Julius Malema: The Controversial and Charismatic South African Politician
The Early Life and Career of Julius Malema
Julius Malema was born on March 3, 1981, in Seshego township, South Africa. He was raised by his mother, who worked as a domestic worker, and his grandmother. He joined the African National Congress (ANC) at the age of nine, and became involved in its youth wing and student organization. He rose to prominence as a local and regional leader of the ANC Youth League, and as a vocal supporter of Jacob Zuma, the deputy president of the ANC who later became the president of South Africa.
Malema was elected as the president of the ANC Youth League in April 2008, by a narrow margin, amid a heated and divisive conference. He became one of the most influential and controversial figures in South African politics, known for his fiery speeches, radical policies, and outspoken criticism of his opponents. He advocated for the nationalization of mines and banks, the expropriation of white-owned land without compensation, and the economic empowerment of black South Africans. He also attracted controversy for his use of hate speech, such as saying he would “kill for Zuma” and singing an ANC liberation song that included the lyrics “shoot the Boer”, which were deemed to be inciting violence against white farmers.
The Expulsion and Appeal of Julius Malema
Malema’s relationship with Zuma soured after Zuma became the president of South Africa in 2009. Malema began to challenge Zuma’s leadership and policies, and accused him of being corrupt and incompetent. He also clashed with other senior members of the ANC, such as Gwede Mantashe, the secretary-general of the party, and Thabo Mbeki, the former president of South Africa. He also provoked diplomatic tensions with neighbouring countries, such as Botswana and Zimbabwe, by interfering in their internal affairs.
Malema’s behaviour and rhetoric led to several disciplinary hearings by the ANC, which resulted in his suspension and eventual expulsion from the party. In May 2010, he was found guilty of sowing division within the ANC, bringing the party into disrepute, and promoting intolerance. He was given a suspended sentence of five years, on condition that he would not repeat his offences within two years. However, he continued to defy the ANC’s rules and authority, and in August 2011, he was charged again for calling for the overthrow of the government of Botswana, which he claimed was a puppet of the United States. In November 2011, he was found guilty again of provoking divisions within the ANC, bringing the party into disrepute, and sowing intolerance. He was suspended for five years, effective immediately.
Malema appealed against his suspension, but his appeal was rejected in February 2012. The ANC also decided to expel him from the party, citing his lack of remorse and respect during the appeal process. Malema appealed again against his expulsion, but his appeal was dismissed in April 2012. The ANC upheld its decision to expel him from the party, ending his political career within the ruling party.
The Comeback and Leadership of Julius Malema
Malema did not give up on his political ambitions after his expulsion from the ANC. He remained popular among many young South Africans who shared his vision of economic freedom and social justice. He also maintained his criticism of Zuma and the ANC, accusing them of betraying the ideals of the liberation struggle and failing to deliver on their promises to improve the lives of ordinary South Africans.
In July 2013, Malema launched a new political party called the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), which aimed to challenge the dominance of the ANC and offer an alternative to its policies. The EFF adopted a radical socialist agenda that included land expropriation without compensation, nationalization of strategic sectors of the economy, free education and health care for all, and anti-imperialism. The EFF also adopted a distinctive style of dress that featured red berets and overalls, symbolizing their solidarity with workers and revolutionaries.
Malema became the leader of the EFF, and led it to contest in its first general election in May 2014. The EFF won 6.35 percent of the national vote, making it the third-largest party in parliament after the ANC and the Democratic Alliance (DA). Malema became a member of parliament (MP) in the National Assembly, where he continued to challenge Zuma and the ANC with his fiery speeches and protests. He also faced several legal battles over charges of corruption, fraud, tax evasion, money laundering, racketeering, and incitement to violence.
Malema led the EFF to contest in its second general election in May 2019. The EFF increased its share of the national vote to 10.79 percent, making it again the third-largest party in parliament after the ANC and DA. Malema remained the leader of the EFF, and an MP in the National Assembly, where he continued to challenge the ANC and its new president, Cyril Ramaphosa, with his radical policies and rhetoric. He also faced more legal challenges over his alleged involvement in the VBS Mutual Bank scandal, which involved the looting of millions of rand from a bank that served poor and rural communities.
