In his latest Al Jazeera documentary, “Julius vs the ANC”, filmmaker Rehad Desai portrays Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) commander-in-chief Julius Malema as a rising revolutionary who offers hope to working class South Africans. But Desai glosses over Malema’s controversies.
Malema first made headlines as ANC Youth League (ANCYL) president and for being a bulldog-like defender of President Jacob Zuma, particularly during his rape-trial era. Today, he is one of Zuma’s fiercest critics.
The documentary, which chronicles the last five years of South African politics and the role Malema and the EFF have played in it, has a surprising lack of female voices and fails to address legitimate concerns about Malema’s integrity.
Here are three things we wish Desai had addressed.
1. Malema plays “Madibuseng”
Malema is guilty of political flip-flopping. Journalist Austil Mathebula describes him as playing “madibuseng”. “Madibuseng, a Sesotho word, is best described by Kwaito group Trompies as someone who acts like a traffic light – sometimes he’s red, sometimes he’s green, sometimes he’s orange,” Mathebula writes.
When Malema was axed from his position as president of the ANCYL he said that he wouldn’t start his own political party. “My blood runs black, green, and gold. I will never form a political party. Neither would I take a post that seeks to oppose the African National Congress. I will never do that,” he said in a press briefing after he was removed from the ANCYL.
A year later, he launched the EFF.
Desai comments on the gravity of this moment, “It was as if he was declaring war on his former party, the ANC.” There isn’t any discussion on exactly why Malema started the EFF. Is he declaring war because he wants revenge? Is Malema now apologising for giving us Zuma because of Zuma’s ineptitude and corruption? Desai doesn’t investigate why Malema once said that he would “kill for Zuma”. Now, he takes every opportunity to put Zuma down.
Malema has also apologised for supporting advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane for the position of Public Protector. “We just took a puppet from Gupta’s kitchen and said ‘let’s give her a chance’”.
Desai fails to clarify why Malema makes these sudden turnarounds.
Mathebula has a theory though. “He’s very quick to make poor judgments and pronounce on matters he clearly doesn’t fully understand,” he writes.
2. His blatant misogyny
Malema has made some problematic statements about women in his time. He said that Fezekile Khuzwayo (“Khwezi”), who accused Zuma of rape, probably had a nice time because “when a woman didn’t enjoy it, she leaves early in the morning. Those who had a nice time will wait until the sun comes out, request breakfast and ask for taxi money.” He was criticised for victim-blaming and silencing rape victims.
It was only after he was taken to the Equality Court that Malema publicly apologised to Khuzwayo for his remarks.
He has never apologised for describing former DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko as “a tea girl” of “madam” Helen Zille.
3. His fraud, racketeering and money-laundering charges
In 2013 Malema was charged with fraud, racketeering, and money laundering related to government contracts. He and his business associates were accused of improperly receiving money related to a contract for the construction of roads in Limpopo between the provincial government, On Point Engineering, and Ratanang Trust. It is alleged that Malema made nearly R4 million off the deal. The charges against him were thrown out of court but, according to the National Prosecuting Authority, this doesn’t mean he’s been acquitted.
The last question Desai asks in the documentary is whether the EFF and its CIC will be able to convince the nation that they can be both respectable and revolutionary. “In the ongoing battle of Julius Malema versus the ANC, the question of whether it’s possible for Julius to lead both a constitutional party and be a revolutionary, remains to be seen.” Either way, there’s nothing reassuring about a politician with a fog of corruption charges hanging over them. We’ve seen that movie before.