On Sunday the Sunday Times reported that the Zondo Commission has requested certain documents about the finances of EFF leader Julius Malema and his deputy, Floyd Shivambu. On Friday Malema spoke in Senekal and wove into his fiery speech comments about money and where people live. He has also successfully managed to again grab public attention over the past two months, sometimes coming close, or even crossing the line, to inciting EFF members to violence.
It is likely that he is now preparing for future developments that will test his ability to control and direct people and events.
The pandemic has proved tough for many politicians. Parliament was closed, and if they did not have significant political power within the governance system, politicians’ voices were virtually irrelevant for people trapped in their homes, worrying about their lives and their livelihoods and, often, where the next meal would come from.
This was a good time for the DA, but tough for the EFF. This was because the DA has political power in the Western Cape, while the EFF is not in government anywhere. Of course, it was even better for the ANC because it has most of the political power in South Africa through its almost total control of different levers of national, provincial and municipal authorities.
Parliament was closed, or held only virtual sittings, and this didn’t suit Malema’s style of politicking. Walking out of a Zoom call is simply not the same as being forced out in a physical confrontation. Shouting on a computer screen looks silly, while holding a president to account physically is good TV.
Malema appeared subdued during this time. He didn’t make much noise, apart from arguing that the lockdown should be intensified.
However, the racist TRESemmé advert published on the Clicks website by Unilever allowed him to burst back into the public domain. His language was tough and angry.
And, crucially, it was EFF members who protested outside Clicks stores, sometimes violently, and in some cases damaging the stores.
This was a successful continuation of Malema’s long-term strategy, of appearing to be the one black radical political leader who will protect black people from racism and who will fight against it.
In the process, he is able to control the definition of racism and who is “black” and who is “white”, which allows him to claim that some black political leaders are “sellouts”.
The boiling cauldron of Senekal was tailor-made for him.
It had all the elements that Malema needs: white people who refused to accept the authority of the black state, violence, extremism, and people wearing khaki and claiming to be fighting for a new Vrystaat republiek.
When the incitements by people on both sides of the spectrum are so open, there’s virtually no space in the middle, or for a compromise.
Thankfully, no one was hurt and no lives were lost on Friday, despite the obvious potential for violent confrontation.
Police Minister Bheki Cele said there were about 2,500 EFF members or supporters in Senekal on Friday. When Malema spoke it was to a large crowd of people wearing red.
While he spent much of his time talking about racism and white people, Malema also made particular comments about where people live.
After accusing a white journalist of making racist comments on Twitter, he went on to say:
“White people like him do not want a black man in town. That’s why, where does Malema stay – he lives in the suburbs, ja but he says he’s representing black people. I’m not representing black people to stay in the shacks and in the squatter camps – I’m representing black people to get out of poverty and go and stay in better places. You want to stay in Alexandra, it must be out of choice, you want to stay in Bloemfontein, in town, it must be out of choice. You can afford, yes, and you have not stolen money, yes, choose where you want to stay.”
The message to his supporters appeared to be that they could live wherever they wanted, that they should aspire to move out of the townships and into the suburbs. It is a powerful message to the millions of people whose living conditions are so much poorer than the conditions of those who live in the suburbs. In fact, in some areas, those conditions may be getting worse because of the lockdown and because Eskom is pursuing its policy of load reduction, and switching off areas that have not paid for electricity.
But the Sunday Times story suggests there may have been another intent in Malema’s comments about where he lives.
The newspaper reported that the Zondo Commission has asked the major banks to release details of bank accounts belonging to Malema and Shivambu.
It said the commission wants the financial records of Malema, Shivambu, Malema’s wife, his late grandmother, his attorney, the Ratanang Family Trust and other companies. It also reportedly wants financial details linked to Shivambu’s brother Brian Shivambu.
The obvious conclusion to be drawn is that the commission’s investigators believe these financial records contain evidence linking Malema and Shivambu to State Capture – and that the investigators are now following up evidence that links them both to benefiting from the looting of VBS Bank. There is already evidence published by Daily Maverick’s Pauli van Wyk which shows how money flowed from VBS to Malema and Shivambu, and precisely how they spent it.
While the political reaction to the publication of this evidence has been muted, were it to be read into the record at the Zondo Commission under oath, the impact could be explosive – particularly if witness evidence was led against them. And should Malema and Shivambu be cross-examined or called to testify, the pressure on them would be immense.
It would force the EFF leaders to explain their lifestyles. They might be accused of being “sellouts” themselves, or of only being in politics for personal financial gain and a lifestyle of luxury.
Malema and Shivambu have, in the past, battled to explain their spending.
Malema’s comments in Senekal on Friday, that he is a symbol of how black people must move into the suburbs, may be seen as part of a strategy to counter that. He may also argue that his membership of the Inanda Club is a part of this process.
Malema and Shivambu have said that questions about their money are “policing black wealth”. Of course, that is not so: the real question is whether that wealth was acquired through corrupt actions.
Malema has shown himself to be adept at controlling the temperature of some of our national discussions. In the case of Clicks, he was able to raise the temperature and then drop it again, when after a week of angry agitation he suddenly decided to accept an offer of a donation of sanitary pads to informal settlements from Clicks and the removal of TRESemmé products from its shelves for a few weeks.
This follows his pattern where he is able to dominate an issue, to make it burn, and then just as it appears the explosion is near, to turn off the gas.
But he cannot control everything. The Zondo Commission, as Jacob Zuma has discovered, is unstoppable, and no amount of screaming and prevaricating can change that. It is a legal process that moves slowly, but it certainly does move.
Malema will not be able to stop the Zondo Commission. But he could try to control the temperature around it. And this may be his next challenge. This game has just gained a whole new dimension. DM
Penguins push other penguins into the water to check if it is free of predators.
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