Thursday, 27 October 2011

So I sing a song of hate, Julius Malema

African political leaders have always had a difficult ride from the foreign press during their time in office. Whether it is their links to corruption, war or ineptitude then many leaders are tarred with the same brush. Last month candidate Michael Sata defeated incumbent Rupiah Banda to become Zambia’s new President, yet much of the foreign attention focussed on the fact that there had been no ethnic violence, electoral fraud or a reluctance to stand down, like we saw in Cote d’Ivoire last November. The beacon for African democracy to flourish through Western eyes is seen through the South African lens. After the years of Apartheid and South Africa’s isolation internationally to the freedom of Nelson Mandela, the rainbow nation, is the litmus paper to whether democracy is working on the continent. Yet, the man who steals all the headlines is not the current President Jacob Zuma, it is the firebrand leader of the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) Julius Malema.

Malema a pugnacious and part of South Africa’s black ‘nouveau riche’ has gained attention for his virulent views and standpoints on politics and economics. When Malema first hit the scene, what was noticeable was his poor use of the English language, yet his ability to court controversy has made him infamous. Malema has demanded that private enterprise particularly the mining sector be confiscated and nationalised. He believes that the sizeable white minority of South Africans still control far too much of the land and this should be handed back to the poor black population, by force if necessary. At ANC rallies, he famously sang the Apartheid song ‘Shoot the Boer’, Boer being a reference to the non-indigenous white settlers, something that has seen him reprimanded for by the police and the legal system.

Approaching 100,000 followers on Twitter, he has been able to maximise his exposure to the international press, and again for the wrong reasons. In 2010, he criticised a BBC journalist Jonah Fisher after he had questioned Malema’s wealthy background and was subsequently expelled from the press conference. He has criticised the role of Chinese entrepreneurs in South Africa, and last month has said that the Botswana government should be overthrown (though no one is quite sure why). In 2010 he met Zimbabwe’s ageing tyrant Robert Mugabe and backed the land reforms that Mr Mugabe’s ZANU PF implemented in 2000, which crippled the Zimbabwean economy, he also called the opposition MDC party and its leader Morgan Tsvangirai imperialists.

For a long time, Jacob Zuma did not criticise the activities of Malema and the youth wing of the ANC. In fact, Malema told Zuma that he would ‘kill’ to ensure that he was elected as President, yet since then relations have become frostier. Zuma reprimanded Malema for many of his public comments and in return, Malema has become critical of Zuma in public, for example he did not like him backing the NATO campaign in Libya. Today, it will be decided whether Malema faces expulsion from the ANC as a whole. Many point out that Malema is insignificant and that the biggest issue for South Africa is its flagging economy and chronic corruption. Yet, for South Africa, after decades of struggle, the possibility of race becoming an issue does not bode well. The murder of the far-right leader Eugene Terreblanche in 2010 reopened some wounds that the country hoped had closed in the early 1990s. What is more concerning is that Genocide Watch, a Washington based organisation, has highlighted the dangers of Malema’s speeches and the fact the ANC has failed to remove him as leader of the ANCYL. It says that the country is at Stage 6 – preparation, stage 7 is genocide. It says, ‘Xenophobic riots and murders of foreign refugees as well as continuing hate crimes against Boer farmers and other whites have caused dark clouds to form over the rainbow nation’. Malema has been quoted as ‘Africa’s biggest racist’ and we shall see whether he can be stopped.

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