An interview with Julius Malema
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Julius Malema has raised the stakes in SA’s political landscape with his radical policies and shaken Parliament to its core with his characteristic rabble-rousing straight talk. This was as he took his war against the ANC and President Jacob Zuma to the National Assembly. He has promised to start where he left off last year, warning of possible chaos in Parliament if Zuma does not answer questions during his State of the Nation Address next month.
The Star’s senior political writer, Lebogang Seale, caught up with Malema amid reports of growing discontent from within his own party.
LEBOGANG SEALE (LS): You have said that you will persist with your plans to ask questions related to the Nkandlagate report during the State of the Nation Address (SONA). This is despite President Jacob Zuma’s office saying he would avail himself to answer questions in Parliament on March 11. Surely there has to be a distinction between SONA and a question-and-answer session, Mr Malema?
JULIUS MALEMA (JM): We can’t wait until March because the president won’t come. He is not a man who honours his word. What if we see him again in 2016, during the SONA? We would have failed in our responsibilities as parliamentarians to hold the president to account.
LS: The ANC has said it is because of your disruptive behaviour that the president hasn’t availed himself to Parliament.
JM: It’s the very same Parliament that the president avoided, that he now wants to come back to because it’s SONA time and he can’t be engaged. He just wants a one-man show, and if it’s not his show, he won’t come… We have an appointment with Jacob Zuma on February 12.
LS: So you are suggesting that the president’s office is lying, and that he would not avail himself in Parliament after SONA?
JM: We don’t believe Zuma or everything that he says for that matter. Even with that SONA, we don’t believe that (what he says) means anything. So we have no regard for him, he is a criminal of note. He is a thief that has permanently stolen from our people. So long as he refuses to account for his maladministration and corruption, he will never have any respect from the EFF.
LS: Are you not being hypocritical, Mr Malema, given that you yourself have had your troubles with the law? I mean, you owe the South African Revenue Service a substantial amount of money arising from allegations of corruption.
JM: No, I have resolved my matters with Sars. When Sars said “Pay back the money”, I paid the money. Zuma’s time to pay back the money is now!
LS: Your opponents in the ANC and SACP have often compared you to a modern-day Hitler or Mussolini because of your alleged dictatorial leadership style.
JM: There’s absolutely no similarities with Mussolini or Hitler in the articulations of the EFF or myself, even in Parliament. I think the ANC, the SACP and the whole alliance have actually failed to do a thorough political diagnosis and analysis of the EFF, what it represents. So they have to sober up and clearly use dialectical materialism to analyse this phenomenon, and they will get a proper response out of it.
LS: Oh, is that so?
JM: I mean, this Mussolini, this Hitler and this fascist, everything he does, you (opponents) all do it. He prints red berets, you print red berets; he speaks land, you suddenly speak land, Freedom Charter, suddenly this is the year of the Freedom Charter. All that I said has actually been repeated by the ANC-led alliance. The reality is that there is an emergence of a socialist leftist organisation, which comes as a result of absenteeism of leftist political organisations in South Africa, and ordinarily, nature doesn’t allow a vacuum. Hence the EFF.
LS: But the ANC has said it is the EFF and yourself who is actually copying from them. They say, for instance, that you copied the concept of economic freedom in our lifetime from them while you were an ANCYL member.
JM: How can I steal from myself? I came with those ideas when I was in the ANCYL. Are they saying then that I must now think differently because I am no longer an ANCYL (member)? These are the ideas I was expelled for.
LS: If so, leave them to the ANC then.
JM: No, these are my ideas, this is what I believe in. I put them down on paper, presented them to the ANCYL, it adopted them. The ANC rejected them and then rejected me. So if you reject me, reject me with everything that I represent. You can’t reject me and still want to continue with my ideas. (Former ANCYL leaders) Malusi Gigaba was there, Fikile Mbalula was there, Lulu Johnson was there, Peter Mokaba was there. None of them spoke about expropriation of land without compensation. None of them spoke about nationalisation of mines and banks and strategic sectors of the economy, which the ANC consistently denied and actually wanted to expel me for. We went to the NGC (national general council) of the ANC, we convinced the masses, and the people adopted those resolutions. Jeff Radebe (Minister in the Presidency) came and tried to change the resolutions, we fought with him.
LS: It was recently reported that you have been speaking to Winnie Madikizela-Mandela about rejoining the ANC. Can you deny that?
JM: No, I have only spoken to Mama in December, when she called me and she complained that I didn’t invite her to the wedding. She said, because she had said I must come (back) to the ANC and I am angry, and that’s why I didn’t invite her. I said that’s not the case… We laughed about it and it wasn’t a serious discussion. So, even when Mama said I must come back to the ANC, I heard it from you guys. She didn’t tell me. The ANC is dying a natural death.
LS: Enough of the ANC now. Let’s talk about the EFF. Barely a year after you formed the EFF, the party is going through a turbulent period, beset by discontent from disgruntled members.
JM: We are a new organisation and I think that criticism is a bit unfair. We are not like a new Mandela note that is everywhere overnight. The reality is that the EFF has done well. Within a very short time we have got seven provinces in good standing, and we are busy with the remaining two.
When there is a member who is suffering from uncontrollable ambition for power and wants to discredit the organisation because he wasn’t elected, you can’t say there is disgruntlement of members. I am the president of the EFF, systems are in place, structures are in place, we have a programme of action.
LS: Some EFF members have accused you of entrenching your loyalists from the ANCYL and purging the dissenters.
JM: People will always talk. Branches have voted. People got elected based on their commitment and their capacity to lead.
LS: Are there any attempts to reach out to former EFF national organiser Mpho Ramakatsa after his fallout with the party’s senior leadership?
JM: Yes, there are (such) attempts. We are going to write to him and are saying in that letter we still respect him and that if he handles things differently, we can still find one another. I have always insisted that we are a new organisation, we come from different cultures and we must try to carry each other along. Even those who make mistakes, we must try to help them. But we can only help them if they are ready to be helped.
LS: So you still see a role for him in the party?
JM: There is not even disciplinary action against him, nothing. We understand that he is hurt and he is hurting, and we hope that he will heal over time and come back to his senses, and rescue himself from self-destruction.
LS: Let’s talk about land. You have been accused of instigating Zimbabwe-style land grabs in South Africa. Is that a dangerous move that could destroy the economy?
JM: There’s nothing Zimbabwean about what we are saying. There’s no one who is going to kill people for their land. All of us, we said let there be peaceful occupation of land, and our people are already doing that.
LS: President Jacob Zuma last year reopened the window for land claims. Surely, he means well?
JM: No, that one doesn’t know what he is doing. That thing of re-opening the land is (meant to be) a transaction between Zuma and his business people. I am sure one of his business people or the chiefs or the king told him (about) some abandoned land of mine which they didn’t claim, and if he reopens (the land claims period), we can make money out of that. To him it is a transaction; to us it is a genuine cause. And that thing of opening the land pains us, because it’s not genuine and it’s also so costly.
LS: We have in the past seen land being returned to its rightful owners, only to lie dormant. What’s the EFF’s formula for land restitution?
JM: Land must be given to its rightful owners, and what they do with it is their business. (If you return land to its rightful owners), you must say here is the land, it will require so much money, so much equipment, so many professionals with so much expertise.
When you return the land, you are removing a white man who leaves with his equipment, and bring in a black community which has nothing. So how do you expect them to continue farming without tractors? Must they use their teeth?
No, they must be given tractors, they must be given seeds, they must be given tools to work on the land, they must be given managers who know how to manage projects.