Malema stokes passions ahead of vote

2019-05-04 08:17
CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA ? FEBRUARY 12: EFF leader
(Gallo Images)

Like any crowd-puller, EFF leader Julius Malema knows how to build excitement: keep audiences waiting, then tell them what they want to hear.

For two long hours, his supporters had been whipped into a fervour with revolutionary slogans, thumping music, and warm-up speeches at a packed stadium in Alexandra in Johannesburg.

Finally their leader appeared, emerging from a German limousine and taking a lap of honour around the venue, milking the roars of approval flooding down from the stands.

"Forward to victory in 2019 - forward," the crowd chanted.

Malema wore the party's signature red beret and was surrounded by a phalanx of bodyguards known as "defenders of the revolution".

Read: Malema bites back after PowerFM caller says he deserved to be 'necklaced'

The radical left EFF hopes to make major gains in the election if the ruling ANC pays the price of deep public disenchantment over delays in poverty eradication since apartheid ended in 1994.

"He is the only one to feel our pain. He is the only one to help the people," said Steven Chauke, 58, a local man who has been unemployed for 16 years.

"Over the last 25 years, the ANC has never worked for the people - only for themselves. He's the one who is going to liberate us."

One week before the election, Malema chose to hold his May 1 rally in friendly territory.

A growing force

Alexandra has suffered badly from the failures of ANC rule - massive unemployment, non-existent public services, crime and corruption.

Such issues allowed Malema, who was once an ANC youth leader, to form his own party in 2013 and build it within a few years into a growing force.

"Alex is the home of the EFF, the home of the poor," he told the crowd. "Don't go to some decorated places... Alex is what South Africa looks like.

"Today Alex says: 'Enough is enough,'"

Up in the stands, Kukie Ijeo, 47, from Hillbrow - another of Johannesburg's toughest districts - lapped up Malema's speech.

Also read: 'Why is Malema important?' - Lekota likens EFF leader to a 'little fly' dropped in milk

"We don't have anything. We need jobs, we need houses, we need water, electricity, land, education," she said.

"We just want everything promised in our (post-apartheid) Constitution - but nothing has changed yet."

Malema relentlessly targets ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa over the country's economic tribulations, the ruling party's many corruption scandals and Ramaphosa's alleged favouring of the country's white minority.

The EFF's flagship policy is to seize land from largely white owners - individuals and companies - to give to poor blacks.

"We must expropriate land without compensation and give it to the people of Alexandra to build their own houses. Let's share the wealth of South Africa," Malema told the rally.

Reverse racism?

"Let us build a solid foundation for an African child so that an African child will grow up not being scared of a white counterpart," he said, touching on the incendiary topic of race relations.

"I have no problem with white people at all. I've a problem with them being treated special," he told AFP during the campaign, dismissing accusations of anti-white racism.

"No white is going to be killed or beaten up under an EFF government. It will never happen, but they will have to come down from their high horse," he said.

Malema's approach appears to be working as he builds support among the young and poor.

The EFF won 8% in nationwide municipal elections in 2016 and polls suggest it could win between 10 and 15% in the May 8 general vote.

Read more: Why more people than before will vote EFF on May 8

Malema, aged just 38, sees himself as the next president of South Africa, though analysts doubt this will happen.

"The EFF will do well, something around 10%, maybe above," Frans Cronje, head of the Institute of Race Relations, said.

"But they can't get much more than that because the majority of this country is moderate conservative."

Not all black South Africans are sold on Malema's fiery rhetoric and outlandish promises.

"He is like all politicians," Respect Nethananai, 34, an Alexandra resident, grumbled. "He just wants power."

Malema appears unwilling to temper his rhetoric, despite having been hauled before a tribunal for hate speech - saying his party would not seek the slaughter of whites "at least for now".

In typical defiant fashion, he ended his May Day speech by singing the "Kiss the Boer", changing the lyrics of the song "Kill the Boer" that previously landed him in hot water.

,election 2019

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Read more on: eff  |  julius malema  |  politics  |  elections 2019

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