When former president Jacob Zuma arrived in the Northern Cape with a Gupta-owned helicopter in the run up to the 2009 elections, alarm bells began to chime for Julius Malema, who was concerned about having a captured head of state.
“They were flying him with their chopper, those people, written Sahara underneath,” Malema said.
Zuma’s resignation as head of state follows intense campaigning against him by Malema’s party, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), who led the Nkandla constitutional court case and confronted Zuma in parliament on a number of occasions since 2014.
In an interview with the Mail & Guardian this week, the EFF leader said he felt vindicated by Zuma’s exit from the presidency, but warned that the fight is not over yet, vowing to robustly hold the ANC accountable.
“We can tell you know, Zuma will go to jail. We want to see him suffer until the end, for what he did to a generational mission. It’s not over, we are going to fetch him from the village and go straight to Kgosi Mampuru prison.”
Once considered a close ally of Zuma, Malema was president of the ANC Youth League when he was expelled from the ANC for bringing the party into disrepute.
Malema was also instrumental in ousting former president Thabo Mbeki from power at the ANC’s Polokwane conference in 2007, and leading the charge to recall him the following year.
But this week he celebrated as Zuma resigned as head of state, despite salivating over the possibility of leading a motion of no confidence against Zuma.
“Jerrr! I was wishing they can bring him to me. I would’ve finished him,” Malema joked to journalists in parliament.
Most recently the EFF has led the charge to have Zuma recalled from office, refusing to recognize him as the president since the constitutional court ruled that Zuma had breached the constitution in the Nkandla case.
But back in 2007, in the run up to the Polokwane conference, Malema could see that Zuma was not a man of his word. Malema had expected that Zuma would only serve for one term, “because he does not have capacity”. That expectation was not met.
“People were scared of him and did not want to contest him, and then Zuma was the only available person who was ready to challenge Mbeki, because he had nothing to lose,” Malema told the M&G.
“We then said to him: ‘You must only go for one term [as ANC president]’, because we knew he didn’t have capacity but we needed a courageous person. And then when he came in, he did exactly what the people who hated him said he was going to do,” he added.
After Zuma was elected ANC president and Mbeki was recalled, Malema joined Zuma on the campaign trail for the ANC, as the youth league president.
This is when he started seeing the first signs of state capture, Malema said. At a rally in the Northern Cape just months before the election, Zuma arrived in a helicopter owned by the Gupta family.
“I remember one day we were in Northern Cape he came with the Gupta’s chopper and I even asked someone next to me: ‘whose chopper is this?’ They said it was the Guptas, they are the ones sponsoring him. So he had surrendered himself, even then.”
After this realization, Malema and his colleagues in the youth league leadership began planning to replace Zuma with former president Kgalema Motlanthe at the ANC’s Mangaung conference in 2012.
“We had hoped that the people who were going to surround him, like Kgalema and them will be in a position to contain him and push him into the right direction, but they failed.
“We hoped that we could correct [our support of Zuma] at the next conference. Then he removed us before because he knew we were going to remove him,” Malema said.
Malema insists that Zuma’s resignation is the EFF’s vindication, and dedicated it to the life of his former colleague in the ANCYL, secretary general Sindiso Magaqa.
Magaqa was killed in political violence in KwaZulu-Natal last year and suspended from the ANC for three years in the same case that saw Malema expelled.
Malema said Zuma ruined the future of Magaqa and countless other young leaders because they dared to challenge him. But Zuma was warned that he would eventually lose, the EFF leader said.
“I told him [Zuma] when he expelled us, you are fighting the wrong people. We will fight you to the end. The first thing is that we have age, we can fight, you don’t have that. So in Sindiso’s name, this fight will continue,” Malema said.