International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

Malema and the Future of post-TRC South African Leadership

Julius Malema, an extremely controversial and charismatic politician in South Africa, has had the corruption case filed against him postponed due to the inclusion of an additional count of racketeering. His lawyers claim the case is political, the result of a high-profile falling-out between Malema and his erstwhile political mentor, current president Jacob Zuma.

Malema is a mere 31 years of age, but has already been hailed, even by Zuma, as the “future leader” of South Africa. Before he was exiled from the African National Congress (ANC) party, he was the president of its Youth League, the activist youth wing of the party founded in part by Nelson Mandela and known for its frequent strikes and protests during the apartheid era.

Malema’s case is an interesting one, and a story that could be an ominous indication of the effects of state-run and politicized transitional justice processes. Malema’s late childhood and early adulthood coincided with the airing of the TRC; he is a part of the new South Africa, a product of the reconciliation and reparation process that has consumed the country after the fall of apartheid. For better or worse, he is of a generation that was molded by the narrative of the ANC’s triumph over apartheid and the TRC’s hybrid method of justice.

To witness his history of corruption and frequent hate speech, then, is to witness firsthand the possible drawbacks of a reconciliation process that so vividly illustrates the evil of the apartheid regime. Revenge, even when perpetrators are federally prosecuted, is still sought. Malema has been notorious for his hate speech against whites. He has, in various instances, called for South African whites to surrender their land, led a rally on a college campus while chanting “shoot the Boer”, and consistently refused to apologize for his provocative speech. Despite these incidents, he is often seen as an extremely popular symbol for the poor and disadvantaged black electorate.

In our Iliff reading on grassroots transitional justice, the dominance of state authority in many TJ processes is heavily discussed; specifically, there is an incentive in such systems to establish the authority of the new, transitional government, which could lead to an equally oppressive regime.

The TRC is not immune to these criticisms. Though the model for such truth commissions and hybrid TJ processes, it was still undoubtedly a project that in part aimed to legitimize the authority and message of the ANC and its post-apartheid agenda. Previous blog posts have discussed such contradictions in allegedly apolitical justice systems. Is Malema an outlier, or are his actions in part influenced by the TJ process South African implemented? Does his hate speech and radical, often anti-white views have any bearing at all on how the ANC’s narrative was presented to the South African population, both in the TRC and in other more localized TJ instances?


One response to “Malema and the Future of post-TRC South African Leadership

  1. mjbarnes1 December 4, 2012 at 12:16 am

    Smshetty, while I agree that Malema’s case is an interesting one and that his hate speech is a potential barrier to reconciliation in South Africa, I have a few additional point of argumentation.

    1. Undoubtedly, Malema’s context has been constructed by the fall of apartheid and the implementation of the TRC with its values of peace and reconciliation. However, in your post, you seem to be implying the Malema represents a failing of the TRC to promote these goals, and I believe this is a huge burden push. I think it is unreasonable to argue that the TRC should have eliminated every case of racism, hate speech and corruption from public life as anger and hate are often natural responses to crimes committed against you.

    2. To characterise Malema as representative of the opinions of wider South African population is misleading. Yes, he will be a leader for some black South Africans but as we saw in James Gibson’s article, often the vast majority of black South Africans appreciated the need for the TRC and its amnesty power for the promotion of reconciliation. And indeed, thought the TRC did a good job. Additionally, many were also understanding (if not supportive) of apartheid as a system, and through the structure of the TRC have come to view the past ambiguously rather than through a narrow scope of white = bad, black = good. With this wide deviation in opinion, I think it is unfair to imply that Malema is an accurate portrayal of the opinions of black South Africans.

    3. While Malema was initially hailed by Zuma and other South African ANC leaders, he has now been by them a multitude of times for a variety of instances, and is no longer a member of the ANC specifically because of his racist and hateful opinions. While you initially mentioned his expulsion from the ANC, I thought the rest of the piece aligned Malema too closely with the ANC, which has been supportive of the peace process since the fall of apartheid.

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