Ferial Haffajee

The unbearable contradictions of being Malema

2011-08-30 14:35

The “Hands-Off Malema” crew is getting loud and fighting hard.

It’s a good moment then to look at four confusing contradictions that define the agenda and life of the ANC Youth League president Julius Malema:  

1. Rather than a fight for economic liberation in our lifetime, Malema has used his political career to secure economic liberation in his own lifetime. At 30-years-old, he has a property portfolio that rivals any number of the "capitalist owners of the means of production" he is so fond of making speeches about.

He has publicly claimed that his only property in Johannesburg’s northern suburbs is bonded to Absa and that if he had lost the nomination as Youth League president earlier this year, "(Absa CEO) Maria Ramos's" henchmen would be at his gate taking back his home since it is so heavily mortgaged. 

It's a lie. Only 42% of the total purchase price of his Sandown mansion (the one that was bulldozed) is bonded. The other R2.1 million was paid in cash.  Investigations by City Press have revealed that Malema’s property empire of about six known homes is built on cash.  Research by City Press has shown that not more than 10% of working and middle-class South Africans can afford to buy their homes in cash.

2. Malema has denied, publicly, that he owns any businesses although the database of corporate ownership, Cipro, has revealed that he was a director of companies; and as we have shown, he has developed new ways of earning millions from the public purse. Malema admitted to the Mail & Guardian that his Ratanang Family Trust owns shares in On-Point Engineers – a tender-rich company that makes its money exclusively from government tenders.

Malema’s road to riches has been done by so many sleights of hand that it will take our team years to fully unravel, but it does show that Malema is as much a businessman as he is a politician though he spends much of his political life railing against capital.  His known business interests are in housing, engineering and roads construction and maintenance.

3. While Malema has pinned his political colours to the nationalisation flag, the company he partly owns is running outsourced operations for the state.  On-Point has taken over the management of tenders for Limpopo's roads and infrastructure department.  In all the literature, outsourcing is regarded as a form of privatisation and this must rank as a fundamental political contradiction.

The state lacks the skill to even spend its own money so it has outsourced the tender system. In Limpopo, it appears from our investigations that governance is contracted out (or privatised) almost completely and almost all to a network of politically connected companies.  Malema is at the centre of this network and the money trail to his coffers is  clear to see.  He has paid cash for properties, he runs his lifestyle in cash and On-Point has been used as a cash-cow for the Youth League. 

The Public Protector is not only probing the deals but whether the contracting out to On-Point is legal or not.  Thus, Malema has secured his own economic freedom from a form of privatisation.  His radical politics of revolution, nationalisation and expropriation are a chimera of a man who does not walk his talk.  So, while he casts himself as a latter-day Che Guevara, he is more a Tokyo Sexwale, the businessman-cum-politician.

4. Malema’s radical geopolitics are another stark contradiction.  His stance on Botswana's rights decline is not in direct contradiction to cosying up to  the Zanu-PF Youth Brigade in Zimbabwe whose leaders have given him cattle and with whom he is allegedly in business.  

The ANC Youth League is right to insist on generational mix - political leadership drawn from a wider age range than the current crop. But before that crown is given to Malema, it’s important to investigate the contradictions at the heart of this young man who it talented, but also compromised.

- Ferial Haffajee is editor of City Press. Follow her on Twitter.

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