Wednesday, 24 July 2013

S.Africa’s ex-ANC “bad boy” plans election bid against the odds

He wears a red beret, talks the language of Revolution and calls himself “Commander in Chief”. Any echo of Venezuela’s late firebrand socialist leader Hugo Chavez is not accidental. Julius Malema, expelled “bad boy” of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress and now facing racketeering charges he denies, this month launched the nation’s newest political movement, calling for a revolutionary jolt to Africa’s biggest economy through nationalisation of mines and expropriation of white-owned land. Citing among his heroes Chavez and retired Cuban leader Fidel Castro, the 32-year-old Malema says his Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) movement plans to contest elections next year against President Jacob Zuma and the ANC, which has ruled since the end of apartheid in 1994. “We want them out of power. They have failed our people,” Malema, wearing his trademark red beret, said in an interview this week in Johannesburg’s Sandton financial district. The EFF, which has yet to register formally as a party, is the latest in a scattering of new political groupings that have emerged recently to try to challenge the ANC. The ruling party remains dominant and still likely to win next year, but internal splits and enduring inequality and poverty in post-apartheid South Africa have eroded its support, especially among restive young people born after 1994. Political analysts say that for Malema, arguably South Africa’s most high-profile and divisive politician in recent years, grabbing headlines is easy. But as a political orphan now shut out of the mighty ANC machine that nurtured his early career, he faces a tough reality check to show he has the backing, funding and organisational skills to form a viable party and run a credible campaign. “I don’t give him much chance,” said veteran South African journalist and political commentator Allister Sparks, adding that money-laundering charges brought last year against the former ANC Youth League leader could also derail any election bid. Nevertheless, surveys last month by consumer insights company Pondering Panda found more than one in four young South Africans aged between 18 and 34 said they would vote for a party led by Malema in an election. In the poll, conducted by mobile phone, respondents who supported Malema said they did so because he would do more to help poor people than other parties. “These figures show that even under ANC rule, many young people feel their lives have not improved as they expected,” Pondering Panda’s Shirley Wakefield said in a statement. Thrown out by the ANC as a troublemaker in 2012, Malema seems unfazed by the formal accusations of racketeering that could still send him to jail over murky state tender deals. He says the charges and a $1.6 million tax bill slapped on him after he left the ANC are a “nice coincidence”. “You can’t wage a war against capital and not expect a reaction,” said Malema, who at the height of his controversial Youth League leadership displayed a penchant for expensive Swiss watches and flashy cars. Since his fall from grace, he has been forced to auction off vehicles and properties. “REVOLUTION IS PAINFUL” Malema burnished his anti-capitalist credentials last year by intervening on the side of striking miners during an outbreak of violent labour unrest that killed at least 50 people, rattled investors and triggered ratings downgrades for South Africa. Wildcat mining strikes have persisted this year, and it is no surprise that state takeover of “mines, banks and other strategic sectors” and expropriation of land for “equal redistribution” – all without compensation – are at the top of “non-negotiable” policy proposals presented by Malema’s EFF. Such radical tenets, which have been rejected by the current ANC leadership, are guaranteed to make existing and future investors in South Africa see red. But Malema is unapologetic. “Revolution is painful,” he said.

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