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The crowd of about 600 trickled into the court's parking lot in groups of threes and fours on Wednesday morning, some wearing ANC colours and others singing Dubul iZuma, a rendition of the "shoot the boer" song.
Scores of police officers patrolled the streets, while roads towards the court were closed to traffic. Barbed wire was placed outside the court and police Nyalas were positioned in various places surrounding the building in anticipation of the crowd that was expected to swell during the course of the day.
Journalists were told Malema would address the crowd after his appearance.
Tuesday night was meant to put Polokwane (and the country) on notice: Julius Malema will not go down quietly. But it didn't quite work out that way.
At its peak, the crowd that assembled for a night vigil ahead of the expelled ANC Youth League leader's court appearance in Polokwane on Wednesday numbered less than a thousand – a fifteenth of what organisers had claimed would arrive, and half what they claimed had actually arrived. And though energetic young men performed boisterously for the cameras, that was not enough to prevent the sense that the young people of South Africa may not, when it really came down to it, rise up in his defence.
Not that he lacks for vocal supporters. Fellow exiled youth league leader Sindiso Magaqa spat venom at President Jacob Zuma, and exhorted the crowd to be "ready for anything", even "the same murderers", or police from Marikana. He also likened the ANC to both the ocean and a diamond in a rambling but militant speech.
That was as close as attendees got to their leader addressing them; though they were told Malema would appear at 8PM, then at 10PM, then before midnight, he did not make his way to the hall on the outskirts of the city. Why was not explained, but several people in the crowd said they were disappointed, and would not show their support for him at court.
Those who do appear may find themselves on the wrong side of the law. Malema would make a speech just before 7am at the court, local organisers said, but by late Tuesday night police had not made arrangements for a meeting he could address.
Picture taken by Phillip de Wet.
But a lack of permission did not stop the vigil either. By early Tuesday evening, police were still considering request for a permit to gather for the gathering, even as people started drifting to the venue, but the youth league in Limpopo said permission was not required.
"The gathering is a legal gathering organised by the [ANC Youth League] in Limpopo, in as much as we have paid for the hall, and therefore there is no need to make any application for gathering," said provincial league leader Klaas Mabunda. The meeting had "always been legal," he told the Mail & Guardian.
The police appeared to be in tacit agreement. A handful of police – at one point outnumbered by paramedics in parked ambulances – kept watch on the venue from several hundred metres away, and seemed disinclined to interfere in any way.
Legality of the gathering aside, did providing such logistic support to a suspended – perhaps even disgraced – member fall afoul of ANC rules? Nobody seemed to know. The ANC referred such questions to the provincial ANC in Limpopo; the mother body did not know who had paid for the venue, said national spokesperson Ishmael Mnisi. The ANC in Limpopo, in turn, referred questions to the national office of the ANC Youth League; the league operated autonomously and did not report to the provincial structures, said provincial secretary Soviet Lekganyane. And the national youth league could not be reached for comment – perhaps because several of its executives were en route to Polokwane, where they said they would be supporting Malema strictly in their personal capacities.
The people who did join in were almost universally from Polokwane and its surrounds. One 13-year-old girl said she wasn't political, but wanted to support Malema. Several other schoolchildren, some still in their school uniforms, said they were there to support economic freedom. "I don't care if I go to school tomorrow," said one. "School is no good if we don't have jobs when we leave school."
Others in the crowd expressed support for Kgalema Motlanthe, or said they had come to fight state corruption, or because they were meeting friends, or because they had heard supper would be served (it was, as mostly dry bread). One said he needed to sell cigarettes to make taxi fare to the court where Malema was due to appear, so he could sell more cigarettes there.
What everyone did agree on was that Zuma has to go. The "change player" hand sign, used in Polokwane to show support for Zuma in 2007, was on regular display, as was the shower head sign. Songs called for Zuma to be killed (in a variation on the "kill the boer" song), and likened him to a pig. Even Zuma's chickens are corrupt, Magaqa said, while the likes of Gauteng youth league heavyweight Ayanda Kasa-Ntsobi referred obliquely to "those who abuse state power" without mentioning Zuma.