Malema did not appear anything like the firebrand he has come to be known as when he appeared in Lenasia on Friday to support local residents whose homes had been demolished by the state.
Malema and his entourage, including former ANC Youth League leaders Sindiso Magaqa and Floyd Shivambu, arrived in a black Mercedes Viano. He wore his trademark youth league beret with aviator sunglasses and a bright yellow T-shirt bearing a list of the league's preferred candidates for the ANC's top-six.
Residents of Lenasia extension 13 were pleased to see Malema, who brought news that Judge Phineas Mojapelo had granted an indefinite postponement to allow parties to come to an agreement on what should be done with the houses that had been built on land meant for government housing, and then demolished by the state. The land had been sold to residents by corrupt officials, who charged R2 500 and R95 000 for plots, and issued the buyers with fraudulent deeds of sale.
The crowd chanted and ululated at his arrival, and women shouted "I love you, Juju!"
Malema listened attentively as the community vented about the person they say sold the land to them. "We are prepared to pay Juju, to pay for the land," said one woman. A gruff, older man shook Malema's hand, saying "Thank you for your concern, we appreciate it."
Community embraces Malema
Seun Luthaka, whose home was demolished earlier this month, was happy to see Malema.
Luthaka built and shared a two bedroom home in extension 13 with a friend. After it was demolished, they moved into a tin shack on their neighbour's property. The one-room shack holds everything they were able to salvage from the home before it was demolished – a bed, a dresser, a set of armchairs and a table.
"We sweat for these houses. We put all our money into this. And then they demolish our houses. Is this freedom?" he asked.
"Where is our president now?" he asked. "Julius Malema is here. He's fighting for us."
Neighbour Tasneem Tayob however was more sceptical. She said it was "weird" that Malema had suddenly decided to come to Lenasia on Friday. "He decided to come after everything happened, and now it doesn't help because the people don't have houses anymore," she said before leaving the area.
Malema, who has been keeping a low-profile, ever since he was charged with money-laundering and slapped with a R16-million bill from the South African Revenue Service, asked the community to be patient and to give the community leaders and the state a chance to resolve the issue.
"We shouldn't do anything illegal. Let's give these negotiations a chance to unfold," he said, adding "Let's give this thing space until we can find a solution."
Moderate Malema appears to have replaced the firebrand political Frankenstein so often derided in political circles. He was measured in his address, saying all the right things about the law, democracy, and human rights.
"Police, instead of protecting you, they are the ones who are hurting you. The department of housing, instead of giving you homes, they are demolishing them," he said.
"From killing people in Marikana to demolishing houses, it's apartheid style, and that is embarrassing to the ANC," he said, adding that although the ANC had not accepted the embarrassment, he was there to do so on its behalf.
Compensation and alternatives
He said that government should find some way to compensate those whose houses had been demolished, both with money and land.
Malema said that the state should acknowledge the in-between people, who do not qualify for an RDP house but also don't qualify for a bond.
"These people must be accommodated. Not everybody needs an RDP house, not everybody needs a bond," he said.
"The state should make a plan for people who are willing to meet government halfway."
As ANC politics under President Jacob Zuma leadership becomes increasing undemocratic and removed from the struggles of everyday South Africans, his opponents are taking the gap. Where inflammatory statements and invective once drew the spotlight, a light touch can both draw attention and differentiate him from his rivals.