Julius Malema, who was expelled from South Africa’s ruling African National Congress and is fighting corruption charges, is rallying support for his new party by reviving a call for the state seizure of mines, banks and land.
Malema, 32, a former ANC youth wing leader, is targeting the one-third of South Africans under the age of 34 who are unemployed and have seen little economic benefit from the nation’s transition to democracy since the first all-race elections in 1994. He led a failed bid for the ANC to nationalize mines in the world’s biggest platinum producer, which spooked investors. His Economic Freedom Fighters will begin a two-day conference in Soweto, near Johannesburg, today to plan its challenge in next year’s election.
The party is the fourth to be formed since March to tap disenchantment over the ANC’s failure to create jobs for the one in four South Africans who are unemployed and narrow the gap between rich and poor. While the ANC has won more than 60 percent support in every election since it took power, its image has been tainted by a series of corruption scandals since President Jacob Zuma came to the helm in December 2007.
“It might be worth giving Malema a chance,” Mosa Mphahama, 21, an unemployed Soweto resident said in an interview on July 24, as he sat on a bench in a public park watching children play on the rusted swings. “I can trust him. He’s not like Jacob Zuma with his empty promises.”
The ANC has secured support by extending access to welfare grants, housing, clean water and electricity. It contested the last national vote in 2009 against 26 parties and won 65.9 percent backing, almost four times more than its nearest rival, the Democratic Alliance.
Aside from Malema’s party, the other newcomers challenging the ANC are: Agang SA, led by former Gold Fields Ltd. chairwoman Mamphela Ramphele, which is promising more accountable government and to fight corruption; the Workers and Socialist Party, whose backers include miners who waged a series of strikes last year and is also pushing for the nationalization of mines, factories and banks; and SA First, created by former members of the ANC’s military wing who accuse the party of abandoning its core principles.
“It’s nearly 20 years since the advent of democracy and as South Africans we are taking stock,” Aubrey Matshiqi, a political analyst at the Johannesburg-based Helen Suzman Foundation, said in a July 24 phone interview. “The formation of these parties to some extent is a response to the question: How has the ANC done?”
Malema and the Economic Freedom Fighters have attracted publicity by sporting red berets, using communist jargon and praising the state seizure of assets in countries such as Zimbabwe and Venezuela.
“We are a protest movement,” Malema told a July 11 press conference in Johannesburg. “We have got a completely different plan. Ours is expropriation of land without compensation. We want to nationalize and those mines we want to nationalize, we are not going to pay for them. Our enemy No. 1 is monopoly capital.”
The party’s manifesto, released yesterday, also calls for the state to play a bigger role in the economy, provide free education, healthcare and housing and introduce minimum wages.
Malema was expelled from the ANC in March last year for sowing disunity after he criticized Zuma and refused to tow the party policy line on issues including nationalization.
He was then accused of earning 4 million rand ($408,000) from corrupt activities -- charges he says are part of a Zuma-led political conspiracy against him -- and is due to stand trial in November. He has also had his houses and farm seized and sold to defray unpaid tax bills.
The government is ready to act if Malema and his party occupy farms, Agriculture Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson told Johannesburg-based Beeld newspaper today. There is “no way we will allow people to sow discord in our farming communities for party-political gains,” she said.
As leader of the ANC Youth League, Malema helped Zuma to wrestle control of the ruling party from Thabo Mbeki in 2007. Malema dropped his support after Zuma failed to back his push to nationalize mines owned by companies such as Anglo American Plc and Impala Platinum Holdings Ltd.
His party’s recruits include Kenny Kunene, a businessman and ex-convict who gained notoriety after being photographed eating sushi off a near-naked woman’s body in a nightclub, and Floyd Shivambu, ex-spokesman for the ANC’s youth wing, who had charges of hate speech filed against him after he used a racial slur against a white journalist. He subsequently apologized.
The new parties lack organizational capacity and are unlikely to draw significant support in the elections, according to Zwelethu Jolobe, a political analyst at the University of Cape Town.
“Our party system is extremely saturated right now,” Jolobe said in a July 23 phone interview. “Any new entrant is going to enter under a very unfavorable climate.”
Dimakatso Motaung, 25, who shares a one-room shack with her mother, sister and two-year-old daughter in Soweto, and has been unemployed since finishing high school six years ago, isn’t banking on the Economic Freedom Fighters to improve her lot.
“Julius Malema is just saying what he knows the youth wants to hear and hoping that will get him votes in the elections next year,” she said in an interview on July 24 as she walked her child home from creche. “I don’t have faith that he’ll actually create any jobs or better the economic situation.”