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What Do You Do About a Problem Like Malema?

What Do You Do About a Problem Like Malema?

[Julius Malema — AFP]


In the latest twist of the saga in current South African politics former ANC Youth League President Julius Malema has been charged with money laundering. Malema, once an ally of President Jacob Zuma now counts himself as Zuma’s chief foe.

“We must make sure Jacob Zuma does not become president of the ANC…. Remove him as a president,” Malema said on Wednesday after being released on bond. “Zuma has 700 charges against him. I only have one.”

And so it is hard not to see political machinations in the charges, however legitimate, against Malema. Malema certainly does. And if Zuma’s fingerprints are anywhere near the charges coming down now one has to wonder what the President is thinking. After all, Thabo Mbeki’s alleged meddling in the legal system against Zuma after Mbeki’s ousting as party president in the last great political reckoning in South African history, in Polokwane in December 2007, led directly to Mbeki’s resignation from the presidency and only barely indirectly to Zuma’s ascension.

One perhaps telling facet of Malema’s current legal wrangling is that the populist firebrand simply does not appear to be all that popular. Police preparations and media anticipation of a showdown notwithstanding, few supporters showed up for his hearing just as the numbers at a rally for him the night before he appeared in court were underwhelming. If Malema had plans to use these charges to resurrect his political career, or at least to do so in time for the ANC party gathering for its elective conference at Mangaung in December, he might need to change tack. Zuma may well be vulnerable, but right now it appears that Malema may be a spent force.



Derek Catsam

Derek Catsam is a Professor of history and Kathlyn Cosper Dunagan Professor in the Humanities at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin. He is also Senior Research Associate at Rhodes University. Derek writes about race and politics in the United States and Africa, sports, and terrorism. He is currently working on books on bus boycotts in the United States and South Africa in the 1940s and 1950s and on the 1981 South African Springbok rugby team's tour to the US. He is the author of three books, dozens of scholarly articles and reviews, and has published widely on current affairs in African, American, and European publications. He has lived, worked, and travelled extensively throughout southern Africa. He writes about politics, sports, travel, pop culture, and just about anything else that comes to mind.

Areas of Focus:
Africa; Zimbabwe; South Africa; Apartheid