Early years and Political involvement
Julius Sello Malema was born on 3 March 1981, in Seshego, Limpopo, and raised by a single mother who worked as a domestic worker in Seshego Township. He went to Mohlakaneng High School in Limpopo. Malema began his political career at a young age. He joined the Masupatsela (Trailblazers), a movement of the African National Congress (ANC) at the age of nine, where, according to Malema, their main task was to remove National Party posters placed outside police stations. At the age of 14 Malema was elected as both chairperson of the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) branch in Seshego and the regional chair in 1995. Two years later in 1997, he became the chair of the Congress of South African Students (COSAS) for the Limpopo province. In 2001, he was elected as the national president of COSAS.
Malema was elected as president of the ANCYL in April 2008, in a close race at a national conference held in Bloemfontein. The election – and the conference – was characterised by what Malema himself later described as “unbecoming conduct”. [i] Allegations of irregularities in the polling procedure saw the conference adjourned shortly after the election results were announced. It was resumed only in late June, when Malema’s election was officially accepted. He mentioned in an interview on Radio 702 that he would go to parliament only when he is “a shiny polished diamond.”
A young Malema, member of the ANC Youth League.
Malema is known for his controversial, socio-political statements and has become a frequent target for lampooning. In 2003, as head of COSAS, Malema said in a statement that the student union would do anything, including “burning the prison she is locked in, to prevent the jailing of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. In June 2008, he made international headlines by vowing that the Youth League would take up arms if the prosecution of Jacob Zuma for alleged fraud and corruption continued. In an address to a Youth Day rally in Thaba Nchu, which Zuma attended, Malema said, “Let us make it clear now: we are prepared to die for Zuma. Not only that, we are prepared to take up arms and kill for Zuma. The remark drew widespread condemnation and complaints. The ANC partially distanced itself from the statement the following day.
Former Archbishop Desmond Tutu called on Malema to apologise, and complaints were laid with the South African Human Rights Commission by several opposition political parties, the General Council of the Bar of South Africa and other individuals. The complaints were settled by an agreement between Malema and the Commission, facilitated by Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, that he would never use the word “kill” in a public statement again. Official opposition party the Democratic Alliance (DA) said it would continue to insist that Malema be criminally prosecuted, for incitement to commit a crime, despite the agreement.
Julius Malema and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.
In January 2009, Malema suggested to a group of Cape Peninsula University of Technology students that the woman who accused ANC president Jacob Zuma of rape had a “nice time” with him because in the morning she had “requested breakfast and taxi money“. Public and media reaction was severe. Cape Times columnist John Scott suggested facetiously that Malema be elected to parliament: “Young Julius has views about females that should not just be restricted to university campuses and other platforms where women don’t have the right of immediate reply.” In February 2009, Malema was criticized by his own party when he mocked Education Minister Naledi Pandor for having what he termed “a fake American accent.” He subsequently apologised directly to her after being instructed to do so by the ANC.
In February 2009, Malema stated the following regarding Zuma’s corruption charges: “If he is so corrupt and he must be punished, let the voters do that […]. Why do you want to subject him to the hands of the few, the judiciary, the judges and the media? Leave it to the voters, 23 000 000 must decide whether Zuma becomes president or not ”” not the judges”. Malema later told students at Walter Sisulu University, in East London, that his role in making controversial statements was that of a decoy, to “distract” the opposition while Zuma “sprinted to the Union Buildings” in the 2009 elections.
In 2010, Malema visited Zimbabwe whilst President Zuma was trying to mediate between parties who contested that nation’s 2008 election. He was accused of praising and pledging support for the dictatorial rule of President Robert Mugabe, who lost the election but refused to hand over power forcing the opposition into a coalition. The South African government has been at pains to show that it has not taken sides in the conflict. Zuma, who had previously supported the youth leader, criticised him publicly when Malema contradicted Zuma’s foreign policy approach in Zimbabwe and for destroying the fragile balance that Zuma is trying to create inside the Zimbabwean Unity Government. Zuma described his behaviour as “totally out of order” and warned that action would be taken against him. Malema fired back, condemning the President for criticizing him in public.
