Julius Malema, the 30-year old leader of the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) has attracted growing headlines since 2010 for his calls to nationalize South Africa’s mines, and to emulate Zimbabwe’s land redistribution program in order to rectify a wide wealth imbalance between the white minority, which accounted for 9% of the 50 million person nation according to a 2010 census. Malema proclaimed “The only option is to take the land without compensation, if you refuse to give us an alternative.”Writer Taylor Broaderick gives a nice summary of what happened (and is still happening) in Zimbabwe:
Last month, he was convicted of hate speech for singing an inflammatory anti-apartheid song which translates into “Shoot the Boer” (Dubhula iBhunu) at a ANCYL rally. Are these the harmless ravings of an innocuous radical activist, or an ominous harbinger for South Africa’s future? Current President Jacob Zuma has previously referred to Malema as a future president.
Next year, the ANC will hold leadership elections, in which the next president of South Africa will likely emerge. Though nominally a multi-party state, the ANC won 70% of the seats in the 2009 National Assembly elections while the Democratic Alliance, its most formidable opponent, gained 20 seats while attracting 12% of the vote.
This is a critical time for South Africa. Foreign direct investment slid 70% from 2009 to 2010. Nelson Mandela is retired from politics and 93 years old; his absence from public view at the 2010 World Cup speaking to his age and frailty. The ANC’s choices next year at the Bloemfontein/Mangaung conference could determine if Africa’s only G-20 nation continues to set an example of modernization and liberal democracy for its poorer neighbors, or if it follows the tragic path of Zimbabwe.
The Republic of Zimbabwe officially gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1980 after the cessation of a brutal civil war between the black liberation groups, Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) and Joshua Nkomo’s Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU), and the white minority Rhodesian government led by Ian Smith. Zimbabwean independence represented a coda to post-World War II decolonization that largely ended in Africa in the 1960s. After the Portuguese abandoned armed resistance to independence movements in its African colonies in 1974 and granted independence to its possessions the following year, John Vorster, the prime minister of South Africa, pulled back his support for Smith’s government and pressured him to accept majority rule. Four years later, the Lancaster House Agreements created the conditions for independence and Mugabe’s election as prime minister in 1980.When studying Africa's wars in the 1980's I found the ZANU/ZAPU divide rather humorous, more like Monty Python's Life of Brian, with the "Judean People's Front" and the "People's Front of Judea" no different in membership and goals but nevertheless at each other's throats. Little did I knowthat in the case of ZANU and ZAPU the divide was ethnic:
Mugabe was celebrated internationally for driving the nation to majority rule. The independence celebration was attended by Prince Charles and featured one of the last major performances by reggae superstar Bob Marley. But by 1987, Mugabe had moved far down the path of becoming a despot. The massacres of the Ndebele people (who constituted most of Mugabe’s rival independence movement, ZAPU) resulted in thousands of deaths and decimated ZAPU. In 1987, he forced Nkomo to roll ZAPU into ZANU under Mugabe’s control.From there, it got worse. Much, much worse:
Mugabe also abolished the small number of seats reserved for the white minority in Parliament, as well as succeeded in changing the constitution to install himself as executive President and gain the powers needed to ensure his hold on power lasted indefinitely. These events enabled him to initiate the haphazard and often violent land redistribution program meant to transfer white-owned land to his supporters, all the while continuing to brutalize his black opponents. Zimbabwe’s poor economic mismanagement and resulting hyperinflation has made the mistakes of his a cautionary tale in business schools. While organized opposition has gathered strength and coerced Mugabe to accept some power sharing with the Movement for Democratic Change, the economic and social damage his oversight has wreaked will take years to repair.Zimbabwe is not exactly on the path to recovery. Mugabe is still in power, thanks in large part to the backing of South Africa. Not a good sign for South Africa. And Malema could be even worse still:
Some commentators have compared Julius Malema to Robert Mugabe before the latter lurched in the wrong direction. However, I wonder if Malema could turn out to be even worse if he eventually wins the presidency. Robert Mugabe spent 11 years in a Rhodesian prison and was even denied permission to attend his son’s funeral while incarcerated. Unlike South Africa, Rhodesia did descend into a terrible conflict often referred to as the Rhodesian Bush War. Whites accounted for less than 1% of the Rhodesian population while whites and people of Asian descent account for 20% of South Africa’s population, and have lived in South Africa far longer than their Rhodesian counterparts. His vengeance, as misguided and misplaced as it is, can at least be partially understood in the context of his background.Something to watch. Let's hope South Africa turns this thing around.
Malema cannot claim the freedom fighter mantle. He was 8 years old when Mandela was released from prison. He trumpets his role as an “economic freedom fighter”, but has amassed a tidy fortune and is well known for his numerous houses and ostentatious display of wealth. He pushes for the nationalization of mines even as the National Union of Mineworkers, which represents 400,000 mostly black mine workers opposes him.