Adriaan Basson

The spectacular unravelling of Julius Malema

2018-11-30 06:00
Julius Malema at the ANC Youth League’s 24th national congress.

Julius Malema at the ANC Youth League’s 24th national congress. (Felix Dlangamandla)

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There was a time when Julius Malema used to call me with tip-offs.

My whiteness wasn’t an issue when Malema gave me stories in our common pursuit to expose corruption.

This week Malema called me a “racist thing”. He no longer takes my calls. Malema is back to his ANC Youth League ways of toxic race politics.

The common thread? Corruption allegations against the self-styled “commander-in-chief” of the Economic Freedom Fighters.

Malema, and by implication the EFF which he rules with an iron fist, is unravelling before our eyes at breakneck speed.

It was only a year ago that Malema and the EFF were still riding their high horse against Jacob Zuma-sponsored state capture. And let's face it: we all loved the way at which Malema and his red command gave Zuma the stick.

The ANC was too impotent to do anything and the DA almost too civil in their approach to counter Zuma's term of shame.

We wanted someone to embarrass Zuma for everything he's done, and Malema comfortably played the role of public accuser number one.

"Pay back the money", "the Zuptas" and "uBaba ka Duduzane" were wonderful catchphrases, masterfully coined by Malema and his lieutenants in their campaign to lift Zuma out of his seat. And we played along.

Because we agreed with the EFF that Zuma was bad for the country. He had to go.

We willingly and knowingly parked Malema's own sins in the past. The rampant looting of Limpopo under his friend Cassel Mathale's premiership; the privatisation of key government functions to his friend Lesiba Gwangwa's On-Point in which Malema's Ratanang Trust owned shares, while he was preaching nationalisation; the findings by Thuli Madonsela against Malema; the criminal charges that kept being postponed ad infinitum until the NPA forgot about them.

In his new role as chief Zuma accuser, Malema won the support of the nation (even those who don't vote for him) and left behind his On Point-Gucci for red, anti-corruption overalls.

We know now that it was never an anti-corruption ticket, but an anti-Zuma corruption one.

My relationship with Malema started in 2011 when colleague Piet Rampedi and I revealed his family trust's links to multimillion-rand Limpopo tenders. At the time, Malema was ANCYL president and clearly a rising star in the ruling party.

After helping Zuma to power – for which he subsequently apologised – Malema became an enormously powerful power-broker in the ANC. Blessed with the gift of the gab, Malema was masterful in deflecting attention away from his own sins.

He reacted viciously to our investigation and Rampedi, who is from Limpopo, had to get bodyguards to protect him and his family after receiving death threats. I had racist slurs levelled at me, although it was difficult to do the same with Rampedi.

Malema had a phalanx of thugs around him, who didn't mind beating up anyone who stood in their way.

After being kicked out of the ANC, Malema was in the political wilderness and had to reinvent himself. We started to talk about the case against him and the extent to which Zuma was looting the country.

Malema never admitted to me that he did anything wrong. He saw the case against him as a conspiracy to have him imprisoned to limit his political ambitions.

We spoke about the ANC (he is till this day preoccupied with the internal workings of the governing party and pre-empts Cabinet announcements on Twitter) and the party's links to crime and corruption. He has an amazing ability to connect the dots between people and events.

Malema never had an issue with my whiteness and I often told colleagues how different the person was that I saw on the other side of the table to the rousing speaker on stage. I found him quite shy and often got the impression that he was craving a life away from the limelight with his wife and children.

I've since learned that the schizophrenic nature of politics is not limited to Malema.

When Zuma left the stage, Malema and the EFF needed to reinvent themselves again. He "allowed" Ramaphosa to win the ANC race and almost disappeared from the news radar until early this year when the ANC handed him the land ticket.

Advancing a cause, like land expropriation, will only take the EFF so far. Malema thrives on fighting an enemy and settled on Pravin Gordhan, white people and the media. He has learned well from Zuma on playing the victim card and we can expect a lot of that in the run-up to the May 2019 elections.

The revelations of EFF links to the VBS scandal and City of Johannesburg tenders comes at a terrible time for Malema. He wants to be Mr Clean going into the elections and we are spoiling his party.

That's why I'm suddenly a "racist thing" and Gordhan the biggest thug ever – if you believed the EFF's fake "charge sheet" against the public enterprises minister.

Malema the chameleon is reinventing himself again. He's desperate and scared. Buckle up.

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