South African Police to Investigate Malema for Violence Comments

  • ANC brings formal request to police to probe Julius Malema
  • Malema on al-Jazeera threatened to oust government by force

South African police are investigating an opposition leader, Julius Malema, for “inflammatory” comments threatening the use of violence he made in an interview with al-Jazeera television, Police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko said.

The investigation came after the ruling African National Congress asked the police to investigate whether to charge an opposition leader, Julius Malema, with treason for saying that his Economic Freedom Fighters party would consider using force against the government if the authorities respond violently to party protesters.

“I confirm that a case has been opened and that it will be investigated,” Nhleko told reporters Tuesday in Cape Town. A special police unit known as the hawks will conduct the probe, he said.

Malema’s EFF and the largest opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, are trying to end the ANC’s control of key cities such as Pretoria, the capital, Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth in municipal elections on Aug. 3. Malema, 35, led the EFF to become the second-biggest opposition party less than a year after it was formed in 2013 following his expulsion from the ANC for insulting senior leaders and allegedly bringing the party into disrepute.

Al-Jazeera quoted Malema as saying in the interview that while the EFF prefers to fight political battles through the courts and parliament, it will consider using force against the government if the authorities employ force against its supporters during protests.

Losing Patience

“We will run out of patience very soon and we will remove this government through the barrel of a gun,” he said, according to al-Jazeera.

James Grant, an attorney at the South African High Court, said Malema probably wouldn’t face a treason charge over his comments.

“I don’t believe, from what I read, that it is a call to violence unconditionally,” he said by phone. “It was very clear, from what I can read, that it is conditional on government itself using illegitimate violence. That is a very well recognized right in our law to respond with violence to illegitimate violence.”

The EFF stands by Malema and is prepared to argue the issue in court, said the party’s secretary-general, Godrich Gardee.

Court Confrontation

“Bring it on, we will meet in court,” he said by phone. “Julius Malema is the face, the leader and president of the Economic Freedom Fighters and any charge laid against him on any political comments he made is against the party and the 1.2 million people who voted for us.”

The police are required to investigate the ANC’s complaint and then place the evidence they gather with a prosecutor, who will decide if there is a case to answer, Grant said.

“The question is going to be whether there’s a prima facie case, and from what I’m seeing, because his statements were conditional, that seems to me to remove him from having stepped over the line,” Grant said.

Incite Violence

Calls for Zuma, 73, to step down by ANC veterans, church and civil-society organizations and business leaders have intensified since the Constitutional Court ruled on March 31 that the president “failed to uphold, defend and respect the constitution.” His administration is struggling to revive a stagnating economy and cut a 25 percent unemployment rate.

ANC spokesman Zizi Kodwa said Malema’s comments could incite violence during the local election campaign.

“We are doing this to protect and defend our hard-earned democracy because for anyone to make a statement that they are prepared to remove a democratically elected government through undemocratic means such as ‘through the barrel of a gun’ is a serious threat,” Kodwa said.

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