Enter the Stormy Petrel: Even as Leaders and Dignitaries from around the World Were Gathering to Pay Homage and Bid a Final Farewell to Nelson Mandela, South Africa's Political Battle Lines Were Being Formed and Reformed as Elections Loom Larger. Solidly in the Mix Is Julius Malema, Who Has Already Declared Himself the True Heir to Mandela's Legacy. Tom Nevin Assesses Malema's Appeal

African Business, January 2014 | Go to article overview

Enter the Stormy Petrel: Even as Leaders and Dignitaries from around the World Were Gathering to Pay Homage and Bid a Final Farewell to Nelson Mandela, South Africa's Political Battle Lines Were Being Formed and Reformed as Elections Loom Larger. Solidly in the Mix Is Julius Malema, Who Has Already Declared Himself the True Heir to Mandela's Legacy. Tom Nevin Assesses Malema's Appeal


Julius Malema, South Africa's erstwhile ANC youth leader and the latest runner in this year's general election, is ensuring that next year's elections will be about creating an "economy for all" in a more equal sharing of the country's wealth.

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Described as the original 'India Rubber Man', he bounced back from potentially lethal setbacks. He was removed as president of the governing party's youth wing, kicked out of the ANC and dragged into court on multiple commercial criminal charges. Notwithstanding, to look at him now as the bubbling, high-spirited and supremely confident chief of the new Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party, you'd think he didn't have a care. Copious and rowdy support has followed his various court appearances, and filled the halls and sports grounds venues at EFF political rallies.

Supporters are almost exclusively the youth, most educated and many unemployed and all receptive to his undisguised populous message that calls for the nationalisation of such targets as agriculture, manufacturing, mining and the financial sector, and for the destruction "once and for all of economic imperialism".

It's unlikely that Malema's EFF will form the next government but some unruliness in the political status quo can be expected. The radical new party will be a wildcat amongst South Africa's predominantly temperate administrative pigeons and some disruption in the moderate policy making process is a given.

Malema's political ambitions might well have kicked off on a propitious note. He received the news late in 2013 that his trial, in which he and four business associates face charges of fraud, corruption, money laundering and racketeering, won't be held until after the elections. The date is undecided but polling must be held on or before [30.sup.th] May.

The state prosecutor pleaded for more time, citing the matter's "voluminous nature". The judge agreed and the matter was set down for September. The prosecution alleges that the five accused misrepresented themselves to the Limpopo roads and transport department, leading to a R52m ($5.5m) contract being awarded to On-Point Engineering, a company linked to Malema's family trust. He is alleged to have made nearly R4m ($387m) from corrupt activities.

Fight political bufoonery

For the EFF chief, the court hearing was an opportunity for lusty electioneering, occasioned by the large crowd of supporters gathered for the court proceedings. "We are not here for court, we are here for [a] rally," he told the crowd from a platform erected close to the court.

"Political analysts agree that Malema has tapped into a powerful, unheard constituency-the unemployed youth. But Malema's audience, and his voting target market, are not simply unemployed," comments Verashni Pi llay of the Mail and Guardian newspaper. "To hear Malema tell it, they are ashamed and ignored. They feel left behind by their country and leaders and have a host of social ills to battle that have affected their core sense of self-HIV, rape, abuse and the shame of having no gainful employment."

Vince Musewe, a Zimbabwean economist, says listening to Julius Malema campaign sends chills down his spine. "Here in Zimbabwe those rural folk who were allocated peri-urban land before the elections are now being evicted. They have delivered the vote," he says, referring to Zimbabwe's general election last year that brought President Robert Mugabe back to power. "Progressive black South Africans must be worried. The masses are ignorant and have no inkling of what it takes to run a successful economy. All they want is better salaries, better houses, social grants and jobs, but today these come through intelligent economic management and not through the outright repossession of land and companies by politicians and their cronies.

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Enter the Stormy Petrel: Even as Leaders and Dignitaries from around the World Were Gathering to Pay Homage and Bid a Final Farewell to Nelson Mandela, South Africa's Political Battle Lines Were Being Formed and Reformed as Elections Loom Larger. Solidly in the Mix Is Julius Malema, Who Has Already Declared Himself the True Heir to Mandela's Legacy. Tom Nevin Assesses Malema's Appeal
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