Malema confident he’ll pass his toughest test yet

Julius Malema, the "commander- in-chief" of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), is no stranger to the historic Marikana koppie that he will ascend when his party has its official launch on Sunday October 13.

On August 18, as the striking Lonmin workers continued to gather in the immediate aftermath of the Marikana massacre, Malema, clad in a navy-blue and red Nike tracksuit, clutched two mics as he urged workers to "never retreat, even in the face of death".

In the speech were the requisite calls for Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa and President Jacob Zuma to step down, but there was also something else: Malema easing into the gaping void left by Zuma's dithering over whether or not to go to Nkaneng (Nkanini) – one of Marikana's informal settlements – in the aftermath of the massacre. Fourteen months later, Malema is returning to Marikana, this time to celebrate the launch of his newly registered political party.

Now, as it was then, his national command team member Floyd Shivambu is expected to be there. Also there will be massacre survivors, who pledged their loyalty to Malema for arranging legal representatives and bail money in their hour of need, and – equally important for the new party – the platinum belt's young, expectant and unemployed masses.

Malema, who has branded the event as a feast where at least eight cattle will be slaughtered, has not been the easiest man to track down this week, after rounds of speaking engagements, door-to-door campaigning and meetings with organising committees around the belt.

By October 9, he had taken on the aura of an apparition, with simultaneous sightings in Brits and Marikana and, for a few confusing hours, contradictory instructions as to the location of the promised interview with the Mail & Guardian.

Financial problems
In the interview, which eventually took place in a secluded section of the Cape Town Fish Market at Rustenburg's Waterfall Mall, Malema spoke about the past 18 months since his expulsion from the ANC was upheld. He called them "the most difficult years of my life because I was born in the ANC and I thought that I would die in the African National Congress, but it was not to be".

Malema's problems with the ANC started in 2011 when he was found guilty of sowing divisions within the party (for unfavourably comparing Zuma with his predecessor Thabo Mbeki, and also for calling for regime change in Botswana). After his appeal, his suspension was turned into an expulsion in April 2012, the backdrop to which had to do with a fractious relationship between Malema and Zuma, plus the ANC's quashing of the youth league's calls for nationalisation and expropriation of land without compensation.

This also marked the beginning of his financial problems. The South African Revenue Service slapped him with a R16-million tax bill and proceeded to auction off his assets (including two homes and a farm) to recoup the money.

This week, answering questions about the funding of his organisation, Malema was in good spirits. Dressed in dark Bermuda shorts and an orange dress shirt, he half-jokingly asked the M&G photographer not to take pictures of his legs.

Malema said he had been emotionally moved by seeing "the poorest of the poor digging deep into their empty pockets to make the organisation they love so much succeed".

He added that there were "emerging business people in Rustenburg who believe that "this organisation will help us appreciate our minerals".

To illustrate how people vote with their wallets he tells the story of a R10 000 surprise.

"One day, I … passed by House 22 [a deep-house music venue in Sunnyside]. I was with Floyd and Mbuyiseni Ndlozi. A guy stood up and said: 'I've been wanting to find you guys to give you this cheque for the growth and sustenance of the organisation'. We don't know him, we've never met each other and he says: 'Because I don't want to appear opportunistic, I'm also not going to give you my business card. I'm making a contribution, not because I want to benefit.' And that was it."

Malema says this spirit of generosity has continued through to the upcoming Marikana rally, where the first 5 000 attendants will receive EFF-branded berets and T-shirts.

"I can tell you we are going to have a rally, from nothing. The only reliable finance is from the merchandise of the EFF. This will take care of the bigger amounts like the transport … sound and stage …"

With all the attention and energy Malema has expended on Marikana, the next logical question is whether it could emerge as the party's stronghold. Interviews with young mineworkers this week revealed that loyalty to the EFF generally revolved around Malema's role after the massacre. "Some people appreciate the work that he did for us, others like his politics," says Lonmin mineworker Tholakele Dlunga.

"Most people didn't even know his face until after August 16. He helped us here and there, which is how he got the mandate to come here and recruit. But that is not to say because he did these things we will vote for him, because people have free will."

Asked about volunteers in red shirts and berets who weren't quite sure of the concept of nationalisation, Malema said: "The youth might not understand everything ideologically, but they know where they want to get to and that is enough. They need jobs and bread and they are getting desperate. Our job is to simplify Marxism because it speaks to issues that have always been relevant."

By his own admission, though, Malema's fledgling organisation's true test still lies ahead. Can it survive the possibility of Malema's incarceration, as he still faces charges of fraud, corruption, money-laundering and racketeering, stemming from his connection to Limpopo's tender system?

"On the 24th of this month I am starting my exams [Malema is studying political science through the University of South Africa]. My last paper is on the 18th. When I finish [the] 8.30am exam, I'm in court. The same day, the trial starts and it will run for 10 days … During the day we must be in court. In the evening we must be in the house meetings with our people, campaigning for EFF, so that the trial doesn't undermine the programme of the EFF.

"We are quite sure [the allegations] will not stand the test of time. It is not something we are worried about."

Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo is the editor of Friday, the arts and culture section of the Mail and Guardian.

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