In 2012 the ANC expelled Julius Malema for trying to veer the party’s Youth League off its Mandela-sanctioned path. Malema’s—incorrectly labelled—“racist” agenda included, among other things, agitating for blacks to take their cue from Mugabe’s ZANU PF re: land redistribution, and singing the banned freedom song ‘Shoot the Boer’ at one too many political knees-ups. (He had already been found guilty of tax evasion, and had been accused of fraud and money laundering.) The ANC kicked Malema off their platform to shut him up, but he’s been noisier than ever since then as leader of his own party, the Economic Freedom Fighters. The EFF emerged, Malema says, to fill the vacuum on the South African left: no other party proposes to uplift the poor majority at the expense of the rich minority. Instead of wearing suits to work, EFF leaders wear bright red overalls, hardhats, maid’s uniforms, doeks and berets in a show of worker solidarity, and while they’ve upped the drama with their outfits, they have tempered their message: yes, they will take land and resources out of white hands and give it to blacks, but not a drop of blood will be spilt (Malema’s words). Lately, whenever Malema describes South Africa—the hypocrisy of the ANC, the exploitation of labour, the indignities of the poorest people—every word that comes out of his mouth not only rings true, but is true, and when he describes the South Africa that he envisions, it seems to me a desirable and long-overdue reality.
Malema for president? Should a white farmer’s daughter back a Mugabe-endorsing, ex-ANC hot-head? The thing is, he is hot-headed. Despite grappling with this question from a safe distance, I can’t bring myself to say that I’d vote for Malema. Not yet. Malema’s speeches tell me what South Africa looks like to him, but I can’t know for sure how that picture makes him feel or how he will act if voted in. I’d have to take him at his word. If Malema looks at his country and feels a sincere desire to peacefully redistribute its riches, then the EFF is a Godsend, but if—now or at a later stage—he actually feels something else (e.g. a desire for revenge against the party that expelled him and the whites who long oppressed his people) then can we rule out a bloodbath? I don’t mean that if Malema changes his mind about bloodshed, blacks will reveal themselves to be killers. I mean that if Malema sanctions violence as the means to achieve his economic revolution, then he permits South Africans who believe in the use of violence to do what they think is right. When choosing between parties, the leader’s emotional volatility should not be the main cause for concern, but in South Africa, where the president can unilaterally make decisions—e.g. Zuma’s latest—I think it is. To his credit, Malema has nothing but contempt for Zuma, but he reveres Robert Mugabe, who, like Malema, said some very good and sensible things before he came to power—the only problem was that Mugabe turned out to be a maniac. Casting a vote for any party in South Africa is a risk. When calculating that risk, we must ask ourselves how emotionally volatile the leader is, and do our best to imagine what will happen if he isn’t getting his way and his mood is our country’s rudder. I support what the EFF stands for, but it worries me that the party’s appeal—its very existence—depends on Malema’s personality. Malema says he wants to start a government from scratch and root out corruption at all levels. If that’s what Julius really wants, then the EFF could one day be in a position to weather its leader’s moods and steer its own course, even if Malema wants to take it elsewhere. But of course this can only happen if Malema lets it happen, i.e. if he feels like it, and I’m not convinced that he does.