Julius Malema, the expelled youth leader of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress, is seeking support for his new party from disillusioned workers at the site of last year’s deadly mining violence.
Malema, 32, introduced his Economic Freedom Fighters today at a rally in Marikana, the mining town located about 130 kilometers (80 miles) northwest of Johannesburg where 34 people were killed after police opened fire on a crowd of striking mineworkers on Aug. 16, 2012.
“The EFF is trying to capitalize on a high profile government error, maybe even a government crime, that allows them to identify with the poor people and those most affected by the shooting in that region,” Daryl Glaser, a political analyst at the University of the Witwatersrand, said in a telephone interview from Johannesburg.
The leader of the EFF addressed hundreds gathered for the event, saying that white South Africans are refusing to hand over land their forefathers stole from blacks, the South African Press Association reported.
“Till today, they are not ashamed of the killing of our people,” Malema said, according to the SAPA. “We are not going to beg for the land. Bring back the land.”
Malema and the Economic Freedom Fighters have attracted publicity by calling for the state seizure of mines, banks and land, using communist jargon and praising the government appropriation of assets in countries such as Zimbabwe and Venezuela.
The ANC, which has won every election since the first multiracial vote in 1994, is facing challenges from new political parties in next year’s vote, including Agang SA, led by former Gold Fields Ltd. Chairwoman Mamphela Ramphele. Malema is targeting unemployed young people, who make up about a third of South Africa’s 53 million population, by reviving a call for the state to seize control of mines, banks and farms.
Malema was expelled from the ANC in March last year for insulting senior leaders and calling for the overthrow of the government in neighboring Botswana. A one-time ally of President Jacob Zuma, Malema helped him oust Thabo Mbeki as head of the ANC in 2007. Since his expulsion, Malema has become one of Zuma’s biggest critics as the government struggles to cut a 25.6 percent jobless rate.
The ANC’s support in Marikana has been eroded as workers ditched the National Union of Mineworkers, an ally of the ruling party, for the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union. Rivalry between the two labor groups at Lonmin Plc (LMI)’s platinum mine in Marikana helped spark the violence that led to the police shooting last year.
While the EFF may win about 4 percent support in the elections, Malema’s popularity is growing in Marikana as his message resonates with workers faced with mine closures, job losses and high indebtedness, said Glaser.
“If they get something like 4 percent, that’s considerable and may even throw off the ANC and may lead to it re-evaluating its strategy because it needs to maintain the patronage that it has had in past elections,” he said.
The ANC won 65.9 percent of the national vote and about 73 percent in the North West province, where Marikana is situated, in 2009. Its main opponent, the Democratic Alliance, secured 16.7 percent nationally, while the Congress of the People, a breakaway faction of the ANC, received 7.4 percent, according to official results.
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