Julius Malema in a meeting with President of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe
Inside the ANC Tripartite Alliance, Malema sparked tensions with the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), by proposing the nationalisation of mines. According to the SACP and COSATU, Malema’s calls for nationalisation were unacceptable, as he was trying to enrich himself in the process. The fights that followed caused serious questions regarding the unity of the ruling alliance consisting of the ANC, Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the South African Communist Party (SACP). Malema’s blatant militarism has won him a degree of popularity with the poor and frustrated masses, which form the largest percentage of the country’s voters.
In July 2011, the City Press newspaper, alleged in its report that a secret family trust of which Malema was the sole trustee may explain how he was able to bankroll his lavish lifestyle. The report alleged that the Ratanang Family Trust, named after Malema’s five-year-old son, was registered at the Office of the Master of the High Court in Pretoria on 13 May 2008, five weeks after he was elected president of the ANCYL. The paper further claimed that several senior politicians, companies, mayors, contractors and municipal managers deposited “thousands” into the account in exchange for Malema facilitating deals and pushing their agenda. For instance, one claim was that R200 000 was deposited into Malema’s account in exchange for facilitating a successful tender bid. When he turned to the South Gauteng High Court to block the City Press from publishing the story, his bid was quashed. He also responded by criticising the media for enquiring into his wealth, stating that his money was nobody’s business.
Media reports spawned responses from various sections of society calling for an investigation. According to a report on 25 July 2011 in the Times Live, COSATU general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi added his voice to the growing calls for Malema to be investigated following allegations by newspaper reports that he had created a secret trust fund into which businessmen and politicians paid thousands of rand to get him to use his influence on their behalf. Vavi called on the ANC ethics committee, police and the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) to investigate Malema. The South African Communist Party (SACP) also backed COSATU in calling for an investigation onto Malema’s financial affairs. In addition, Afriforum – an Afrikanner advocacy group – laid criminal charges of corruption against Malema at Brooklyn police station in Pretoria while the Democratic Alliance (DA) called on the Public Protector to investigate him. However, the ANCYL said Malema’s trust fund was ‘above board’ and Malema has since continued to defend himself and his trust fund. Malema was re-elected as president of the ANCYL in June 2011 at the 24th ANCYL Conference held at Gallagher Estate in Johannesburg.
Disciplinary hearings and suspension from the ANC
On 16 August 2011, the ANC served charges to Julius Malema and Floyd Shivabmu, the spokesperson for the ANCYL. [ii] Both were charged with “various violations of the ANC Constitution, including bringing the ANC into disrepute through utterances and statements in Botswana and sowing division in the ranks of the ANC.” The disciplinary hearings were then set to start on 30 August. [iii] At the hearing on 30 August, Malema’s representatives raised some preliminary points with regards to the charges brought against him:
The representatives argued that some in the National Disciplinary Committee (NDC) were prejudiced against Malema and had shown disregard to issues advocated by the ANC Youth League, particularly on the nationalisation of the mines and expropriation of land without compensation. The NDC turned down the application “on the grounds that insufficient facts had been advanced to show bias or a perception of bias on the part of these three members.”
Reports noted that Malema had been charged with the following:
Causing serious divisions in the party by saying the departure of former President, Thabo Mbeki, had left a vacuum in African leadership. The party argued that the statement undermined President Jacob Zuma. Malema’s representation put forth that the charge should have been that Malema had caused divisions in the ANC specifically by undermining Zuma;
Bringing the party into disrepute with the league’s call for regime change in Botswana. The representation argued a case of consistency saying that different leaders within the ANC had made statements about other countries i.e. Swaziland and Zimbabwe, but no action had been taken against them;
Barging into a meeting of ANC officials. The leadership of the Youth League was expected to deny this and argue instead that ANC Secretary General, Gwede Mantashe had indicated to them that said they could go see the officials if there was something they wanted to raise [vii];
Calling White people “criminals” who had taken land from Blacks by force. The comment was made during a pre-election rally in Kimberley in May 2011. The Mail & Guardian quoted an unnamed senior ANC leader who said that Malema’s reference to Whites as criminals had been discussed in the ANC national executive committee, with no one suggesting that Malema be charged. To do so now was disingenuous, it was suggested.
