigners from time to time. He thinks Nigerians are independent-minded and enterprising, attributes which he would love to see more of among his own people. Though there are a few drug dealers, pimps, and criminals among them, he doesn’t believe they should be automatically castigated for being wealthy, for not being shy to show off their wealth on the streets and in the nightclubs of South Africa, and for ‘capturing’ some of the best ladies in the land.

The anti-xenophobic line is not a popular line to espouse, and Malema is aware it could erode his street-credibility among young, angry, and deprived South Africans, the demographic that constitutes his political base.

With the EFF gaining in support daily, the ANC and the establishment of South Africa are worried that Malema may stir up racial hatreds and open fault lines

But he is his own man. And he is a man without fear.

Julius became an activist for the African National Congress at the age of nine years. His first assignment was to tear down the posters of the Apartheid-linked National Party wherever they were pasted in his native Limpopo.

Julius, apart from admiring the industry and independence of Nigerians, also has a ‘spiritual’ connection with the country. In 2013, shortly after he was expelled from the ANC, he was in Lagos on a spiritual journey. For seven days, he stayed at the Synagogue – Church of All Nations in the Ikotun suburb of Lagos, seeking blessing and guidance from Prophet TB Joshua.

When TB Joshua died in 2021, Julius, by now the most disruptive public critic in South Africa, with a red beret that struck terror into the hearts of many people in and out of government, especially the white and Asian communities, was effusive in his condolences.

‘The EFF sends its heartfelt condolences to the family and worldwide congregants of the Synagogue, Church of All Nations on the untimely and sad occasion of the passing away of the Man of God, Prophet TB Joshua’ read a tweet, personally penned by Malema.

Julius Malema was born in March 1981 to a domestic worker and single mother, in the Limpopo province. He was National Youth Leader of the ANC from 2008 to 2012.

He formed the party named Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) in 2013 after his expulsion from the ANC.

Less than ten years after its formation, EFF has become the third-largest party in South Africa, winning 10.54% of all voters in the nationwide Municipal elections held in December 2021, and controlling 44 out of 400 seats in the National Assembly. Momentum is growing by the day, among the youths on the streets and on university campuses.

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Once described by Jacob Zuma as a ‘future leader of South Africa’, he would go on to become famous for such quotable ‘hate-speech’ one-liners as ‘Most Indians are racists’

We are not calling for the slaughter of white people – at least for now‘.

His expulsion from the ANC in 2012 was due to his persistence in singing the Liberation-era war song ‘Dubul’ ibhunu’ at public rallies. The song translates as ‘Shoot the Boer’.

This was clearly embarrassing for an ANC that had resolved to beat its swords into ploughshares and build a Rainbow Nation where black, white, and brown could cohabit.

Julius Malema did not back off. He doubled down.

The militaristic titles and red beret that are emblems of the EFF show he is determined to be ‘in your face’. His public spats with his erstwhile ‘godfather’ President Jacob Zuma remain the stuff of legend.

With the EFF gaining in support daily, the ANC and the establishment of South Africa are worried that Malema may stir up racial hatreds and open fault lines that may be difficult for the young nation to manage. Malema advocates the ‘Mugabe option’ – seizing land from the whites without compensation and nationalizing the mines. It is a line poor blacks are finding increasingly persuasive, though such action would certainly destroy the very basis of the Rainbow Nation.

Malema is a street fighter, and in some ways, a younger version of the Cyril Ramaphosa of the anti-Apartheid struggle. To some, Cyril is now soft – a billionaire, a democrat who sees that change can only be gradual and has to be carefully managed, leading an ‘expired’ ANC shot through with corruption and indecisiveness. Malema feels no such inhibition.

There are things about Julius Malema that don’t add up. He claims to be a ‘leftist’, espousing Marxism-Leninism’ and ‘Fanonism’, and also taking inspiration from Thomas Sankara. But he lives large and well, driving flashy cars, including a BMW, and lives in a plush area of Johannesburg. He has been hauled before the courts a number of times for tax evasion, and he and his party have been accused of taking kickbacks from contractors in the provinces where they have a strong presence.

Some of his ideas are, frankly, bizarre. He advocates that black South Africans should ‘have as many children as possible ‘so as to increase the dominance of our ideas in the world…’

Really?

Lately, he has been wearing a pan-African toga, insisting Africa’s borders are artificial colonial creations, and that ‘Africa is one’.

How he intends to marry this with the xenophobic mindset of his local political base remains to be figured out. Is Malema a racist, or just a loud voice pushing the boundaries to accelerate much-needed change?

It is alleged some of his major backers, including the sponsor of his posh family residence in Johannesburg, are white. What is one to make of that?

Julius Malema, President and Commander-in-Chief of the Economic Freedom Fighters is clearly ‘work-in-progress’. Watch this space.

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