/ 11 February 2022

Julius Malema: Ten years later, still a ‘useful’ tool

Julius Malema Carlos

Julius Malema has been making many of us uncomfortable for more than a decade. During this time, he has tried his hardest to rock the boat through whatever outlandish statement that he can muster in a manner understood by every single South African, across race, culture and educational standing. Despite the many chinks in his armour, Malema’s unmatched oratory skills have somehow managed to keep him afloat. In much the same manner as former US president Donald Trump, Malema has managed to remain immune to the “cancel culture” of the past few years. 

He can’t be ignored, and wherever you stand, there’s no denying his pre-eminence in our politics over the past decade. With Malema’s support as ANC Youth League president, Jacob Zuma and his jubilant class of 2007 that included people such as Fikile Mbalula found an easy path to recall Thabo Mbeki as state president in September 2008. 

A useful tool. 

After the 2008 financial sector crash that saw markets collapse and valuations of our large mining houses crumble, leaving black economic empowerment deals under water and a class of new black businessmen in deep financial trouble with their funders, Malema would lead calls for the nationalisation of mines. At that stage, when the financial world as we know it seemed on precipice, there were quite a few mining bosses and their minor black investment partners who would have loved the state to buy their assets. The “nationalisation” war drums certainly propped up some valuations, at the very least. 

A useful tool, indeed.

This usefulness has been the hallmark of Malema’s career to date. Much of his talents have been focused on his former political home, the ANC, as he’s become what some analysts call a “hired gun” for the ailing party’s factional battles. 

This month marks a decade since Malema was kicked out of the then Zuma-led party as its youth league leader. Due to what were expected to be insurmountable legal woes through some of his dealings in his home province of Limpopo as he strode across the country as the former president’s anointed one — having promised to kill for Zuma — many analysts thought his end was nigh as a political force in the country. Still, here we are ten years later and the Economic Freedom Fighters leader is still a player in our and the ANC’s political theatre. 

At the height of the country’s anti-Zuma sentiment after the Nkandla Constitutional Court ruling, Malema’s voice was most useful as his party turned dour parliamentary seatings into heated and sometimes physical contests, protesting against the then president and anyone who dared to try to stand up for him. 

In the battle to save the treasury from the clutches of Zuma and the Gupta family, the EFF even supported Malema’s sworn enemies, such as Pravin Gordhan. Towards the end of 2016, the red berets called on all South Africans to support the then finance minister amid so-called rogue unit charges as the Zuma administration sought to axe him. 

He was our useful tool.

Perhaps it’s wrong to dismiss Malema simply as a man beholden to others’ wants, but his record speaks for itself. It’s a waste of talent, because South Africa’s most vulnerable people need an uncompromised broker.