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Get ready for a Parliament featuring Julius Malema

In January 2009, just ahead of our last national general elections, a list of ANC Parliament nominations was leaked to the media. Julius Malema, the party's then firebrand star, made a surprise appearance at number 95 on the list. 

A legislature with a rabid Malema let loose? It was bound to boost the numbers for Parliament Live, I thought.

But an ANC insider at the time told me Malema would never accept the nomination.

"He'd have to disclose his business interests and there's no way he's going to do that."

A 2011 newspaper exposé might have done the job for him, alleging his involvement in a remarkable fraud scheme in which his cronies reportedly ran the Limpopo roads and transport department like their personal spaza shop. Malema faces charges of fraud, corruption, money-laundering and racketeering with four others in a long-awaited trial that was due to begin on Monday.

The theory was that the ANC under President Jacob Zuma, which fell out with the increasingly arrogant Malema and expelled him last year, was sending the might of the state after Malema to ensure that his new party, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), did not stand a chance at the 2014 general elections with their leader in prison.

But Malema, like Zuma, is proving to be a wily survivor. His party predicted the trial would be postponed and it was: until September 2014, well after the national election, which must take place before the end of July.

We're yet to understand the legal reasons, but one thing is for sure: Malema could well make his way into Parliament after all.

City Press reported on Sunday that a number of polls put EFF at between 4% and 7% of the vote. Now, I'm not so sure about any election predictions – analyst Steven Friedman recently pointed out that polls usually get the election results quite wrong. 

However, it will take just 0.25% of the vote for the EFF to get one seat in Parliament. If their support at the vigil before the trial and on Facebook is anything to go by, I'm sure they can drum up at least that.

Which in turn would lead to a development that will make me tune in to Parliament Live more often: Malema in the national legislature, heckling everyone from the ANC to the Democratic Alliance.

It gets particularly interesting if one looks at the dismal voter registration rates among young South Africans. Just over 433 000 18- and 19-year-olds have registered to vote. The numbers are not much better for the 20- to 19-year-old bracket. Considering that the 2011 census showed the black population's median age is 21, this means a large chunk of our country is not inspired by mainstream politics.

Zuma may have dismissed the term born-frees as propaganda and insisted that young people "know the struggle".

Yet they do not seem particularly enthusiastic about supporting any party. If one were an ardent supporter of the ANC or another party, surely you would register as soon as possible to ensure you could vote your party in come election day?

Instead, young South Africans seem to be hanging back, uninspired or unsure. And the only party that appears to have drummed up the most enthusiasm among young South Africans is Malema's EFF. I see their supporters' comments constantly on the Mail & Guardian's Facebook page and on our site. They are extremely vocal and passionate, even if they are a small group.

They could well influence the rest of their peer group, who are yet to embrace this election. If they did so, not only would we see Malema in Parliament, but a fair share of his EFF buddies too. The national legislature is one area where they can get involved in politics, even if their socialist policies and ravings are laughable against the backdrop of the corruption charges that hang over them.

Indeed, Malema and co may preach about the rights of the downtrodden and poor but their supporters must have a case of willful amnesia to take them at face value. The allegations are that they pilfered from state coffers with abandon where they could, elicited bribes and lived large on the back of criminal activities. To trust the likes of them to bring about the revolution and empower the impoverished is pitiful. If its leaders' past alleged actions prove to be true, the EFF's supporters should know that if the party were to ever get into power, we would have institutionalised corruption on a scale never seen before in this country. The poor will be even poorer.

But it's an indictment on our other political parties that the party is taken so seriously by young people.

If the EFF is successful it is because it is filling a vacuum: a form of leadership for the ticking bomb we keep hearing about of unemployed and frustrated young people who make up a huge part of our population.

If Malema gets into Parliament, it may be entertaining for us for a while, but it'll be disastrous in the long term if young South Africans are not provided with a better alternative they can identify with. 

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Verashni Pillay
Verashni Pillay is the former editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian, and inaugural editor-in chief of Huffington Post South Africa. She has worked at various periods as senior reporter covering politics and general news, specialises in mediamanagement and relishes the task of putting together the right team to create compelling and principled journalism across multiple platforms.

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