Julius Sello Malema is a South African politician, and the Commander-in-Chief of the Economic Freedom Fighters. He also is a former president of the African National Congress Youth League and was a member of the ANC until his expulsion in 2012. Described as a “fascist” and a “demagogue” by his critics, he has always been able to hold a wide approval rating among some black South Africans. He has been convicted twice of hate speech. Al Jazeera’s Azad Essa sat down with the controversial figure to get his thoughts about Nelson Mandela and South Africa.
Al Jazeera: Madiba has passed on, what will be the impact on this country [South Africa]?
Julius Malema: Madiba’s passing away is going to serve as an education of the younger generation, particularly of where we come from and where we are heading to and whether what Madiba stood for has been achieved. So it has by and large been a reflection period. We need to continuously reflect on whether we have sold out on Mandela’s legacy or have we lived up to it. And what needs to be done to make this legacy last forever, for generations to come.
AJ: What about your feelings about Mandela’s legacy?
Malema: Mandela’s legacy is a very good legacy. It has laid a foundation, for a total emancipation of our people. It serves as a beacon of hope, and it serves as a building bridge towards the attainment of economic freedom, because Madiba ushered in political freedom – and political freedom without economic freedom is incomplete. Before he died, he said the struggle continues and we should have asked the question, which struggle. The struggle for economic emancipation of our people continues. And that is the terrain with which we decided to occupy ourselves as the economic freedom fighters. The people, especially generations choose their missions. Madiba’s mission was freedom in our lifetime. And he never betrayed that mission. He stayed true to it. And what is the mission of our time? It is economic freedom in our lifetime. We are not going to betray that mission, which has been informed by the foundation laid by Madiba and his generation.
AJ: So you have no doubt that Madiba completed his task?
Malema: He did. He did. There is no doubt Madiba played his role up to the finish line and handed over the baton to this generation and the baton landed in Zuma’s hand. And Zuma with not knowing how the race goes, he went back instead of running with the baton to give to the next generation, reversing the achievement of Nelson Mandela. If there is anybody who achieved his existence in society, it’s president Nelson Mandela and he was sold out by those that came after him.
AJ: What was the turning point for you regarding your support for Jacob Zuma?
Malema: The turning point for me against President Jacob Zuma was when he made an acceptance speech and press conferences he addressed subsequently, when he said that nothing would change economically. And remember, we elected this person on the ticket that he was going to bring fundamental change. And he says nothing is going to change economically, and he goes to London and reassures the queen and everybody else, that no, in South Africa things will remain the same. That is what the Boers said even before negotiations. They said, “OK, we are going to un-ban the ANC and other political parties. They must do away with the rhetoric, then the negotiations start and business will continue as usual.” And President Mandela agreed to that because he knew once we grab the political leaver of power, then we can use that to change the living conditions of our people. Those who came after him, sold out completely.
AJ: There are certain pressures on the South African president and the presidency, and the governing parties from outside forces, when it comes to the World Bank and the IMF. How is the South African government supposed to deal with these pressures when it comes to outside powers?
Malema: We must reject the World Bank and we must look for the World Bank as well. We must look for an alternative market as well. We must look at what the World Bank has done in Africa, the creation of unemployment, the creation of inequality. If the IMF and the World Bank were really acting in the interest of African people, we wouldn’t be in the crisis we are now. The crisis we find ourselves in today is not of creation by the African leadership. The creation of international financial institutions which gave terms the did not benefit African people but the multinational companies that came to exploit the resources of Africa. So why listen to people who have no history of helping you anywhere else in Africa, except to milk your resources.
AJ: Why are people supposed to trust you … when there is so much controversy around you, with people accusing you of corruption etc? Why will people trust you to take the cause forward?
Malema: I have never refused to go to court. I’m a law abiding citizen. I believe in accountability. Allegations will always be there against leadership. But, how leadership deals with allegations, is very important. So you can trust a man who is not scared to be answerable before the courts of law.
AJ: What’s next? What is the next stage of this revolution according to you?
Malema: The next stage is the nationalisation of mines, banks and strategic sectors of the economy. Nationalisation of the land.
AJ: Won’t you scare people off?
Malema: Which people?
AJ: Foreign investors.
Malema: When you say foreign investors, you want to say white people. Because there is no black African foreign investors. If they go, let them go. We’ll look for alternative markets. The Asian tigers are waiting to come in.
AJ: And you trust the Asian tigers to follow your interests?
Malema: They will invest in Africa and South Africa through our terms. Anyone who is not willing to comply with our terms, we will not open a space for that person. The Zimbabweans are doing it. Look at them. Despite the fact that they’ve gone through pain, they’re coming out of that pain. They’re becoming one of the fastest growing economies in Southern Africa and Africa. And the Zimbabweans, in the next 10 years are going to be the only Africans who own their own land, in the whole of Africa. And that is an achievement. The struggle means pain.
AJ: How important would this event be, with regards to next year’s elections?
Malema: It will help us in great way. As I said, it will help the country to engage in a self-reflection mood. We must use Madiba to remember where we come from , where we are and where we are going. Did we achieve what Madiba stood for? That’s what this elections is going to be about? Madiba’s death reminds us of how those in power today undermined what Madiba represented. And it is going to be very tough. And it is going to be very tough. People say they will use Madiba’s death to blackmail people. And invoke emotions of people. They are going to do that if we are not there.
We will use Madiba to remind people of the wrongs that these ones have done. Madiba did not build a one million kraal [homestead]. Madiba has never built a 500,000 [rand] spaza [informal] shop for his beautiful wife. Remember, beautiful wife, who deserves everything else. Madiba didn’t use the money of the people to do that. Madiba did not use the money of the people to build a 2.5 million [rand] swimming pool for himself. Despite the fact that he knew how to swim. People build swimming pools, in the whole family, no one knows how to swim, but they build a 2.5 million [rand] swimming pool for their families. That’s not who Madiba was. Madiba never used the state resources for self-enrichment. Madiba’s children, all of them, are still struggling until today, but the current crop of leadership – they are rich even before they are born.