Cablegate: Controversial Youth League President Retains

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Thursday, 05 November 2009, 15:18
EO 12958 DECL: 11/04/2019
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Classified By: Political Counselor Walter N.S. Pflaumer for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

1. (SBU) Summary: African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) President Julius Malema probably has received more publicity from the news media in recent months than any other ruling party figure. (Note: “Mail and Guardian” political writer Mandy Rossouw has even recently published a book about Malema. End Note.) He was the most vocal member of the ruling party during the ANC’s 2009 national election campaign, and his public presence does not seem to be waning now that the new government is in place. It has never been adequately answered whether Malema speaks on his own or with backing from senior leaders of the party. Regardless of whether his views are sanctioned, however, it is becoming clearer that President Jacob Zuma respects Malema and his place within the movement. End Summary.

2. (C) There has hardly been a day in South Africa since the national election in April that ANC Youth League President Julius Malema has not been in the news. In recent months, he has been featured in a front page profile article from the “Mail and Guardian,” a front page article in the “Sunday Independent,” and on numerous radio interviews -- including Talk Radio 702 and Five FM. He has been in the news for doing commendable things such as meeting with and supporting University of the Free State Chancellor Jonathan Jansen last month following the university administrator’s decision to allow students to return to campus following a racist incident. He has also been in the news for doing questionable things such as hosting wild parties in northern Johannesburg that reportedly rage late into the evening and are fueled by alcohol and sex. Moreover, Malema has been involved in several court cases in front of the Equality Court. Most recently, a judge on November 2 delayed a case in the Court in which Malema is accused of hate speech. Malema earlier this year told an election rally that the woman who accused Zuma of rape in 2006 “had a nice time.” (Note: The Sonke Gender Justice Network said the comment was damaging to rape victims and women who were afraid to lodge rape complaints. End Note.) Clearly, Malema is a force in South African politics. Here are some of the reasons Malema has been in the news:
-- On October 29, Malema met with University of the Free State Chancellor Jonathan Jansen about his recent decision to pardon the racist behavior of four white students for a 2007 video in which they made black university employees eat contaminated food. The decision was controversial because many saw it as one that was made without wide consultation and without acknowledgment that the video was harmful to a non-racial, non-sexist South Africa. The Youth League initially said that Jansen should be fired and alluded to the government’s new crime strategy of “Shoot to Kill” in saying that those who excuse racism are criminals who deserve to be shot. After meeting with Jansen, however, Malema told protesting students at the university that they should support the chancellor because he “is one of our own.” The ANC Youth League President noted that the ANC would not agree with any calls that the professor should step down because he is a “symbol of transformation.” Malema also encouraged Qis a “symbol of transformation.” Malema also encouraged Jansen to follow through on a pledge to establish a reconciliation program that would be monitored by the Human Rights Commission.
-- On October 25, Malema said the ANCYL would work to ensure that Caster Semenya can run as a girl in the future (FYI: Semenya’s gender is a medical question being investigated by the IAAF). Malema in recent months has been one of Semenya’s strongest supporters. He greeted her at the airport after she returned from Europe as a disputed champion in track and field and told reporters that if she were white there would be no question of support from South Africans. At the October 25 session with reporters, Malema blasted the media for “trying to divert the country from celebrating her victory.” He said that when the Youth League speaks on her behalf, it is doing so because of the poor treatment young women receive in rural areas.
-- On October 21, he visited Standerton in Mpumalanga Province to investigate ongoing service delivery protests. The protests have been some of the most violent in the
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country this year. Following Malema’s meetings with residents and provincial and municipal officials, the ANC fired the mayor of Lekwa municipality, the mayoral committee, the speaker of the council and the chief whip.
-- On October 20, the ANCYL President told reporters that South Africa would nationalize the country’s mines for extra revenue. He said, “The nationalization of the mines will happen, the Freedom Charter says that.” He then added, “We want the ANC in conference in 2012 to pronounce what is the stand of the ANC on the nationalization of mines ... we need decisive leadership, we don’t want cowards.” (Comment: ANC Treasurer Mathews Phosa, who is often the voice of reason countering Malema’s statements, told British businesses in early November that the South African Government would not nationalize the mines. End Comment.)
-- On October 14, Malema was reportedly stopped for speeding on the road between Polokwane and Seshego. When his vehicle was pulled over, the ANC Youth League President is said to have berated traffic officials and asked, “Do you know who I am?” Malema then called numerous senior ANC and government officials and instructed them to discipline the traffic officers. A general manager for traffic was ultimately called to the scene and the following day he asked traffic officials to write letters describing how “they mistreated the youth leader.” Roads Department spokesperson Wisani Ngobeni told reporters that the allegations surrounding the incident were all “a hoax” and “hearsay.” Deputy Transport Minister Jeremy Cronin, however, told the “Sowetan” on November 4 that his ministry is investigating the incident because “nobody is above the law.”
-- In late September, Malema was in the news for hosting a wild party at his Sandton home that included a live band and alcohol. When neighbors went to complain about the noise, Malema reportedly asked them “Do you know who I am? Do you know what I can do?” He then reportedly slapped a police reservist.

3. (C) Admittedly, part of the reason Malema is so prominent in the news is because the public is fascinated by him and his outlandish statements, which sell newspapers and draw listeners. Rossouw, who published the most definitive account of Malema so far, has told Poloff in past meetings that Malema speaks for many working class and poor South Africans and that the Zuma government has effectively used Malema to address difficult issues which would be difficult to tackle without alienating core supporters.

4. (C) Yet, another part of the reason Malema features in the news is that he is extremely ambitious and wants to advance in ANC structures. There are rumors that Malema currently has the final say over ANC and government officials in Limpopo regarding what companies get tenders and what individuals get jobs. There is speculation that Malema wants to take over from Joe Maswanganyi as Limpopo’s ANC provincial secretary at the ANC’s congress in 2012. There also are rumors that he sees this as a stepping stone toward succeeding Cassel Mathale as provincial chair in 2016, which could lead to the provincial premiership.

5. (C) Comment: Malema’s continued media prominence begs the question: Where is President Zuma on some of these issues? (See reftel.) After all, it was Malema who went to Mpumalanga and Limpopo to quell violent service delivery QMpumalanga and Limpopo to quell violent service delivery protests. It was Malema who argued recently -- and extensively -- that South Africa intends to nationalize the mines. It was Malema who visited with Jansen after the decision to pardon university students. On none of these issues did Zuma make a statement. In fact, Zuma’s only comment regarding these issues may have been when he declared publicly on October 26 that Malema is a “good leader worthy of inheriting the ANC.” (Note: There were reports that Zuma told Malema before going to Standerton that he needed to be careful of his statements. End Note.)

6. (C) A long string of ANC Youth League Presidents have won notoriety for making outrageous statements; viz mid-’90s League President Peter Mokaba’s frequent use of the slogan “kill the Boer/kill the farmer,” at the very time when Nelson Mandela was campaigning for reconciliation and peace. One respected political analyst commented to us recently that he would be worried if a Youth League President did not go around sounding off like this, and that having someone saying
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such things might even serve as something of a safety valve by making disgruntled youth feel that their anger was being heard by the ANC’s senior leaders. We are nonetheless concerned that, as a generation which does not remember the struggle against apartheid comes to adulthood, they may be less content to accept mere rhetoric to express their anger at what they may see as continuing inequality. End comment. GIPS

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