South Africa’s MP, Julius Malema, Founder and Chairperson of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party, usually dominates the news headlines in South Africa.
At 37 years now, Malema is known as the Chief Opposition figure to South Africa’s ruling party, the ANC, and considered among the toughest voices that led to the resignation of the former South Africa’s President, Jacob Zuma.
Malema spoke to us on the sidelines of the Pan African Parliament summit held in Kigali where he talks about Nelson Mandela’s relationship between Rwanda and South Africa and his planned campaign to contest for the presidential seat in South Africa next year.
What is the meaning of democracy to you?
Malema: Democracy is the will of the people where the individual rights are being respected, where people have voter rights to choose any form of government without any fear, any form of intimidation and the people have the rights to remove any government that does not fulfill their aspirations and they should do so in a peaceful and democratic manner and they should be allowed to exercise those rights.
What is your view of Africa today and how should it be defined?
Malema: We should have a continent characterized by peace, growing economically, where countries are trading among themselves taking advantage of both their natural and mineral resources to grow their economies, defeat poverty and unemployment, defeat levels of illiteracy and position Africa in the geopolitics and rightful place as an equal partner with other continents of the world not as a subcontinent. So, we are going to fight for a continent where we speak one language.
What do we lack?
Malema: We lack unity. The west imperialism survives through divisions. So they divide people and through that division, they are able to exploit our mineral resources.
Coming back to your own political career, why did you choose to form your own political party?
Malema: Well, in South Africa, there was a vacuum for left politics, everyone else was advocating for neoliberalism and we thought that we needed a political party that speaks for the landless people, the unemployed people in South Africa and all the dejected masses of people including the workers because the Union of workers is indeed with the employed and it dances to the tune of the ruling party. Therefore, we needed a party that would represent the working place.
How is your party today?
Malema: Our party is growing very fast. Today it is one of the fastest growing political party and the third largest political party in South Africa. We have got more than 400,000 members in good standing and we have been formed less than five years now. That is why it is important that we grow this party because democracy in South Africa is a multiparty democracy. So, for it to survive, it needs political parties.
You are among political opponents that pushed for the constitution to be amended to allow land expropriation
Malema: That is what we are advocating for because the land in South Africa was stolen. The white minority came and concurred the people of South Africa and took the land. We are of a view that for us to have peace in South Africa, we have to restore the land in the hands of the rightful owners because the revolution has always been like that the land be restored into the hands of the people. We are now going to be celebrating 25 years into democracy yet the land is in the hands of the minority and we are not saying the minorities should leave South Africa; we say there is enough land in South Africa to share and we must share it with all who live in South Africa, the blacks and whites.
Are you convinced the land will be exploited ?
Malema: The whites found us producing, the whites did not teach us to eat. They found us eating. Producing means eating, production means we must produce to feed ourselves. We are not so much about maximizing or making profits. We are about feeding ourselves and if we produce more, then we can start selling to other nations. The black people are the ones working in farms in South Africa and the farms are what they are because of the black people.
What’s your plan for next year’s campaigns ?
Malema: We are going to contest in South Africa. We are going to run a successful campaign all over South Africa and we hope to unseat the ruling party, the ANC through outright majority or through coalitions. We hope to get more than 51% of the votes in South Africa. You don’t come in a boxing match hoping to lose, you go to fight with the intention to win.
Who is Nelson Mandela to you?
Malema: Mandela is a hero to me. Mandela represents the aspirations of the majority people. Mandela is one of the people who liberated us and in everything we do, we seek to achieve what Mandela did not achieve because Mandela as a human being, could not have achieved everything. He took from point A to B and now moving to point C is our business. Times were extremely critical of him because we sometimes think that he considered too much particularly when it comes to the economy and to the land question. We must continue his fight.
What did he not do on the land problem?
Malema: In negotiations, he should have made a priority the land problem and come up with time frames by when, what should have been achieved and how. When you look at the negotiations, nothing more was said about the land question, yet that was the core of the struggle.
At some point, South Africa was not been in good terms with Rwanda and it is now hard for Rwandans to get visas to South Africa. What do you think should be done?
Malema: I don’t know that [about deteriorated relationships]. What I know is that our country and Rwanda are in good relationship. We might disagree on this and that but we are countries that have high respect and regard for each other.
It is not only Rwandans who struggle to get visas to South Africa. Many other African countries struggle with visas to South Africa. We, in our party, EFF, we have always said we should open borders to our African brothers and sisters because these borders were imposed to us by colonialists during the scramble for Africa. They are not of our own creation. To want to put more emphasis on borders is to unwittingly support colonialism.
Recently you said Africa should have one language, Kiswahili. Why?
Malema: Kiswahili is one of languages of our own creation and it is one of the highly spoken languages in the continent. If we were to introduce that language in the curriculum of schools in Africa, we can use that to unite the continent. People relate easily and they are comfortable around each other when they speak the same language. If we are to gradually unite Africa, to come close to each other, Swahili has got some dialects of the majority of languages and therefore we feel all represented in that language. There are so many things that can unite us like the common currency, the Common African parliament, the legislature that can take decisions that are binding because the PAP (Pan African Parliament) now is not properly structured as it cannot take decisions that are binding to some countries.
It is not impossible to become the United States of Africa, it is impossible to one Africa with one President and one executive. The more the younger generations get exposed to democratic practices, the more the dictators will get rejected in their countries.
African youths still fear to engage in politics, thinking it is reserved for old people?
Malema: That is because the old men thrive on instilling that misinformation among young people. So, all the democratic loving people should encourage younger people to engage in politics because politics determines the future of our countries and the world and the youth are the future of the world and therefore cannot wait somewhere for someone to determine their future on their behalf. We are here to revive the interest of the youth in politics and mostly on the African continent.