JOHANNESBURG - South African politician Julius Malema knows how to make news. This week, the head of the Economic Freedom Fighters, South Africa’s youth-driven far-left political party, filled a room with eager foreign correspondents. The 34-year-old party leader spoke for nearly two straight hours, touching on so many issues it would impossible to highlight just one.
So VOA News, which watched one camera battery die after another as Malema raced on, brings you an edited selection of the more interesting pronouncements.
The Land Question
To borrow a Malema-ism, the question of land ownership is the “alpha and omega” of the Economic Freedom Fighters’ philosophy. Malema used land as a major talking point in last year's campaign, and this issue may have propelled the EFF to the six percent share it won in the May elections.
“Under an EFF government,” he said, “land will be nationalized and both so-called private and public and residential land, it will all be under the state ownership. And all of us will have to apply for permission to use that land.”
He said his party, not the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party, initially came up with a proposal that foreigners be barred from owning agricultural land in South Africa. Zuma announced the move in February at his state of the nation address; the measure is still under discussion in parliament.
Malema said that the majority of land in South Africa is still owned by white South Africans, a claim that is hard to verify since the nation’s statistics agency is still using data from before the end of apartheid. But there is still an undeniable economic divide since the end of apartheid in 1994. According to a 2014 study by Statistics South Africa, nine out 10 South Africans living in poverty are black.
The Zuma Question
Malema has always had strong opinions about President Jacob Zuma, his former boss when Malema led the youth league of the ANC. In 2008, a younger Malema told an ANC rally that he was “prepared to die for Zuma." Not only that, he said, "We are prepared to take up arms and kill for Zuma.”
He changed his tune after the ANC expelled him from the youth league in 2011 for sowing divisions within the party.
Malema said this week that Zuma is the root cause of many of the nation’s current ills, which include a growing corruption investigation around Zuma’s private residence, a sliding currency, growing perceptions of corruption and the nation’s notoriously unstable energy supply.
“These issues we’re talking about which you want us to pay attention to, they happen as a result of the big elephant in the room, which is called the president,” he said. “Because this corrupt thief is the one that tampers with every single institution of the state.”
Zuma said corruption charges against him were dropped in 2009, and denies the allegations.
Malema also said that Zuma agreed with his original political backers to only serve one term -- a claim the president has denied.
“‘Chief, you are going to serve one term.’ We told him that,” Malema said. “And then, the luxuries that comes with the beauty of being a president then got him drunk and he said ‘no ways, one term for who, for what? I’m going for another one.’ And then he started cutting all of us who ever mentioned to him one term.”
The Corruption Question
Malema also asserted that the corruption case against him, he’s accused of fraud, money laundering and racketeering to the tune of about $400,000, is a political affair.
“The agenda is very simple,” he said. “I have been part of a state illegal investigation for a very long time. So every time I get investigated for this or that, the state gets shocked as to why we cannot find something on this guy. So they allege that I’m a CIA spy, so that through that so-called investigation they can then get a judge to give them permission to put surveillance on me. And anything they come across, now that the investigation is ‘legal,’ they can be able to prosecute me.”
His corruption trial is set to resume in August.
The Color Question
Of all of the things Malema has done, perhaps his own words about race have hurt him the most. In 2011, he was convicted of hate speech for singing an apartheid-era song that called for killing of white farmers. Then in 2013, in the heat of his election campaign, he addressed South Africa’s white population, saying, “If you share with the poor there will be no need to build high walls at your home,” referring to the high walls and electrified fences that ring many homes in South African cities.
“Those who are not prepared to share, worry about yourselves,” he said. “Those who are prepared to share, we will kiss each other.”
This week, he said he never intended to threaten any race, and evoked the memorable words of South Africa’s first president, Nelson Mandela, who said “I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination.”
“We don’t want a party that fights for black supremacy,” Malema said. “We don’t want that. When we say we are fighting for blacks and want to liberate them, we are not saying we want blacks to be above whites. We want them to be equal.”
And the Final Question: What’s Next?
Malema said he has become more of a father and a family man, and has apparently taken to heart recent jibes about his weight. He says he now goes to the gym every morning at 8 a.m.
He said he has few regrets about his younger self.
“The younger Juju in the ANC was a very, very militant one, and that’s what we like about him,” he said, referring to himself by his nickname and in the third person. “And all the youth must be radical, because politics and revolution is an activity of the youth. There’s no apology about it. Because when you are young, you are a rough diamond, and you are going through a process of being polished into a proper shining diamond. I’m not there, but my experiences put me at a point where a 55-year-old cannot outmaneuver me. I’m at that stage.”
His performances in parliament attest to that, he caught the nation's attention twice in recent months, first by haranguing President Zuma during his February state of the nation address, and then in his caustic rebuttal to the president’s speech.
South Africa saw record television viewing numbers for that speech, and many viewers said they tuned in not for Zuma, but for Malema.
“The EFF has made politics interesting in South Africa,” he said.
Love him or hate him, you can’t argue with that.