Malema: The face of change in South African politics?

By Prince Kurupati

Julius Malema of the EFF is a force to reckon with in South African politics
Julius Malema of the EFF is a force to reckon with in South African politics

Julius Malema, the leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) political party in South Africa is a man who is equally loved and hated by South Africa. Malema’s rhetoric equally divides those who love him and those who hate him, there’s no middle ground, and its either you love or hate the guy.

Malema belongs to that group of feisty political entrepreneurs such as the late Hugo Chavez of Venezuela driven by the desire to harvest votes at any time.

South Africa’s political history in the past 10 to 15 years has been orchestrated by the youthful Malema who has managed to capitalise on his feistiness and popularity among the poor black to fundamentally change the nature of South African politics. To date, Malema’s influence in South African politics can be categorised before and after the birth of the EFF, Malema’s political party after which came into life after his ouster from the African National Congress (ANC).

Malema before the EFF

Media attention on Julius Malema started in early 2008 when he was elected as the leader of the ANC Youth League. It is during that time that the ANC Youth League got a voice, as before it was a movement that was only heard of when the ANC was heading to an election or Congress. That’s when the bigwigs would engage its leaders in desperate moves to ramp up and garner votes for the party during national elections or for them as individuals as they sought to attain positions of influence during the ANC Congress. However, all that changed when Malema was elected the Youth League leader, though still advancing the cause of individual politicians at election times and at Congress, the Youth League also became a voice for the disgruntled youths as they fought for recognition and respect from the party.

All went well during the first days of Malema’s term in office as the Youth League leader but things soon changed after the 52nd ANC Congress held in December 2008 which saw Jacob Zuma elected as the new President of the ANC. Malema who had been an admirer of Zuma quickly aligned with him and the Youth League quickly sought to oust Thabo Mbeki as the President of South Africa to replace him with Jacob Zuma.

In the struggle to force Mbeki to resign from the presidency, Malema and the Youth League became the ANC’s mouthpieces. Malema featured on national television a number of times calling Mbeki ‘a dictator’. When it looked clear that Mbeki was going to bow under pressure and resign, it’s reported that Zuma met Malema and instructed him not to waste energy beating, “a dead snake” to which Malema replied, “Fine…we are no longer beating it and we are burying this snake this weekend.” Mbeki resigned shortly afterwards with the ANC citing that his ouster was as a result of Mbeki using the country’s law enforcement system to undermine the chances of his successor (Jacob Zuma) to succeed him.

Malema and the birth of the EFF

The romance between Malema and Zuma did not last long, however, as Malema took the same path of labelling Zuma as a dictator. Malema’s reference to Zuma as a dictator in addition to other charges including the ‘Shoot the Boer’ slogan ultimately forced the hand of the ANC to expel him from the party in 2012.

After his expulsion from the ANC, for a brief period, he managed to use his popularity to gain much-needed media coverage as he was seen as a champion of the Marikana victims after 35 miners were shot by the police in a standoff between striking miners and the police.

However, Malema realised quickly that he was not receiving the same attention as he once was and decided to form a political party that would rival the ANC and put him back into the limelight. Mid-year in 2013, Malema formed the EFF, a party that challenged most of the ANC’s policies.

With the EFF, Malema has to date managed to effect two significant changes that have altered the history of South African politics. The first refers to the resignation of Jacob Zuma, a man that Malema was determined to destroy since the day he was kicked out of the ANC. With the help of another opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA) and also other ANC members, the EFF tabled a motion of no confidence against Zuma and when it dawned on Zuma that the end was nigh, he resigned on live TV.

The second change effected by the EFF refers to the controversial expropriation of land without compensation. The EFF tabled the motion before parliament and with help from the ANC, it passed. Expropriation of land without compensation seeks to redistribute land from the commercial white farmers to the poor blacks. The move by the EFF has been praised mostly by the poor black while commercial white farmers and economic institutions including banks have condemned the move saying it will lead South Africa on the same road that led to the destruction of Venezuela and Zimbabwe.

Malema and the EFF’s major achievement

While launching his party, Malema said that it would seek to address primarily white South African capital, land expropriation and the nationalisation of the country’s main institutions including the Reserve Bank. In the little time that the EFF has been in parliament, it has managed to raise all those issues in parliament. Most have been rejected but the land expropriation motion passed, however, it’s too early to tell if it’s a success or not but for the EFF it’s a positive as they are getting what they are agitating for.

The major achievement, however, the EFF has managed thus far is to broaden democracy. The EFF has added to the multiparty system in South Africa and it’s letting the views of the poor back to be aired at the highest level. This on its own is a major achievement. However, it’s also wise to note that in doing so, the EFF has created a side effect of racial intolerance and polarisation as most of its rhetoric seems to promote and advance the interests of one race while alienating the other races.


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