OPINION: Julius Malema's Olympic voyage
You really need to be a heavyweight newsmaker to be interviewed by the BBC World Service and Sky News in the space of two days in the middle of the biggest sporting event in British history. If that isn't proof enough that former Youth League President Julius Malema, who was expelled from the ANC in April, is still big news, people paid £20 (about R255) to hear him speak at the Royal Overseas League House on Tuesday evening.
Malema's been planning a trip to the British capital for several weeks, apparently to address investors on economic policy issues. In early July, he was billed to address an exclusive networking event at London's Commonwealth Club. Despite local media reports that he was advised against the trip by his support group, Friends of the Youth League, preparations persisted for his travel, but he apparently had problems securing a visa.
Malema's arrival in the British capital at the weekend, accompanied by former youth league spokesman Floyd Shivambu, who has also been expelled from the ANC, caused some consternation at the South African High Commission in London, which was worried that it might be dragged into arrangements for the visit. The ANC in London has also distanced itself from the visit.
But with Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula, Malema's political ally, leading the cheerleading squad for Team SA at the Olympic Games, he and Shivambu are in the company of the high rollers in London. International entertainment company CMG & Base Africa, which according to its Website "showcases African talent to the rest of the world", coordinated some of his public engagements, including the exclusive networking event at the Royal Overseas House.
Malema's visit is apparently at the invitation of an organisation of Africans in diaspora based in London, which shares his view that economic transformation in South Africa needs to be speeded up. There is particular interest in all the forums Malema is addressing on his controversial views on the nationalisation of mines and land expropriation.
While London is currently flooded with VIPs from all over the world for Olympic and associated events, Malema is being received with rock star status wherever he goes. While the ANC is increasingly trying to shaft and isolate Malema at home, including through pressure on the SABC to stop giving him airtime, the outspoken youth leader used the international platform to advocate for his controversial economic policies and for the removal of President Jacob Zuma as ANC leader.
The New Zimbabwe reported that Malema's arrival at Rollers Club, a trendy hangout for Southern African expats, on Sunday was greeted with delight by revellers who mobbed the ex-youth leader to have pictures taken with him. The Website reported that Malema was later seen dining with the former world heavyweight boxing champion Lennox Lewis at an exclusive Italian restaurant, Scalini.
In an interview with thesouthafrican.com, Malema said his trip was funded by "a private South African, who heard us speaking in Cape Town where we mentioned that we don't have money to go to London so he offered us the opportunity to come to London and engage businesspeople and others."
Speaking to the expat Website at a church hall in Clapham Common after addressing the Pan African Congress Movement in a meeting barred to journalists, Malema explained his visit: "We were invited by our fellow African comrades who wanted to understand the nature of the struggle we are pursuing in SA and they further organised some private interactions with some of the people here who are a bit worried about the struggle in South Africa.
"So we have been having those interactions with them and trying to explain what we mean by expropriation without compensation, what programme we should take, nationalisation of mines and other commanding heights of the economy."
Asked what he would be telling investors he was meeting during the trip, Malema said: "They need to invest in SA because we need each other and there is potential in South Africa.… But when they come to invest in us they should be willing to work to benefit us. We don't want a situation where they come and exploit resources in SA and South Africans are turned into observers and not active participants in their own economy."
His views on land and nationalisation of mines were also the subject of the interviews with the BBC World Service and Sky News. Speaking to Sky News political editor Adam Boulton in an interview televised on Tuesday afternoon, Malema said land should be expropriated with compensation in a "legal way". Asked by Boulton if he was trying to "copy Mugabe", Malema said land should be redistributed such that there "shouldn't be violence".
He said nationalisation of mines was "top of the agenda" and that the policy "would see the light of day" at the ANC's national conference in Mangaung in December. He told Boulton he was not advocating for wholesale nationalisation, and private investors should be prepared to enter into deals to share the country's resources. He said he was engaging with British business people and investors in a "friendly manner" and these meetings had so far been "very positive".
But it is forthright statements on Zuma that are causing the most sensation. Malema told the BBC's World Service that his expulsion from the ANC would be overturned "automatically" when Zuma was voted out of office at Mangaung in December.. In an interview which ran for an extra five minutes and drew questions from listeners in Nigeria, Cameroon, Uganda, Kenya and other African countries, Malema said: "When we remove President (Jacob) Zuma in December, it will be an automatic overturning of that decision…"
He repeated the sentiments on Sky News, telling Boulton that "signs are now very clear" in the ANC that the party "looking for an alternative" to Zuma who would "restore the dignity and credibility of the presidency". Asked whether he was the man to replace Zuma, Malema chuckled, saying, "Deputy President (Kgalema) Motlanthe is better placed to replace him".
The British media have always had a fascination with Zuma's polygamous lifestyle and had a keen interest in his rape and corruption trials. Malema therefore finds fertile ground in projecting Zuma as a backward leader who should to be ousted.
In the interview with thesouthafrican.com, Malema explained his support for Motlanthe: "We want Kgalema Motlanthe because he has good credentials in the movement and is a man who will bring integrity and restore the dignity of that office of president and still deliver on the hopes of our people and implement the aspirations of the freedom charter".
With the ANC already emptying its disciplinary barrel on Malema, there is absolutely nothing it can do to restrain its former youth leader from demeaning Zuma on the global stage. Malema is no longer restricted by the ANC's rules of engagement and has attacked Zuma on every platform he is given.
Malema is determined to make a comeback as a party member and as the youth league president. As far as he is concerned, the only ticket to his return is Zuma's defeat at Mangaung. Motlanthe will undoubtedly be under pressure from the party to denounce Malema's comments, but even if he does it will not stop Malema from campaigning for him as their political destinies have now become intertwined.
As Team SA won a second gold medal on Tuesday night, Malema was chasing his own prize: investor confidence and support for a Motlanthe presidency. He returns to South Africa on Thursday, knowing that Zuma is cursing the day Malema went from sycophant to nemesis.
This column appeared in The Daily Maverick.