South Africa


Eight years later, Julius Malema’s path to relevance is still characterised by peddling populism and violence

Eight years later, Julius Malema’s path to relevance is still characterised by peddling populism and violence
EFF leader Julius Malema gives the party's virtual eighth anniversary speech on 26 July 2021 in Ekurhuleni, Gauteng. (Photo: Gallo Images / OJ Koloti)

Leader of the EFF Julius Malema used the party’s birthday to challenge President Cyril Ramaphosa to ‘remove the soldiers from the streets and confront the people of South Africa’. It remains to be seen if the pleaser and populist commander-in-chief will persuade the people of South Africa to take his bait in greater numbers.

Eight years since its founding, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) has grown into a political party able to conduct a virtual anniversary rally on a zero-rated data stream from its website on Monday. 

Party leader Julius Malema used the occasion to challenge President Cyril Ramaphosa to withdraw his army from the looting hotspots and visit those areas himself to turn the toxic tide. “We want to challenge Ramaphosa to remove the soldiers from the streets and confront the people of South Africa,” he said.

“He must stop hiding behind the uniform of the soldiers and confront the reality that our people are confronted with on a daily basis. If you are a man, Ramaphosa, and you know you have been elected legitimately by the people of South Africa who love you, and that you did not buy the presidency through the money of the white monopoly capital, then go and speak to the masses on the ground,” he said.

That is, incidentally, exactly what Ramaphosa did as the worst of the looting subsided, when he visited the eThekwini Metro to address patriotic clean-up teams. Fortunately for Malema, he didn’t have to conduct this birthday rally next to some wreck of a looted mall or address edgy residents, because the EFF miraculously complied with Covid-19 lockdown regulations again after hosting a few super-spreader rallies and marches which epidemiologists said could have contributed to the high numbers of infections and deaths during the surge of the pandemic’s third wave. 

In 2013, for example, the party held its founding rally in Marikana where it had real street-cred among the mining community, and when the area was a no-go zone for ANC leaders after the fatal shooting of striking mineworkers the year before.

There are also Malema’s mind-altering half-truths and contradictions which he delivers like a seer: 

“Some of you even call us prophets,” Malema told his virtual audience. “We are not prophets, we use proper tools of analysis.” 

He produced a snippet from the EFF’s founding manifesto

“Any form of generalised uprising will be harshly suppressed by the state machinery in order to prevent it from escalating to a level where a sitting government can be toppled,” he read.

While it could still happen in future, what has happened at many malls in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng was not a “generalised uprising” and state machinery didn’t harshly suppress it. 

Instead, vigilante citizen groups defended themselves while police (state machinery, according to Malema) were overrun and/or looked on. Soldiers were eventually sent in with orders not to shoot. More than 300 deaths resulted from the violence, but analysis on this grim figure is still lacking and there’s no clear evidence yet that a significant number of these died at the hands of “state machinery”. If this was the case, more information on it would have surfaced by now. 

Perhaps the man who calls himself the commander-in-chief of an army of economic freedom fighters is just offended by the sight of soldiers he can’t order around. 

“Soldiers were set on the streets of South Africa to threaten [those who tried to protest against this government] from exercising their democratic right,” just as the EFF had predicted, Malema went on. While he condemned the “looting and the destruction of property” (he implied leaders should have used their power of persuasion to make this stop), he said the EFF sided with “the people who were engaged in the activities of looting and fighting to provide food for their children”.

It’s unclear where the EFF stands in relation to the people who were engaged in the activities of looting a million rounds of live ammunition; those of the people who were engaged in the activities of looting appliances loaded into luxury cars; or those whose Twitter accounts carried messages of encouragement to the looters from the comfort of Nkandla, such as Duduzile Sambudla-Zuma, who also happened to tweet a video on Monday of herself delivering a birthday message to the EFF.

While he said what happened two weeks ago was not an insurrection or attempted coup, he warned that “the state will intensify their attack on defenceless people who are not toppling government through any undemocratic method but through protest and showing their dissatisfaction against this kleptocratic government of the ANC”.

Presumably, elections fit in here somewhere too. 

Malema also addressed possible misunderstandings on whether he wanted to incite further looting at the height of the unrest: 

“No soldiers on our streets! Otherwise, we are joining. All fighters must be ready… they won’t kill us all,” read his tweet on Monday, 12 July. It amounted to nothing, and that’s exactly the way he intended it, Malema said.

Whatever was supposed to have happened, there is still a greater likelihood of Malema successfully fomenting a generalised uprising than winning a majority of the votes in the upcoming local government elections, even if these are postponed to February 2022. 

Even though the 1.8 million votes in the 2019 general election was an impressive feat for this young upstart party, the 10.7% of the electorate that this represents is still a lot smaller than the big dreams of its leader. 

