The Economic Freedom Fighters have redrawn the political landscape before the May 7 showdown. Janet Smith interviewed the commander-in-chief for a new book.
Janet Smith: You must have been perhaps a little shocked at the level of vitriol and in fact hatred that was directed at you. A person who white South Africans didn’t know. It was intense.
There might have been a period of a few months when you started to establish yourself as the ANC Youth League leader before it happened, but I think almost from the time you were, it was dark.
What on earth went on that you so quickly became that figure of fear?
Julius Malema: There was nothing, nothing at all which was done. Nothing. I knew that the struggle for economic emancipation is the thing that our leaders have avoided because of its difficulty. It is not an easy thing, you know, to conduct. So I was not sure.
I was not a new role player in the national politics. I was a president of Cosas. I had a huge impact when I was a president of Cosas. I was a Youth League secretary, a recognisable individual in Limpopo even when I walked the streets.
Actually, it started when I was leading in high school, when I walked the streets of my township, the people would call their grannies and all that to show them Julius Malema, so I was never overwhelmed.
I grew up with such, you know, attention, and when I got attacked, I knew that it was going to happen, it was bound to happen, and I was very happy that it was happening because it means that I’ve hit at the right spot.
I have reached them. They are now listening.
For me it achieved the whole objective, and woodwork, one two three, you don’t focus on that. Insist on putting the agenda for economic struggle on the table. They try to distract you and I have successfully done that myself in the ANC.
There is a huge debate today about how the black people continue to be marginalised, how the black people continue to be oppressed, excluded from the mainstream economic activities.
A struggle which many had forgotten and people were beginning to be comfortable and accepting the mediocre that we were exposed to, RDP houses, clapping of hands, water with a tap that doesn’t have water, clapping hands, and beginning to think this is what we are fighting for.
We came in as a no, that is not what we are fighting for. We said we don’t want matchbox houses you are giving us, worse than the matchbox houses of the apartheid and they expect us to celebrate that. So, the enemies’ intentions did not succeed.
Remember, I am a product of Peter Mokaba and Winnie Mandela who were victims of apartheid propaganda among others.
Peter was reported to be a spy, but Peter never looked back. He used that to influence his determination and resilience to fight for his people. So who am I, accused of woodwork? And I want to be a crybaby when people were accused of being spies?
Winnie Mandela… the apartheid regime got into her bedroom, destroyed her from her bedroom, said all manner of things about her. She never looked back. She soldiered on. Who am I? My bedroom is not discussed. I am not tortured, harassed by the police. For me to look back, and get demoralised by woodwork.
I am a product of the most militant and fearless leaders of our revolution. They think I am easily demoralised and they attack and then vanish. If I speak, I don’t get a reaction, I get worried. It means that the enemies are not receiving the message, so when the enemy responds I am happy that I have hit where it matters the most. The enemy’s talking.
Giving you very good examples. Julius Malema: woodwork, Peter Mokaba: apartheid spy, Winnie Mandela: cheated on an icon.
We never looked back.
JS: Is there any sense that there is need for violence again? Could an armed struggle happen again, just in a different form? You’ve said it yourself, communities have been patient for so long, so this was the same thing for black people in South Africa before the decision was made to introduce the armed struggle.
JM: I don’t think that there is room in today’s South Africa for an armed struggle, but as a revolutionary you don’t overrule. The different pillars and strategies of our struggle can be conducted but we have to locate some of those pillars within existing material conditions and if there’s such a room to conduct such a struggle.
I think South Africans appreciate the fact that they are given a constitutional opportunity that can change their lives and it is up to them to use that through voting to change their living conditions.
There is going to be an uprising in South Africa if we are not careful, and that’s why we founded the Economic Freedom Fighters – to give guidance and direction on how the struggle should be conducted so that it doesn’t become anarchic, it doesn’t become violent and directionless, and gets to be hijacked by nobodies who don’t have a genuine agenda to change the lives of our people.
In the absence of that, because nature doesn’t allow a vacuum, there will be an emergence of an “unled” revolution which will pose a threat on all of us. Remember it is no longer you white people alone, even the black elite stands to be a target.
There will come a day where they will say no Range Rovers, no BMWs, no Benz, no nothing in this township, we don’t want anyone coming to show off here when we are dying of hunger.
JS: What was the last conversation you had with Jacob Zuma? Do you remember it?
JM: I can’t remember (laughs). I can’t remember.
JS: Was it acrimonious? Do you have a sense of it being an ending conversation; that it might be the last one you ever have?
JM: Well, look, first I never had frequent, consistent conversation with Zuma. We were not that close so I wouldn’t say there was a point where we enjoyed this close, cosy relationship.
JS: At all?
JM: At all, at all. But if I had an issue to raise with him, I would go to his house, I would go to his office and raise those issues. But I didn’t have a special plate in Zuma’s house. So that’s why I wouldn’t even remember when was the last time I spoke to JZ.
The last time I touched his hand was during the centenary rally of the ANC in Bloemfontein. Ja, if my memory’s not fading me, that was the last time I hugged Zuma, with his pretentious mind and all those things.
It was as he was coming closer to me, he opened his arms and said mongamela meaning “president”. I was already on suspension then. So he hugged me and we greeted. That was it. From there, I have never had any conversation with JZ.
JS: Did you feel hurt by Zuma? Did it (the expulsion from the ANC) have an emotional impact on you?
JM: Yes, it did, it did. For a person that you have contributed so much in his defence and in the defence of the movement, and the movement that you would have wished to be a part of all your life. There was never a point where I ever thought I could leave the ANC because I have known the ANC all my life.
So, it was so disappointing and I think I am not the only one. I think he has disappointed many of those who have trusted him.
We all saw him as an old man, we all saw him as a father figure, we all saw him as a unifier, but he was the opposite.
JS: What are the issues? Is it personality flaws?
JM: Ja, Zuma is not loyal to anybody. All those people who have been there for him have been on a receiving end of his leadership style.
JS: When you look back (on your time in the ANC Youth League), would you have done something different? You’ve said that when you were there, you had people offering you things all the time.
JM: Yes, a lot.
JS: Would you behave differently now with this knowledge? Would you accept gifts? Would you perhaps be more circumspect around that kind of thing knowing that there’s a chance that people can take that and use it against you?
JM: No, Janet. I’m not arrested for receiving gifts. I’m not. I’m not arrested. Mandela received gifts, all of them. Zuma is No 1 with receiving gifts. Politicians are supported everywhere else. It would be wrong for me to create an impression that I would be this political figure and not get any form of assistance. Then I am going to falter in that regard.
I am the victim of a political onslaught. All of them have received gifts. All of them. All of them are doing business. Tokyo. Mathew. Cyril. All of them. None of them has been accused of using his influence to get a tender.
Why me? Why do I get isolated like that? What did I do? The only crime I did was to stop supporting Jacob Zuma.
* These extracts are from The Coming Revolution: Julius Malema and the Fight for Economic Freedom (Jacana), with a foreword by Dali Mpofu, an introduction by Floyd Shivambu and an interview by Janet Smith.