The Malema dilemma.

Author:Commey, Pusch
Position:South Africa - Julius Malema

He has been described as "a loose cannon with a lot of valid points", "the wrong messenger for the right message", "an activist who hears ideas and if this or that takes his fancy, he runs with it." He is only 30 years old and has only 12 years of high school education to offer. So how come this young man, called Julius Malema (pictured right), can create such excitement in South Africa, to the extent that all the political parties, including his own ANC, where he is the president of the Youth League, have teamed up against him. Our Johannesburg correspondent, Pusch Commey, explains why.

In the Z007 run-up to the African National Congress (ANC) elective conference in Polokwane (that would eventually topple ex-President Thabo Mbeki), Julius Malema said he would "kill" for Zuma. He meant a political killing. Thabo Mbeki died a slow and painful political death at the time, while his archenemy now president, Jacob Zuma, rose from the ashes to the presidency.

Now Julius Malema, the enfant terrible of South African politics, wants to "kill" Zuma. He now describes Mbeki as "the best president the country ever had". How did it come to this, and where will it all end?

"There are no permanent friends in politics," Julius Malema, the now beleaguered president of the ANC Youth League, has wryly noted. "A week is a long time in politics," one former British statesman dared to opine, and Malema has matured quickly for his 30 years of existence--especially since Polokwane. There is fire in his eyes!

In 2008, when he was elected president of the ANC Youth League, he quickly came into national prominence by consolidating his alliance with Zuma, who had been under siege from forces supporting ex-President Mbeki. Zuma had been fired as the deputy president of the country, and had had to endure an embarrassing rape trial. Pending were corruption and fraud charges that carried a minimum sentence of 15 years. Zuma survived, and Malema thrived.

Long before Mbeki lost the vote for the presidency of the ANC, Malema had led the charge against him and publicly declared that Mbeki was going to be fired. He was fired. Malema has since been seen as a kingmaker, and his victories have further emboldened him. He has made public pronouncements that few would dare whisper. He has made bold statements on intractable problems such as the land question, and the huge inequality divided along racial lines. His ability to articulate the frustrations of the marginalised unemployed youth on national and international platforms has won him many admirers and many enemies in equal measure. Chief among the latter are the largely white-owned local press and minorities who feel threatened by his "African agenda", as he puts it.

But who is Julius Malema, listed by Forces magazine as one of "Africa's most powerful [Top Ten] young men", and also by New African in its "100 most influential people on the continent"? President Zuma himself once described Malema as a future leader of the country and even compared him to Nelson Mandela in his youth. That was then.

Malema was born on 3 March 1981 in a village called Seshego in the Limpopo province...

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