Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2011

Julius Malema

Julius Malema was only nine years old when the fight against apartheid triumphed, with the release of Nelson Mandela and the legalization of his African National Congress (ANC) ushering in a transition to democracy. But that hasn't stopped the smooth-talking populist from speaking with the authority of a struggle veteran about the movement's unfulfilled promises to the masses — a cudgel with which he can beat incumbent ANC leaders, positioning himself as king-maker and possible future head of state. Using the bully pulpit of his position (until last month) as leader of the ANC's Youth League, Malema helped build support in the ruling party that was critical to President Jacob Zuma's ouster of former President Thabo Mbeki. But with the party due to choose its presidential candidate for the next election in 2012, Malema may have become a liability — and threat — to Zuma, who has since been trying to get the genie back in the bottle.

Malema has grown wealthy for a man whose job has been championing the cause of South Africa's impoverished and dispossessed majority — although any time the accoutrements of his lavish lifestyle, such as the expensive cars, the mansion and the bling are cited, he accuses the questioner of implying that such things were reserved for white people. Malema has been repeatedly chided by ANC leaders for race baiting, for praising the Zimbabwean government's seizure of white-owned farmland, and for bullying journalists. South African media have reported that his financial affairs are under investigation by the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, although no charges have been brought as yet. But when Malema called for South Africa to overthrow the government of neighboring Botstwan, the ruling party finally took the opportunity to clip his wings, suspending his membership for five years. Still, having built a successful "brand" as a populist with an unrivaled ability to rouse the ANC's impoverished base, no one should bet against a Juju comeback.