By Tazorodzwa Mnangagwa ’16
In a recent interview with the Al Jazeera English Network, outspoken South African opposition figure Julius Malema, threatened to use “…the barrel of a gun” as a last resort if necessary to remove the ruling party—African National Congress (ANC)—from government. Malema, 35, and leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) is not a stranger to controversy in South African politics. At a press conference in 2010, Malema, then head of the influential ANC Youth League (once headed by Nelson Mandela) chastised a BBC reporter accusing him of being an ‘agent’ of the west. The EFF leader’s recent remarks have sparked international interest and concern, especially as they came a few days before South Africa’s 22nd Freedom Day Celebrations and crucial local government elections this August.
Despite Malema’s threats, his sentiments resonate with an ever increasing share of South African’s who feel that the ANC has been too slow in delivering its promise for better living standards, especially for the Black majority, since the end of apartheid in 1994. According to the African Development Bank, the top 10% of the population (majority White) controls about 58% of the country’s wealth. This puts South Africa amongst the world’s most unequal societies. With 16.8% of the population living on less than $1.90/day compared to 15.1% in 2008 according to the World Bank, it is clear that poverty levels in South Africa are on the rise. GDP growth has also dropped to 1.5% in 2015 from 2.2% in 2013. These statistics show the difficulty that the ANC faces in addressing the country’s challenges, making it easier to comprehend why sentiments by the EFF continue to resonate with so many Black South Africans.
In order to recover from its current crisis, one critical factor needs to be addressed if South Africa is to remain politically and socially stable, namely political corruption. One of the most recent scandals that have rocked the country involves the current President and leader of the ANC, Jacob Zuma. President Zuma, 74, was recently found guilty by the country’s highest court for misappropriating public funds. It is alleged that Zuma spent $23 million dollars on ‘security upgrades’, which included building a swimming pool, a cattle enclosure, and an amphitheatre, at his private residence. This resulted in massive street protests by Malema’s EFF and South Africa’s official opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, headed by Mmusi Maimane. Maimane and Malema recently worked together and pushed a motion in the South African Parliament to impeach President Zuma. However, they were unable to reach a two-thirds majority needed despite working with all other opposition parties as the ANC have an overwhelming parliamentary majority.
Despite surviving impeachment, Zuma’s actions have brought into serious question the political will that the ANC has to fight poverty in South Africa. One of the main policies that the ANC has implemented to address inequality is the Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) program. The BEE is an affirmative action program that gives an opportunity for Black South Africans to access funds and shares in businesses that were predominantly dominated and held by White South Africans. Despite its successes, the BEE has been seen as ineffective. This is largely due to the fact that business opportunities and deals have been largely given to those that are politically connected to the ANC. Malema’s EFF party advocates for a more radical and socialist solution—is to nationalize all gold, diamond, and iron ore mines. The EFF also advocates for the redistribution of land that is has been controlled by White South Africans, who make up less than 15% of the population.
It remains to be seen how South Africans respond to the current situation and policies of the ANC and EFF. The August local government elections will act as litmus test for both parties. In order to restore public confidence, there is urgent need for the ruling African National Congress to address corruption within the government. Furthermore, more proactive measures must be taken to address the economic inequality within South Africa. Failure to act, coupled with high levels of corruption, would rationalize Malema’s radical rhetoric and potentially plunge Africa’s second largest economy into chaos.