You may think the announcement by former ANC Youth League president Julius Malema this week that he is undertaking a consultation process on his economic freedom campaign was months in the making, a political strategy devised in smoke-filled rooms by shadowy political heavyweights behind him. Turns out Malema and his sidekick Floyd Shivambu, together with a few of their mates, decided on it without consulting anyone. Malema revealed this, his intentions for a “revolution” in South Africa, his impressions watching from the sidelines as Jacob Zuma won a second term at Mangaung and his life outside the ANC in an interview with RANJENI MUNUSAMY. GREG NICOLSON took the pictures.
It surprises Julius Malema that some people are scared of him and think he is a monster of sorts. I ask him how is he going to attract people to come on board his economic freedom campaign when he has built himself as an aggressive radical, spewing bile and instilling fear.
He grins coyly and says he doesn’t know why people are scared of him. As with the local and international radio and television interviews Malema has done during his stint as South Africa’s most controversial political figure, he is soft-spoken, polite, articulate and deliberate, answering everything asked of him. It is difficult to amalgamate this image with the persona on a political podium – fiery, audacious and belting-out war talk.
Malema says when he addresses rallies and public meetings, he has to use a different language to that when he speaks to people face to face. “You have to agitate and get the message across in a short space of time. It is the language of mobilisation and agitation.”
“I’m Julius throughout,” he says bemused, as if the contradictions between his two personas should not be disconcerting.
He relays an anecdote of how even he gets shocked by people’s perceptions of him. Malema says he and a handful of friends attended the launch of a new cruise ship in Durban. The function was in a cinema on board the ship and the lights were turned off. When the lights were eventually turned on, the mostly white crowd was stunned to discover Malema sitting among them. After the initial shock wore off, many rushed over to take pictures with him.
“I couldn’t understand it. It was as if I was some big TV personality; they were behaving like I was a celebrity,” Malema says.
So how did it come about that Malema decided to re-emerge from the political wilderness and dive back into the game? He says he has continued to address public meetings and “engage with the masses” away from the media spotlight. He took a two-month break to study – he is doing a BA degree in politics and citizenship through Unisa – and recently finished his exams. It was then that he, former ANC Youth League (ANCYL) spokesman Floyd Shivambu and a “few comrades” decided that the time was right to launch a process of consultation to decide how to advance their economic freedom campaign.
The campaign, as it was when Malema and Shivambu were still in the ANCYL, advocates for a radical economic policy shift in South Africa including through expropriation of land without compensation and the nationalisation of mines. Malema says he and “a few young people” decided to form the group, calling themselves “Economic Freedom Fighters” to re-float their old campaign by holding consultation forums around the country.
He says they have not yet decided whether to form a political party. There were three options on the table: an independent political platform “agitating” for economic policy change but not affiliated to any political organisation, contesting the elections and then pushing for change through Parliament, or remaining loyal to the ANC hoping that it would “self-correct” some time in the future. Malema says the public forums and submissions would culminate in a national consultative meeting which would ultimately decide which option to take.
Malema says his announcement this week has upset some of his former allies in the ANC and ANCYL, who felt affronted that he had not consulted with them on the idea before going public. But he says he did not want anyone else to control his agenda. “Every generation has its own mission. This is ours.”
But if he could not succeed with the nationalisation campaign from within the ruling party, how does he hope to make any policy impact from outside? “The 1976 Soweto uprising was not an ANC initiative,” Malema responds. “In fact the ANC criticised those kids until they were overtaken by events. So it doesn’t need to come from inside the ANC, they will join later.”
So, you want an uprising then, Julius? Malema does not blink and answers instantly:
“We are agitating for a revolution. We want a radical policy shift. The ANC can only be forced into it by the masses.”
Throughout the interview, Malema weaves in his views of Zuma’s failures as ANC leader and president. He claims his expulsion was “a well-calculated move” to ensure that Zuma was re-elected at the ANC’s national conference at Mangaung last December. He also claims that his charges of racketeering and money laundering, the seizure and sale of his properties by the South African Revenue Service (SARS) were all politically motivated to destroy him.
Malema says he thinks the outcome of the Mangaung conference could have turned out differently had he still been in the ANC, as his expulsion “served as a blow to the Forces of Change”. He says after he was expelled, those who were running the Forces of Change campaign to remove Zuma as ANC president were “advancing their own names” and were “inspired by self-interest”, and this further destroyed the campaign.
Malema was in Mangaung during the conference and monitored the events throughout. “I knew we were going to lose, there was too much manipulation.” He says he knew there was “something fishy” when ANC membership figures in KwaZulu-Natal escalated rapidly ahead of the conference so that support would sway in favour of Zuma.
Malema says he nonetheless “admired the spirit of comrades” in the Forces of Change camp. “No matter the consequences and the hardships, they fought until the conclusion, including Comrade Kgalema. I felt very bad for the comrades who were inside (the conference tent) and kept soldiering on.”
Asked whether with the benefit of hindsight, he could have done things differently to remain in the ANC and perhaps still be living the high life he once enjoyed, Malema says he believes he acted according to his political beliefs and would not change anything he had done. He said he was punished for speaking out against Zuma and had no regrets about that.
However, he says he and his colleagues who were subjected to disciplinary procedures by the ANC had made approaches to try to broker a settlement, but these were snubbed. Malema’s written request to the Mangaung conference to reconsider his expulsion was also rejected.
At first Malema says he was not bitter about losing his possessions and homes because he understood it to be politically motivated. “I don’t feel angry, I know it is part of the game.” But later he admits that he was cross about the sale of his cabbage farm.
“I did get angry seeing that the land of an African child was bought by a white Afrikaner male, presided over by the ANC government on the eve of the 100 year anniversary of the 1913 Land Act. The Afrikaner males ganged up there to secure the land.”
Asked what he has been doing with himself since being expelled from the ANC, Malema says he is in business but is reluctant to say what exactly this is. He says his business only deals with the private sector so that the state does not interfere with it. “I live in Limpopo and survive through family and friends.” He had to return the swish black Mercedes Benz Viano he used to travel around in to a friend who loaned it to him, as he says SARS kept asking questions about it and state agencies were harassing the owner.
So where would the resources come from to run a countrywide consultation process? “You don’t need much resources, you need political will,” Malema says. “If it means we use public transport to reach the masses so be it.”
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to Malema’s new political career is his pending corruption trial. But he does not see it as such.
“The economic freedom campaign is not a personal project. The economic freedom fighters will lead it whether I am there or not.”
If Malema is there, leading the campaign, it is guaranteed to run interference against the ANC and the state. Malema agitating for change inside the ANC caused unprecedented turbulence. Now he wants a revolution and has no restraints.
The prospect of Julius Malema talking directly to the forgotten people of South Africa will keep many an ANC politician awake at night.
Add things together and Malema 2.0 may be a terrifying opponent to the very organisation that spawned him. His impulsive, maverick move should make the inhabitants of Luthuli House extremely nervous. They have been warned. DM
All tortoises are actually turtles. Some turtles however are not tortoises.