By Rafiq Raji, PhD
South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma probably regrets the day he decided Julius Malema had to be removed as president of the African National Congress (ANC) Youth League and expelled from the ruling ANC party. ‘Juju’ – as Mr Malema is affectionately known (which actually means ‘sorcery’ in popular Nigerian parlance) – has been unrelenting in his onslaught against the embattled South African leader. Mr Zuma probably assumed Juju lacked enough substance to be able to carry his own weight outside of the ANC. He judged poorly. With no ANC party machinery to restrain him, Juju has been firing on all cylinders. President Zuma has been easy prey in any case. With all the numerous corruption allegations against Mr Zuma, Mr Malema has been spoilt for choice. More substantively, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) – the ultra-leftist and populist party Mr Malema founded in July 2013, just a little over a year after his ejection from the ruling ANC in April 2012 – went ahead to secure significant gains in the May 2014 general elections, earning more than 1 million votes and securing 25 seats in the 400-member South African parliament; no small feat for a youth leader in about 2 years after being removed from his comfort zone. A little digression: For Nigerian and other African youths who harp constantly about old men refusing to give up power, Mr Malema’s rise is instructive. No one hands over power voluntarily.
In a revealing interview with Al Jazeera recently, Mr Malema threatened a violent retaliation should authorities continue to harass and beat up EFF members. He actually threatened to remove President Zuma’s government “through the barrel of a gun,” raising longstanding worries about a potentially violent dimension to EFF’s economic freedom advocacy. Having watched the interview myself, it is noticeable his remarks were premeditated and well thought through. He offered the view without pressure from the interviewer, Jonah Hull – who by the way did a great job masking his excitement at the excellent scoop and was incidentally once at the receiving end of Juju’s acerbic tongue. To ensure that the remarks were fully taken, the interviewer asked him to clarify them and was candid as to why. Mr Malema was unrelenting. In response, the ANC has asked the police to investigate Mr Malema for treason, an overreaction by most accounts. Analysts agree that since his threat of violence was conditional, the charges are not likely to hold. Incidentally, the National Prosecution Authority (NPA) faces a dilemma. Just last week, a South African High Court set aside an earlier ruling that quashed about 800 corruption charges against Mr Zuma – which enabled him become president after the ouster of then President Thabo Mbeki. If the NPA chooses to pursue Mr Malema – the case for which is very weak – while refusing to pursue charges against Mr Zuma, it would raise questions about responsibility and diligence. It would certainly raise eyebrows if the almost 800 corruption charges are not reinstituted against the South African president; especially as he is not likely to thread the path of honour and resign, despite wide-ranging calls for him to do so. In any case, Mr Malema re-affirmed his threat of violence conditional upon same from authorities at the very well-attended Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) manifesto launch – which dwarfed earlier launch events by rival parties, especially that of the ruling ANC – on 30 April 2016.
Juju and his EFF have been successful thus far due to their fervent, aggressive, and populist but non-violent rhetoric. This approach broadens their appeal. I hope the EFF would not test this recent violent rhetorical approach any further. It would do no one any good. And if Juju desires revolutionary credentials, he should know that glory would only come if he successfully uses non-violent means to mobilize the majority of South Africans – especially its teeming youth population (who are mostly unemployed by the way) – towards building the rainbow nation of Nelson Mandela’s dreams; one where there is not only racial equality but economic equity as well. There is a lot of history and knowledge on how ownership of assets by itself does not create wealth. Africa’s relatively slow progress provides ample evidence on this. Skill and expertise matter. In Africa, South Africa has the enviable position of having both rich mineral and highly skilled human resources. Its leaders, whether in the ANC or the EFF, must strive to harness both. What needs to be found is the right balance between seeking equity for all South Africans while continuing to provide incentives for capitalism to thrive and for wealth to continue to be created. Despite his socialist rhetoric, I still believe this is Julius Malema’s desire as well. If not, it may fall on him to provide that dose of realism when the EFF eventually secures power. What is likely in local government elections slated for August – EFF’s first – is that the EFF would likely win some council seats. This should enable it show South Africans its own flavour of governance as it aims to secure the presidency in due course. But there is now not any doubt that the EFF has become a force to be reckoned with. Judging from the overwhelming show of support for the EFF during the weekend, the radical party may actually be in a position to determine who becomes South Africa’s next president in 2019; that is, if it does not succeed in getting its own candidate elected. But with its current momentum, it would not surprise me at all if the EFF actually produces the next South African president in 2019. Still, the party needs to convert its supporters into actual voters. Also, Mr Malema should not be totally dismissive of the Democratic Alliance (DA) – currently South Africa’s leading opposition party in parliament. Although the party’s first black leader, Mmusi Maimane, has been relatively successful in projecting an increasing sense of diversity within the DA, that is not yet a reality in fact. DA’s task should now be to work harder towards being seen more as an aspirational party for all South Africans as opposed to the middle-class and white interests party it is still perceived to be. All of these are possible in an atmosphere of non-violence. So even as Juju and his EFF become ever more popular, voices should and must be raised high to ensure Juju gets the message that non-violence is his best bet to succeed; as is also the case for all South Africans.
Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria newspaper back-page column. See link viz. http://businessdayonline.com/2016/05/non-violence-is-jujus-best-bet/