July 18, 2019

Seeking Land Equality in South Africa

“The failure of land reform is one of the reasons that South Africa is among the most unequal societies on earth. Unemployment is at thirty-seven per cent. Only thirteen per cent of South Africans earn more than six thousand dollars a year. The education system is in shambles: nearly eighty per cent of nine- and ten-year-olds fail simple tests of reading comprehension. To add to the woes of South Africans, some seventeen billion dollars disappeared from state coffers under Jacob Zuma, and is still being pursued by the courts.

All of this helps explain the rise of a politician named Julius Malema—Juju to his supporters. Malema, the former head of the African National Congress Youth League, was first a protégé of Zuma’s and then an antagonist, railing against Zuma’s “self-seeking greed” and calling him a thief. After being expelled from the A.N.C., Malema founded his own political party, the Economic Freedom Fighters—a “radical, left, and anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist movement.” The E.F.F.’s position is that all South African land—as well as all banks and mineral rights—should be nationalized to rectify economic inequality.

Malema’s campaign billboards advertise him as a “son of the soil,” but he drives a Mercedes-Benz and wears a seventeen-thousand-dollar Breitling watch. In 2009, fending off accusations of corruption, he told the South African journalist Debora Patta that he identified with the underprivileged. “I am the poor,” he said. “If you are going to define richness on the basis of material clothes and cars, then that’s something else.” Targeting South Africa’s vast underclass for votes, the E.F.F. criticizes the A.N.C., but it demonizes South African whites. “Even under the so-called democracy, you are subjects, you are servants of white people,” Malema said, at a rally in 2016. “I am here to disturb the white man’s peace. The white man has been too comfortable for too long.” Malema concluded, “We are not calling for the slaughtering of white people, at least for now. . . . But, white minority, be warned: we will take our land—it doesn’t matter how.” The E.F.F. is currently the third-largest party in Parliament, with six per cent of the vote.”

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