One-on-One with Julius Malema

2008-06-18 15:02

Cape Town - Newly elected ANC Youth League president, Julius Malema, was just ten years old when he was enrolled in the ANC's Mashupatsela programme.

"Young pioneers" as they were called, were trained in armed resistance during the politically charged days of the early nineties after Nelson Mandela's release from prison.

Malema, whose single mother was a domestic worker, learned how to make petrol bombs and put together firearms for what he reverently still refers to as "the revolution".

His eyes lit up as he talked about his politically-charged upbringing in a Limpopo township.


"When people were protesting we would push in tyres as if we were playing with them," he recounted. His experiences would inform his later militancy as a controversial president of the Congress of SA Students, general secretary of the ANCYL Limpopo branch and, as of April 2008, ANCYL President.

His predecessors have gone on to high-ranking positions within the main party and government.

Malema himself has been accused of being pompous, reckless and arrogant in the past.

Now the controversial president has hit the headlines again, following his comments at a Youth Day rally in the Free State on Monday. He stated: "We are prepared to die for Zuma. We are prepared to take up arms and kill for Zuma".

"There is a political intention to discredit him," he told News24 at an interview prior to the Youth Day rally. "There are strong powerful forces behind Zuma's issues."

The young leader (27 years old as opposed to outgoing president, 37-year-old Fikile Mbalula), squeezed in an interview with News24 at the airport, during a brief visit to Cape Town.

Malema, who answered every question carefully and politely, was not quite the fiery figure he appears in the media. He is on a mission to clean up the beleaguered party's image. He didn't flinch at questions about allegations of corruption, the league's role in the ANC succession battle and the hooliganism that characterised the national congress conference.

"The things which went wrong is the administration of the congress," said Malema. "Also the security of the conference and how people's concerns and disputes were handled."

The conference, which was plagued with allegations of drunkenness, nudity and racism, will be reconvened in June to elect the rest of the NEC. Malema promises much tighter administration and control this time. "Every time you speak you must speak through the chairperson, raise your view, and once your view has been defeated you can't disrupt a meeting of the ANCYL."


Previous reports about Malema don't inspire much confidence. He failed two grades at high school and, according to a Times report, was once ridiculed for trying to persuade pupils to refuse to study maths.

It is a charge he denies. "I said our government must make history compulsory. We must learn maths and science but as we learn those we must learn history."

He blames the chaos at the youth league's last conference on a lack of "political knowledge".

In his view, the league needs a strong policy research unit in order to make valid policy inputs. "You don't just become an organisation of howlers," he said.

A stronger research output is necessary to restore credibility to the league, which critics have slated for its often grammatically incorrect and misspelled press statements. Former president Mbalula was accused by the Mail and Guardian of copying an Oxfam article almost word for word and passing it off as his own in the ANC newsletter, Umrambulo, in November 2007.

Malema's emphasis on research is a deliberate departure from the business dealings that have hitherto underpinned the league's activities.

He said he will lobby as president for the closure of the league's multimillion rand investment arm, Lembede Investments, which was controversially financed by slain mining magnate, Brett Kebble.

"Being involved in business compromises the independence of the ANCYL because every time you open your mouth you must check if business will be happy or not," he said.

A cleaner league

If passed by the NEC, the closure of Lembede will also make for a cleaner league. Prominent league leaders who are known to have personally benefited from Lembede's deals include Songezo Mjongile, Andile Nkuhlu and Lunga Ncwana. The three leaders are now the subject of investigations by the Scorpions for allegedly receiving millions of rands stolen from Randgold and Exploration by Brett Kebble.

When it comes to Malema's own finances, he insists he has no business dealings and has purchased all he has with his ANCYL salary - an amount he is forbidden by the party to disclose to the media.

But for all his balance throughout the interview, Malema didn't resist blaming Zuma's court woes on "forces of darkness".

"They are people who move only in the night, you can't see them," he said "The imperialist forces are still involved."

But he maintained optimistic about the state of democracy in the country, despite the factionalism that characterised his election and the ruling party.

"We have only 15 or 16 years of democracy," he said. "We don't know it, we are trying to perfect it.

"I'm not defending what happened there," he said of the Youth League congress. "I'm saying people try to exercise their democratic rights and in the process they make mistakes because they don't know what this animal, democracy, looks like."

Click here to watch Malema's take on Youth Day.
Note: This report features sound.