Max du Preez

Malema 'will reduce the country to ashes'

2016-04-26 07:07

Max du Preez

People who gloat over the ANC’s present problems should realise that it’s the Economic Freedom Fighters that benefit most from the governing party’s decline.

In fact, the EFF could well be the fastest growing political party in South Africa.

EFF leader Julius Malema showed his and his party’s true colours during his weekend interview with Al Jazeera. He wasn’t addressing a wild crowd where one could dismiss his rhetoric as hot air coming from a showman; it was a studio interview of almost an hour with a single, polite interviewer.

I watched him on my television screen and realised that this man wasn’t going to disappear from our political scene any time soon. He wants to and believes he should be president of South Africa; he wants to be crowned the Emancipator of Africa.

Malema shares sharp instincts for survival and strategy with his nemesis, Jacob Zuma, but he has other talents too: he understands symbolism and political timing and he is young. He is only 35 years old.

My impression is also that he is wholly reckless and will reduce the country to ashes if that’s what it takes to gain power.

Chilling interview

It seems likely now that the EFF is going to reject some or all the election results on August 3 if it fares worse than it expected in certain regions.

As we have witnessed elsewhere in Africa, disputing election results is one of the big triggers for serious instability.

Malema told Al Jazeera that the 2014 election (when the Independent Electoral Commission’s credibility was still high) was rigged and that the ANC had actually lost in Johannesburg and in all of Gauteng. He didn’t say who he thought had actually won.

The chilling part of the interview was when he threatened war. He didn’t do it in a huff nor did he have a slip of the tongue; he said it twice, slowly and in a sober and calculating way: “We’ll run out of patience very soon, and we’ll remove this government through a [sic] barrel of a gun.” He meant it literally, he repeated, that the EFF would take up arms and fight the government. The EFF wasn’t afraid of the army, he said.

Note that he didn’t say the EFF would defend itself or its supporters, but that it would remove the government violently.

(Someone, I forget who, wrote on the weekend that Malema suffers from “struggle envy”. I think that’s probably true.)

A little further on in the interview he confirmed to the interviewer that the EFF considered the constitution to be its “Bible”. He wasn’t pushed to explain how a violent takeover of power could be reconciled with constitutionalism.

But I doubted Malema’s sincerity and honesty (not his intelligence – he’s a clever man) even more when he was questioned about the economy. He repeated the story that the EFF was a socialist party that wanted to nationalise the mines and that it was planning to seize all white-owned land without compensation and lease parcels out to farmers, as long as they created jobs and aided the economy. Whites had stolen the land by committing “black genocide”, he said twice.

Malema must know very well by now that mining is in a sharp decline and shedding tens of thousands of jobs. They’re not something you want to burden the citizens with.

He really must understand also that commercial farming isn’t possible when farmers have no land to put up as security and if they don’t have security of tenure; that small-scale farmers all over the world are generally the poorest class.

Malema simply dismissed questions about the relationship between the South African and the world economy and the potential impact on confidence and investors if the country were to nationalise mines, banks and industries. Someone should have told him of the impact of a small event, that which took place on December 9 last year.

Voter trust

When the Al Jazeera interviewer reminded him that the EFF swore by the Constitution, but that it outlaws appropriation without compensation, Malema contested this, saying the EFF wants the Constitutional Court to make a clarifying order that it was indeed constitutionally possible. When the interviewer quoted the relevant section, Malema changed his tune and said the constitution should be amended.

He said the EFF had grown by 6% per year since it was founded three years ago, which, if he’s correct, would make it a 30% party. The EFF was going to win the 2019 election and govern, he declared confidently. Or would they be in government already by then having overthrown the ANC by force?

As Donald Trump has shown, there seems to be an appetite among voters nowadays for politicians who show a fat middle finger to the establishment and put their most basic instincts into words. This seems to be Malema’s approach too.

But Malema could eventually face the same fate many analysts predict that Trump is going to face. Voters like him because he says what they want to hear and he promises them stuff, but when it comes to choosing the president, they might just say they would actually prefer a safer pair of hands; that they don’t trust him to have the power of head of state.

Malema is trying to woo two distinct groups of voters:  the upcoming young black middle class and students, and the unemployed, badly educated mass of black youth in the townships and squatter camps.

The first group might not like his wild talk about a violent coup, etcetera, so much and in the end stay with the ANC, and the second group has to be mobilised, persuaded to register as voters and then to go to the polls; something they hadn’t done before. If the EFF does get its act together to mobilise this group instead of simply focusing on symbolism and radical rhetoric, it could in fact win the 2019 election or at least come very close to it.

Whatever happens, my guess is that Julius Sello Malema will still be in the headlines and on the tv screens in 2019 and beyond.

- Follow Max on Twitter.

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