Candice Holdsworth is an LSE alumna from South Africa and a freelance journalist. Here she looks at how allegations against one of the most powerful figures in South Africa, Julius Malema could change the face of politics in the country.
South Africa is at a crossroads…again. For many South Africans this is a familiar, well-worn and perhaps overused phrase. In fact, google “South Africa at a crossroads” and over 11,000 results will come up many of which refer to the end of apartheid.
Consider an article in Time Magazine dated 5 February 1990 entitled: South Africa: At the Crossroads- Nelson Mandela may soon be free, but is South Africa ready — or able — to take the road to a nonracial democratic society? or perhaps a more recent article in Der Spiegel from 2009: South Africa at Crossroads: Populist Zuma favourite for ANC Leadership or most pertinently: The Red Flag Rise: South Africa at the Crossroads, a paper published in 2009 by Chatham House.
Two years on from the publication of this paper, its title could easily be mistaken for a headline in present-day South Africa. Indeed some would argue that it is not so much of a crossroads as an impasse.
As of late, the trajectory of South African political discourse has seemingly experienced a sharp divergence between those who wish to pursue a shift leftwards in economic policy and those who want to continue onwards with the current, largely centrist economic agenda, but not without some added controversy.
Julius Malema, head of the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) is currently the focus of public attention after a recent investigation by City Press uncovered a trust fund, from which it is suspected he (Malema) may have been withdrawing funds deposited by business owners for whom he has helped secure lucrative government contracts. Many foresee this as his ultimate undoing and the end of the type of politics he represents.
Malema is a powerful and influential figure within the ANC, a kingmaker, whose support played a deciding role in ousting former president Thabo Mbeki as head of the ANC and replacing him with Jacob Zuma, the current elected president.
The ANCYL has in recent months been publicly leading calls for nationalisation of the privately-owned mines and redistribution (without compensation) of privately-owned farmland, coupled with some aggressive racial rhetoric.
During the run-up to the recent municipal elections at an ANC rally, Malema referred to white South Africans as “criminals” who had stolen the land from black South Africans saying, “We must take the land without paying.
“They took our land without paying. Once we agree they stole our land, we can agree they are criminals and must be treated as such.”
This has not impressed members of the South African Communist Party (SACP) who have warned against “right wing demagogy” and nationalist agendas masquerading as concerns for social justice.
In fact, both the SACP and Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) have publicly expressed fears that calls for the nationalisation of mines may be a ruse for bailing out black economic empowerment (BEE) companies in crisis and not for empowerment of the poor.
Despite some ideological crossover with the ANCYL, the two organisations, often referred to as ‘the left flank’ of the ANC, are not the league’s easy bedfellows.
Indeed many fear increasing racial polarisation in South African society. Former President, F.W De Klerk recently expressed concern about an ‘approaching crisis’ and criticised Malema for playing racial politics.
Up until these recent allegations it seemed that Malema’s rise was unstoppable, heralding a return to apartheid-era racial division and an abrupt end to Mandela’s vision for a non-racial South Africa.
Instead it may be an abrupt end to Malema’s vision, the hopes of a section of the political left in South Africa and the fears of everyone else.