Julius Sello Malema

Names: Malema, Julius Sello

Born: 3 March 1981, Seshego, Limpopo

In summary: Chairperson of Cosas and President of the African National Congress Youth League. 

Julius Sello Malema was born on 3 March 1981, in Seshego, Limpopo.  Malema, was raised by a single mother who worked as a domestic worker in Seshego Township, Limpopo. He went to Mohlakaneng High School in Limpopo where he made repeated attempts to complete his education. He failed two high school grades as well as several subjects in his final secondary school examination. His highest mark attained at school was reported as a “C” for second language English and his lowest marks were published as an “H” (sub 33%) in maths and a “G” (sub 40%) in woodwork, all on the standard grade. When his high school marks were published online, the ANCYL dismissed the published marks as “fake”,  but the South African Department of Education later confirmed the legitimacy of the much-publicized results.

Malema began his political career at a young age. He joined the Masupatsela (”Trailblazers”), a pioneer movement of the African National Congress (ANC) at the age of nine, where, according to Malema, their main task was to remove National Party posters placed outside police stations. At the age of 14 Malema was elected as both chairperson of the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) branch in Seshego and the regional chair in 1995. Two years later in 1997, he became the chair of the Congress of South African Students (COSAS) for the Limpopo province. In 2001, he was elected as the national president of COSAS.

Malema was elected as president of the ANCYL in April 2008, in a close race at a national conference held in Bloemfontein. The election – and the conference – was characterised by what Malema himself later described as “unbecoming conduct”. Allegations of irregularities in the polling procedure saw the conference adjourned shortly after the election results were announced. It was resumed only in late June, when Malema’s election was officially accepted. He mentioned in an interview on Radio 702 that he will go to parliament only when he is “a shiny polished diamond.”

Malema is known for his controversial statements and has become a frequent target for lampooning. In 2003, as head of COSAS, Malema said in a statement that the student union would do anything, including “burning the prison she is locked in”, to prevent the jailing of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. In June 2008, he made international headlines by vowing that the Youth League would take up arms if the prosecution of Jacob Zuma for alleged fraud and corruption continued. In an address to a Youth Day rally in Thaba Nchu, which Zuma attended, Malema said, “Let us make it clear now: we are prepared to die for Zuma. Not only that, we are prepared to take up arms and kill for Zuma.” The remark drew widespread condemnation and complaints. The ANC partially distanced itself from the statement the following day. 

Former Archbishop Desmond Tutu called on Malema to apologise, and complaints were laid with the South African Human Rights Commission by several opposition political parties, the General Council of the Bar of South Africa and individuals. The complaints were settled by an agreement between Malema and the Commission, facilitated by Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, that he would never use the word “kill” in a public statement again. Official opposition party the Democratic Alliance (DA) said it would continue to insist that Malema be criminally prosecuted, for incitement to commit a crime, despite the agreement.

In January 2009, Malema suggested to a group of Cape Town students that the woman who accused ANC president Jacob Zuma of rape had a “nice time” with him because in the morning she had “requested breakfast and taxi money“. Public and media reaction was severe. Cape Times columnist John Scott suggested facetiously that Malema be elected to parliament: “Young Julius has views about females that should not just be restricted to university campuses and other platforms where women don’t have the right of immediate reply.” In February 2009, Malema was criticized by his own party when he mocked Education Minister Naledi Pandor for having what he termed “a fake American accent.” He subsequently apologised directly to her after being told do so by the ANC.

In February 2009, Malema stated the following regarding Zuma’s corruption charges: “If he is so corrupt and he must be punished, let the voters do that [...]. Why do you want to subject him to the hands of the few, the judiciary, the judges and the media? Leave it to the voters, 23,000,000 must decide whether Zuma becomes president or not — not the judges”. Malema later told students at Walter Sisulu University, in East London, that his role in making controversial statements was that of a decoy, to “distract” the opposition while Zuma “sprinted to the Union Buildings” in the 2009 elections.

In 2010, Malema visited Zimbabwe where President Zuma is trying to mediate between parties who contested that nation’s 2008 election. He was accused of praising and pledging support for the dictatorial rule of President Robert Mugabe, who lost the election but refused to hand over power forcing the opposition into a coalition. The South African government has been at pains to show that it has not taken sides in the conflict. Zuma — who had previously supported the youth leader criticised him publicly when Malema contradicted Zuma’s foreign policy approach in Zimbabwe and for destroying the fragile balance that Zuma is trying to create inside the Zimbabwean Unity Government.  Zuma described his behaviour as “totally out of order” and warned that action would be taken against him. Malema fired back, condemning the President for criticizing him in public.

Inside the ANC Tripartite Alliance, Malema caused sparked tensions with the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), by proposing the nationalization of mines. According to the SACP and COSATU,  Malema’s calls for nationalization were unacceptable, as he was trying to enrich himself in the process. The fights that followed caused serious questions regarding the unity of the ruling alliance consisting of the ANC, Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the South African Communist Party (SACP). Malema’s blatant militarism has made him popular with the poor and frustrated masses, which form the largest percentage of the country’s voters.

In July 2011, the City Press newspaper, alleged in its report that a secret family trust of which Malema is the sole trustee may explain how he has been bankrolling his lavish lifestyle. The report alleged that the Ratanang Family Trust, named after Malema’s five-year-old son, was registered at the Office of the Master of the High Court in Pretoria on 13 May 2008, five weeks after he was elected president of the ANCYL. The paperfurther claimed that several senior politicians, companies, mayors, contractors and municipal managers deposited "thousands" into the account in exchange for Malema facilitating deals and pushing their agenda. For instance, one claim was that R200 000 was deposited into his account in exchange for facilitating a successful tender bid. When Malema turned to the South Gauteng High Court to block the City Press from publishing the story, his bid was quashed. He also responded by criticising the media for enquiring into his wealth, saying his money was nobody’s business.

Media reports spawned responses from various sections of society calling for an investigation. According to a report on 25 July 2011 in the Times Live, another newspaper, COSATU general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi added his voice to the growing calls for Malema to be investigated following allegations by newspaper reports that he had created a secret trust fund into which businessmen and politicians paid thousands of rands to get him to use his influence on their behalf. Vavi called on the ANC ethics committee, police and the Special Investigating Unit to investigate Malema. The South African Communist Party (SACP) also backed COSATU in calling for an investigation onto Malema’s financial affairs. In addition, Afriforum, an Afrikanner advocacy group laid criminal charges of corruption against Malema at Brooklyn police station in Pretoria while the Democratic Alliance called on the Public Protector to investigate him. However the ANCYL said Malema's trust fund was ‘above board’ and Malema has continued to defend himself and his trust fund.  

Malema was re-elected as president of the ANCYL in June 2011 at the 24th ANCYL Conference held at Gallagher Estate in Johannesburg.   

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