Eight EFF years later, Malema’s a pleaser and a populist, and the contradictions in his statements represent a desire to be all things to all people, and so to become a kingmaker ready to exploit the gap available for strongmen in South Africa’s immature coalition politics. Only time will prove if the people of South Africa will take his bait in greater numbers. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Peter Doble says:

    This populist pipsqueak has electorally peaked. As long as the credible alternatives don’t leave a vacuum, he won’t find the oxygen to remain relevant.

  • James Miller says:

    What could be worse, in a country blighted by poverty, than a political “leader” who paints himself as an ally of the poor while simultaneously stealing from them? And that may be the least of his sins if he ever attained power.

  • Dr Know says:

    Since when do the non-ruling party have a say in our neighbours politics, let alone take physical actions such as sanctions? My family in Eswatini have suffered damages due to EFF action at the borders, blocking food, fuel and essentials from entering the country and which has led to the loss of one their businesses. May we sue Juju for damages?

  • Trevor Pope says:

    Juju has a problem – the EFF’ers monopoly on violent mass action has been broken by the RET mob. The state will not be able to sit on its hands in future violent protests which will severely curtail the EFF’ers public profile.

  • Ian McGill says:

    The African version of Eugene Terreblanche except he uses a Range Rover instead of falling off his horse. Still waiting for you to ….(kill for Zuma….take down the e-toll gantries…..employ your ‘fighters’…..and so on….)

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    Who is funding this man (apart from the defunct VBS Bank) and why is he not exposed for the Russian puppet that he is? Perhaps he does not even realize that he is just being used by a greater power for their own ends. Merely a pawn in the game of life lol!

  • James McQueQue says:

    Leaders who tell their supporters what they want to hear (no matter if its the truth or not) are by far the most dangerous kind of leader. They feed the deepest darkest prejudices every human has. How they can go home at night and tuck their kids into bed is beyond me. Thank goodness we don’t have a tv network who punts his lies for profit (yet!).

  • Ian Gwilt says:

    On news 24 today or EWNS there were two stories with headlines, Malema tells Ramaphosa to pull out the army, Malema calls for service industry grants.
    Populist and Prat. A couple of mild titles for the Commander
    I have decided to self sensor and not read any of his inane ramblings in order to keep my blood pressure down
    But crafted opinion pieces like this I will read
    I also look forward to reading about the VBS reckoning, although maybe I ask too much.

  • Gerrit Marais says:

    The only reason this man has any cachet is because the media gives him so much airspace. Shut him out of the media and he will quickly disappear.

  • Rg Bolleurs says:

    The 7 pillars of the EFF are in many places both inconsistent and incoherent. That this escapes them is quite mindboggling, unless they are intended to entice the gullible

  • Carol Green says:

    According to the Sunday Times Malema told Zuma during the tea meeting: “President, I’m going to be president of this country one day, whether you like it or not.” If that happens we are in serious trouble.

    • Charles Parr says:

      That’s his fantasy world. But who knows, anything can happen in this country.

      • Carol Green says:

        Agreed. I have my doubts as I do think the majority of South Africans are more middle of the road. But people with limited support have been known to come to power through coalitions and that’s my concern. Or he could get back into the ANC….

        Peter Bruce recently interviewed John Steenhuisen, whom I haven’t been impressed with since he became the leader of the DA. But Steenhuisen seems to be taking a different stance – rather focus on getting constitutionalists across party lines together instead of the traditional DA oppositional politics. I think that’s the only hope we have – if all constitutionalists can rise above party afflictions to save the country.

  • Dellarose Bassa says:

    When is ol’ Julius going to ditch his French beret & change his first name to something a little less colonial? Ditto the European designer wear & vehicles of which he & his ilk are much enamoured.
    There is only ONE Commander-in-Chief in this country and that is the President of the Republic – but ol’ Julius didn’t get that memo.
    In all his years on this planet ol’ Julius has not invented one useful object, nor created one useful, income-generating & job-creating enterprise with the sweat of his own hard work and his own creative thinking processes. All he’s done is take – from other people’s hard earned sweat.
    In short, Ol’ Julius has not really worked a day in his life. All he’s done is create havoc under the guise of “fighting” for the poor & try to hone the art of the catch-phrase. All the soundbites created by Gupta-hired PR company, Bell Pottinger, are trotted out ad infinitum, ad nauseam by the EFF & their new-found relatives, the so-called Radical Economic Transformation cabal. ‘White Monopoly Capital’ is their regular default backup “war cry”. No prizes for guessing who’s funding both these cliques.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

We would like our readers to start paying for Daily Maverick...

…but we are not going to force you to. Over 10 million users come to us each month for the news. We have not put it behind a paywall because the truth should not be a luxury.

Instead we ask our readers who can afford to contribute, even a small amount each month, to do so.

If you appreciate it and want to see us keep going then please consider contributing whatever you can.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options