Recent times have been quite eventful for Julius Malema, the effervescent leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), the party he founded alongside like-minded colleagues after their expulsion from the ANC in 2013. Divert attention?
The EFF, an organization that styles itself as the leaders of the deferred socialist and agrarian revolution which will end economic hardship in South Africa, seems to be discharging its load of vitriol, populism and racism in all directions every second day. Its Gatling gun-like approach to political discourse is ripping enormous holes in everything in its way: the judiciary, the media and the general public. In the process it is getting enormous media attention, riling up large sections of the public and reinforcing its supporters’ beliefs.
Earlier this week, writing for BusinessLive, Gareth van Onselen wrote that the EFF used to have some form of coherence, mostly centred on opposing Jacob Zuma, the destructive and devious former president. But since his forced departure from office in 2018, the EFF has struggled to find a new, clearly defined target. Rhetoric about economic freedom remains largely empty and the land issue is only wheeled out if Malema feels energy is ebbing from his angry supporters.
But Malema seems to have found a new focus: staying out of the courts and possibly out of jail.
And he’s trying to divert attention away from a slew of potential landmines by doing what he does best: attacking the judiciary, attacking the media and reverting to his weapon of first and last resort, race.
Race as a weapon
The EFF has aligned itself with the interests of Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane and besides its leaders being the source of many of the complaints laid against both President Cyril Ramaphosa and Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, it has been the most consistent and loudest defender of her professional honour. And this from a party that initially said that she wasn’t suited for the job.
Mkhwebane, at the EFF’s prodding and with its national chairperson (Dali Mpofu) leading her defence in the High Court in some matters, has however lost a series of skirmishes in the courts, which prompted Malema to attack Judge Sulet Potteril outside the High Court in Pretoria recently. Seeing the opportunity to use race as a weapon to attack the judiciary, he said they are not scared of “white” advocates and judges. His colleague Mbuyiseni Ndlozi later added that it was clear the judge gave white advocates more of a hearing than their black counterparts.
Then last week, interviewed in Pretoria after refusing to give a warning statement to the police in connection with a complaint of assault, Malema went full race nationalist in almost launching himself at radio reporter Barry Bateman, who, it must be said, showed remarkable restraint in the face of Malema’s aggression and race attacks. Clearly under pressure and losing his composure, Malema thundered about not being afraid of whites and Afrikaners and everyone associated with those groupings.
The death of Robert Mugabe, the former Zimbabwean president which led that country out of colonialism and into economic ruin, was hailed as an all-conquering hero by Malema and his coterie. Delivering a speech during a memorial service in Johannesburg – with a life-sized, embalmed effigy of the departed Mugabe next to him – he praised Mugabe’s policies from upon high, and then made perhaps one of his most startling statements yet.
He explained, to rapturous applause from his adoring audience, that Zimbabwe’s revolution was successful because it was achieved over the barrel of a gun, while South Africa – seemingly that country’s poor second cousin – had to make do with negotiations before political emancipation was achieved.
Malema, riding high on the serotonin released by
his affection for Mugabe, also partook in an EFF slideshow,
distributing a tweet with quotes (allegedly by Mugabe), one of which
said something along the lines of: “The only good white man is a dead white man.”
After his confrontation with Bateman, Malema and the EFF proceeded to announce that they’d “banned” the investigative units from Daily Maverick and amaBhungane, accusing them of playing politics and that they are “masquerading” as journalists.
Desperate for media attention
All of this – the attacks on the courts, the media, the racism – of course received the media attention Malema so desperately craves. Outrage and tweets and hysteria are what keep him going, and what keeps diverting attention from the real issues confronting him and his party.
Malema and many of his associates are the subjects of a range of investigations which could quite conceivably lead to him going to prison. He is still to answer for his role in the alleged corruption of On-Point Engineering, a fly-by-night firm based in Limpopo which scored millions of taxpayers’ rands earlier this decade by winning a series of government tenders. Malema was seemingly the very first “tenderpreneur”, using his political contacts to help enrich him and his supporters.
The On-Point matter was struck off the roll some years ago, but in doing so the judge made it clear the matter could easily be enrolled again and that is doesn’t mean an acquittal.
Added to this, the unfolding disaster that is VBS Mutual Bank seems to be weighing heavily on his mind. Daily Maverick has meticulously explained how companies and individuals linked to Malema and his junior, Floyd Shivambu, benefited from the looting of the bank, with R16,1m flowing to the party’s leadership, which included Malema.
And then there’s the minor issue of assault and the illegal discharge of a firearm which the NPA are in the process of sending to the courts.
Malema is known for the disgorging of dramatic and controversial statements. That’s his badge of honour and his reason for being. Those statements are increasing in frequency and toxicity precisely because his fingerprints are to be found on VBS and On-Point. He needs to discredit everyone associated with investigations and the prosecution of justice.
And that means the courts, the NPA and journalists will remain prime targets for his outlandish and incendiary statements.
It might catch the attention, it might dominate a news cycle. But nothing will dominate the headlines quite like the NPA charging Malema over On-Point and VBS.
And he doesn’t want that.