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Firebrand Former Protege Challenges South Africa's Zuma

  • Chris Simkins

South Africa's best-known firebrand politician, Julius Malema, has launched his own political party. Expelled last year as the youth leader of the ruling African National Congress, Malema is vowing to defeat ANC stalwart President Jacob Zuma in next year’s elections. Malema was once considered Zuma’s protégé and had memorably said he would "kill for Zuma."

Supporters of the new party, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), are already celebrating what they hope will be a big victory in next year’s elections. Many say they want political change and an end to the ANC's 19-year hold on power.

"The changes [under the ANC] are very little. So we cannot vote for them again," said one supporter.

"The government has let us down many times so I don’t think Juju [Malema] will let us down. Viva Juju, viva," said another.

Julius Malema, known as Juju, is the fiery leader of the new EFF party.

His priorities are creating more jobs and delivering on what he says are unfulfilled ANC promises to return 30 percent of white-owned farmland to black South Africans.

"We need our land. You want us to come before you and kneel before you and ask for the land of our ancestors? We are not going to do that!" declared Malema.

Political analyst Aubrey Matshiqi thinks the EFF‘s land distribution rhetoric could turn voters off.

"They run the risk of crossing the line. It is one thing for them to talk about under-development as it pertains to black people but it is another to raise the question of white privilege in a racist manner," said Matshiqi.

Malema claims he’s building strong support among young and middle class voters. He even predicts victory over President Jacob Zuma and openly criticizes the ANC, his former party.

"Thank you ANC, you have delivered me. The ANC has delivered you to debt. You are owing a lot as we speak today," said Malema to supporters.

The launch of Malema’s political party comes a year after he was expelled from his post as the ANC's youth leader in April 2012 for allegedly creating divisions within the party. He's also facing financial and legal troubles that could land him in jail. Some wonder if he will be able to deliver on the high expectations he is setting for himself.

"He has been going around the country telling everybody he's going to be the next president. And the gap between what he's boasting about and what he's going to achieve is going to be so wide that I think it will dent his credibility," said Steven Friedman, a political science professor at the University of Johannesburg.

Political analysts say chances are slim that Malema will gain enough votes to be president, but they believe his party could win enough seats in parliament to make the EFF a governing political party at the provincial level.