Once again, Julius Malema’s finances are under scrutiny after it was reported that he was building a R16 million mansion in Sandown, and had spent R78,000 at a luxury lodge in the Kruger National Park. The Youth League convened a hasty press conference to deal with the allegations. Malema’s defence? It’s none of your business. Why? “Because,” that’s why. By SIPHO HLONGWANE and PHILLIP DE WET.
We’ve been here before. ANC Youth League president Julius Malema has had harsh questions asked about his finances before. His answer isn’t much different this time either. In a statement which he read out at the press conference, Malema denied he was building a R16 million house. “In a fashion that undermines the intellectual capacity of the South African people, these detractors claim that we are building a house for R16 million with all sort of specifications they imagine and subsequently believe to be true,” he said. “This claim is not only false, but represents highest form of deception and pathetic, desperate undermining of people who read about these things.
“Those who cannot defeat me through political means resort to monkey tricks,” Malema said, by way of explaining why he was under this current cloud of controversy. And to whom is he referring? Sections of the media, the DA, the Freedom Front and big business opposed to his nationalisation and land expropriation plans. It’s a very clever play that won’t fly in middle-class South Africa, but will definitely work with his constituency.
When he was probed as to how he could afford to pay cash at a luxury hotel in the Kruger National Park, he responded with his typical charm and disarming wit, saying, “It’s none of your business. You must mind your own business. We are private citizens. If I was building a R16 million house, I wasn’t going to tell you. I belong to a civil society organisation, not Parliament or a senior government official.”
According to Malema, he is only beholden to law enforcement agencies and the 5,000 Youth League delegates who elected him - not to the media nor the public in general. And since he pays his taxes, and has never fallen foul of the Public Protector or Sars, he has nothing to answer for. He categorically stated that he isn’t in the taxman bad books.
Watch: Julius Malema on his business interests (Daily Maverick)
Malema wouldn’t say how much he earns from the ANC either. He said the ANC paid his salary, and it was stated in his contract that he couldn’t disclose how much he made. Oh, and the media also was mistaken to think that he owns several cars, properties and businesses. All he owned was a house in Sandton, a Mercedes Benz AMG, a cattle farm in Limpopo and a small business. And the house and car are really owned by Absa, and the cattle farm belongs to the community.
“Anybody who is at my level in terms of employment can get a loan. Instead of being rich, I’m poor, but creditworthy,” Malema said.
The suggestion, of course, is that Malema is at best a hypocrite, and at worst a conduit for the flow of bribes related to tenders. Somewhere in the middle is the possibility that his favour is being bought by those who would like to influence government policies, which would be hugely problematic for the ANC, but not actually illegal.
On the first count we have an answer from Malema: He can't be a hypocrite when he calls for the economic emancipation of the poor or when he criticises big business, because he himself remains poor. Perhaps not in the unimportant and petty sense of how much money he has, but ideologically.
"My definition of rich is those who own the means of production," Malema says. And because he holds debt rather than productive assets (even if we don't know how he services that debt), he remains poor.
Whether Malema's favour is being bought and paid for, with or without direct reciprocation in the form of government tenders, we still don't know, and it sure looks like we won't be getting that information from Malema himself. We don't officially know how much the ANC pays him as an office bearer, but we're pretty sure it is at least an order of magnitude below what would be required to maintain his lifestyle. So the game becomes one of elimination. Family money? Malema proudly tells how he comes from great poverty, somewhere just above starvation level. The business interests he tells us he has? Those interests, he said on Wednesday in defence of the implication that he is a capitalist (all of which are, by his definition, exploiters of the poor), are still small. Gifts? Not the kind that carry obligations, at least; "I don't owe anybody anything," Malema said to questions about whether he had been compromised. DM
Photo: Daily Maverick