Dodgy deals in spotlight as Malema heads to court

2014-09-29 22:17
EFF leader Julius Malema (Werner Beukes, Sapa)

EFF leader Julius Malema (Werner Beukes, Sapa)

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2014-09-26 14:10

Times Media Editor at Large, Ray Hartley, tells us why people should take Julius Malema more seriously. Watch.WATCH

Cape Town - Allegations of sleaze among top politicians comes into sharp and ironic focus on Tuesday as the country's most vociferous anti-graft campaigner goes on trial - for corruption.

In the dock will be EFF leader Julius Malema, who led chants of "pay back the money" against President Jacob Zuma as Parliament collapsed into chaos last month.

If convicted, Malema will lose his seat in Parliament, neatly solving the problem of how the government deals with his troublesome questions - in the Assembly at least.

But Zuma cannot be feeling too comfortable as he watches the law take its course - relentless efforts to reinstate 700 charges of corruption against him have received fresh impetus.

The charges were dropped shortly before he became president in 2009, allegedly because of interference in the prosecution case by his political opponents.

But new details emerged in the media this week of how Zuma is said to have accepted a bribe from the French arms firm Thales by uttering the coded phrase: "I see the Eiffel Tower lights are shining today".

The government denies any wrongdoing.

The charges relate to a multi-billion rand arms deal signed in 1999 which has long haunted Zuma and other government officials alleged to have taken kickbacks.

However, in an indication of the breadth of the suspicions against the president, that is not the money that Malema was demanding that Zuma repay.

He wants Zuma to cough up some of the R246m of taxpayers' money spent on security upgrades at his Nkandla home. Public Protector Thuli Madonsela recommended in her report on the upgrade that Zuma should pay back a portion of the money. 

In another irony, the demand to "pay back the money" could just as easily be directed at Malema himself, who owed R18m in unpaid taxes. Malema told City Press the money had been paid, but he wouldn't say by whom. 

It is far from clear how the 33-year-old politician got his hands on enough money to owe that much in tax, though a clue could lie in the fact that he was leader of the ANC Youth League for four years until 2012.

The wannabe graft-buster faces charges of fraud, corruption, money-laundering and racketeering over his links to a R56m government contract.

Champion of the poor

The fact that both men continue to make pronouncements about their determination to fight corruption can at times leave ordinary South Africans shaking their heads in grimly amused disbelief.

"The sad experience of the arms deal saga was a rude awakening for our country which, emerging out of apartheid, naïvely believed that our politicians - many of whom had devoted their lives to fighting for freedom - could be trusted to act in the public interest without lining their pockets," the Sunday Times wrote in an editorial this week.

Despite this, both Zuma and Malema can count on massive support as they fight the allegations against them.

The ANC has shown that it is prepared to use all its power as government to protect the president, while EFF members are expected to turn out in force to support their "commander in chief" at his trial.

Police have said security will be tight and roads will be closed around Limpopo High Court in Polokwane, "to ensure peace and stability".

In a final irony, many of those supporting Malema presumably believe his reinvention of himself as a champion of the poor, which sees him swap his designer outfits for workers' overalls when he appears in Parliament.

Read more on:    anc  |  eff  |  julius malema  |  jacob zuma  |  polokwane  |  crime  |  politics  |  nkandla upgrade  |  fraud

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