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Key ally of Jacob Zuma is controversial, outspoken and being investigated for corruption.
Mashele says the recent attacks in the media won’t damage Malema’s populist appeal, part of which comes from the young politician’s skill at using the media as a platform for reaching out to his constituency. “The ignorant in society will continue to idolize him,” said Mashele.
Malema’s angry attempts to defend himself against the mounting allegations have been confusing. While Malema claimed that he had resigned from his companies when he became ANC Youth League president, it was later revealed that one of the companies was established a month after his election as the youth league’s boss. He then went on the attack against City Press, the newspaper that broke the story, accusing its reporter of forging his signature on documents to show that he was still a director at the company.
“Each time he disputes a claim in the media, new revelations come out that make it look like the media is correct,” notes Mashele.
The various provincial branches of the ANC Youth League have released furious statements denouncing the media reports about their leader. “Any attempt to associate a success of a black child to corruption is malicious and unwarranted,” said one such statement by the youth league’s Gauteng provincial office.
One youth league spokesman claimed that the ANC fought in the anti-apartheid struggle in order for Malema to have such a lifestyle. “He has a right, because these are the privileges and rights that we have fought for,” Ndoda Ngemntu told reporters in Cape Town.
Meanwhile the country’s union leaders have called for “lifestyle audits” into the financial affairs of politicians who appear to be living beyond their means, a proposal that has gained support in a country with widespread poverty, unemployment and growing anger at official corruption.
In a separate development South Africa's transport minister has announced a probe into roads and bridges built by SGL Engineering Projects, a company in which Malema is listed as the majority shareholder, which washed away in heavy rains due to poor construction.
Malema has made friends in high places. Malema and his Youth League gave strategic backing to Jacob Zuma as he rose to become leader of the ANC and ousted Thabo Mbeki at a key conference in Polokwane, capital of Limpopo, in 2007.
Zuma has returned the favor, publicly describing Malema as a “leader in the making” and worthy of “inheriting the ANC.” However the two have recently disagreed over the nationalization of the country’s mines, which Malema has pushed for despite Zuma stating that it is not government policy.
Some analysts view the recent discrediting of Malema as part of a larger schism between him and the ANC's left-wing whose support also helped to boost Zuma to lead the ANC at the Polokwane conference. Malema has blamed “left-wing leaders who drink red wine” for his recent troubles.
Since coming to public attention two years ago, Malema has developed a reputation for his outspoken, often insensitive and race-obsessed comments. However he has also managed to portray himself as being an advocate of the poor and unemployed, and of a new generation of brash political leadership.
Among his most infamous statements, Malema has accused opposition leader Helen Zille of appointing “boyfriends and concubines” to her cabinet “so that she can continue to sleep around with them.” He has said he would “kill for Zuma.” And he told university students last year that the woman who accused Zuma of rape would not have stayed for breakfast if she hadn’t enjoyed the sex.
Just this week, Malema led students at the University of Johannesburg in singing "Kill the boer, they are rapists," referring to white Afrikaners.
He also attacked two prominent female political leaders, saying that "no normal man" would marry Independent Democrats leader Patricia de Lille, who has criticized Malema over reports that he has not paid his taxes. Malema again attacked Helen Zille, leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance party, charging that she is "suffering from Satanism" and that she is trying to demolish churches in black communities. Zille said she would sue Malema for his comments.
Pieter Mulder, the deputy agriculture minister and leader of the Freedom Front Plus party, has laid a criminal complaint against Malema over the "shoot the boer" song, saying that it amounted to hate speech.
Malema’s career as ANC Youth League president will continue to be controversial as it is reported that some members want to reject him as leader at their conference next year.
Editor's note: This dispatch was updated to give the correct the song lyrics to "Kill the boer."