While the hearing was proceeding, an estimated 3 000 ANCYL supporters made their way to Luthuli House on the day. Visibly disgruntled with the charges brought against their leaders by the ANC, the supporters chanted, toyi-toyied and burnt the ANC flag and t-shirts bearing President Zuma’s face, while clashing with the police. [ix]. Malema subsequently brought a further application to have all the charges dropped entirely, which was dismissed by the NDC on 2 September. [x] However, proceedings came to a halt on Thursday 6 October 2011, when Malema was hospitalized in ward F at a private hospital in Polokwane – a ward where patients with stress, high blood pressure and chest problems are treated. [xi] On 10 November 2011 Malema was found guilty on several charges, including bringing the ANC into disrepute and sowing divisions within the party. He was however found not guilty on separate charges of inciting hatred and racism. The NDC recommended that he be removed from his position as leader of the youth league and that his ANC membership be suspended for five years.
Founding of the EFF (Economic Freedom Fighters)
Malema’s suspension from the ANC caused many analysts to conclude that it spelt the end of his political career, as he was dependent on the tradition and the history of the ANC to support his agenda and being excluded from the ANC would mean that he was very much isolated. [xiii] This would not prove to be the case, as Malema and Shivambu – who was also suspended for three years – vowed to continue their fight against the inability of the government to establish domestic and international policies beneficial to the development of South Africa. They were to do this by establishing a political party of their own, namely the Economic Freedom Fighters launched on 10 July 2013. At the press conference Malema maintained that the party had devised a definitively different plan to that of opposition parties, such as Agang South Africa. It included the nonnegotiable principles of land expropriation and nationalization of mines, both without compensation.
The party has received some criticism since its inception. In October 2013, Theunis Botha, the leader of the Christian Democratic Party (CDP) stated that the launch of the EFF represented a step back for democracy: “Julius Malema has with the launch of the EFF taken democracy in South Africa back many years. The EFF’s Marxist rhetoric and its banners calling for whites in the country to be driven from the land was a reminder of the dark years.” [xv] The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) has also criticized the party with regards to Julius Malema’s history as a tenderpreneur, the party’s military command structure as well as a lack of clarity on the ideology of socialism within the party. [xvi] The party has also come under criticism from the Democratic Alliance (DA) for inciting violence on campuses, by using violent and divisive language to communicate with students, during the Rhodes Must Fall and Fees Must Fall university protests in 2015 and 2016.
Election to parliament and the Pay Back the Money Campaign
Following the fourth democratic National Elections in 2014, the EFF obtained 25 seats in the National Assembly, after having secured 6.35 percent of the national votes. [xviii] At the first sitting of parliament EFF members caused a stir among other parliamentarians when they arrived in uniforms which represented the “working class”, said Hlengiwe Maxon: “This is the dress of domestic workers, holding up her red apron. We are trying to tell people that we are from the Economic Freedom Fighters, we are here for the workers and the poor. We are sending a message to say that the Parliament for the people is not a Parliament for the elite. So the workers at home, when they see us dressed like this, they will know they are represented.”
In another sitting of parliament in August 2014, Julius Malema questioned the president with regards to his response to the Public Protector’s report on the security upgrades made at his Nkandla residence. The EFF then demanded the president to tell the parliament “when he was planning on paying back the money he used for the Nkandla upgrades”, implying that he benefitted improperly from it. This caused a chorus of protests from other members of parliament, specifically those representing the ANC. The speaker failed to restore order to the house and asked that the EFF be escorted out of the house. [xx] The EFF continued to demand accountability from the president through the Pay Back the Money Campaign in 2015. In August, the party took the matter up with the Constitutional Court, to force President Zuma to implement the recommendations of the Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela. [xxi] On 31 March 2016, the Constitutional Court ruled that the president failed to uphold, defend and respect the Constitution and was ordered to pay back the money. The National Treasury has been given 60 days to determine the amount that must be paid back, after which he will be given 45 days to do so. [xxii]
Malema officially obtained his BA Degree in Political Leadership and Citizenship from the University of South Africa (UNISA) on 30 March 2016, at a graduation ceremony held on the Pretoria campus.