The Formation and Launch of the EFF
Julius Malema, a former leader of the ANC Youth League who was expelled from the ruling party in 2012, did not give up on his political ambitions. He decided to form a new political party that would challenge the ANC and offer an alternative vision for South Africa. He named his party the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), and declared himself as the commander in chief.
The EFF was officially launched in July 2013, after months of consultation and mobilization with various groups and individuals who shared Malema’s radical and populist agenda. The party held its first national assembly in October 2013, where it adopted its constitution, manifesto, and policies. The EFF described itself as a “radical, leftist, anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist movement” that fought for economic emancipation. The party’s platform included the following demands:
- The expropriation of land without compensation for redistribution to the landless majority
- The nationalization of mines, banks, and other strategic sectors of the economy
- The provision of free quality education, health care, housing, sanitation, and social security for all
- The abolition of tenders and outsourcing, and the creation of state-owned enterprises
- The withdrawal from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (AU), and the formation of a new regional and continental bloc based on socialist principles
- The establishment of a democratic and accountable government that respects human rights and the rule of law
The Electoral Performance and Influence of the EFF
The EFF contested in its first general election in May 2014, under the slogan “Vote for Economic Freedom in Our Lifetime”. The party campaigned on its radical policies and criticized the ANC for being corrupt, incompetent, and betraying the ideals of the liberation struggle. The party also appealed to the young, poor, and marginalized sections of society who felt disillusioned with the status quo.
The EFF won 6.35 percent of the national vote, making it the third-largest party in parliament after the ANC and the Democratic Alliance (DA). Malema became a member of parliament (MP) in the National Assembly, along with 24 other EFF colleagues. The EFF MPs wore red berets and overalls as their signature attire, symbolizing their solidarity with workers and revolutionaries.
The EFF MPs proved to be a disruptive and vocal force in parliament, often clashing with the ANC MPs and President Jacob Zuma. They used various tactics to challenge Zuma’s legitimacy and accountability, such as chanting “Pay back the money” in reference to his controversial home upgrades, disrupting his speeches, walking out of sessions, or refusing to obey orders from the speaker. They also participated in protests and campaigns outside parliament, such as supporting striking workers, occupying land, or demanding free education.
The EFF contested in its second general election in May 2019, under the slogan “Our Land and Jobs Now”. The party increased its share of the national vote to 10.79 percent, making it again the third-largest party in parliament after the ANC and DA. Malema remained the leader of the EFF, and an MP in the National Assembly, along with 43 other EFF colleagues. The EFF MPs continued to challenge the ANC MPs and President Cyril Ramaphosa, who succeeded Zuma in 2018. They also formed coalitions with other opposition parties to govern some municipalities where the ANC did not have a majority.
The Legal Challenges and Controversies of Julius Malema
Malema’s political career was not without legal challenges and controversies. He faced several charges of corruption, fraud, tax evasion, money laundering, racketeering, and incitement to violence. Some of these charges were related to his involvement in tender irregularities when he was still an ANC leader. Others were related to his alleged role in looting millions of rand from a bank that served poor and rural communities.
Malema’s trial on these charges was repeatedly postponed due to various reasons, such as changes in legal representation, requests for further evidence, or appeals to higher courts. Malema denied any wrongdoing and claimed that he was a victim of political persecution by his enemies. He also accused some judges of being biased or influenced by external forces.
Malema also faced criticism for his lavish lifestyle, which contrasted with his populist message. He owned expensive cars, houses, watches, clothes, and other luxury items. He also travelled frequently to foreign countries or attended high-profile events. He defended his lifestyle by saying that he was not poor or ashamed of his wealth. He also said that he earned his money legally through various businesses or donations.
Malema also faced backlash for his divisive and inflammatory rhetoric. He often used hate speech or incited violence against certain groups or individuals. He targeted white people, Indians, foreigners, journalists, farmers, capitalists, imperialists, or anyone who opposed him or his party. He also expressed support for controversial leaders or movements, such as Robert Mugabe, Hugo Chávez, Fidel Castro, or the Marikana miners. He justified his rhetoric by saying that he was speaking the truth or defending the oppressed. He also said that he was exercising his right to freedom of expression or provoking debate.