THE firebrand South African opposition figure Julius Malema has warned of impending civil unrest in the continent’s richest country and likened it to ‘an Arab Spring.’
The controversial leader of the opposition Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) spoke of the country waking up one day with ‘very angry people that are not going to be reasonable.’
Discontent with the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party in South Africa is at all-time high levels due to the social conditions within the country and ‘the poor becoming poor,’ according to Malema.
‘When the unled revolution comes… the first target is going to be white people,’ Malema told the BBC’s Hardtalk programme earlier this week, adding that the uprising would also target ‘black elites.’
The only way to head off the violence was an immediate intervention to raise the quality of living for poor people in the country, according to Malema.
‘The violence that is going to happen in South Africa is because the elite is disappearing and the poor are becoming more poorer,’ he said.
‘Therefore there’s going to be something that looks like an Arab Spring. That, we are guaranteed.’
But Malema, who has been accused of fomenting racial tensions, denied that it was his own rhetoric that was driving the anger and unrest, calling what had been seen so far a ‘picnic.’
‘I’ve engaged in democratic ways of trying to resolve problems in South Africa. Those who are scared of our ideas try to create an impression of very violent people. We are not.
We are not responsible for any single violent activity that has happened in South Africa.’
Malema is a divisive and controversial figure in South African politics often accused of fomenting racial tensions, but he was only echoing the words of former South African President Thabo Mbeki, who issued similar warnings last week.
‘One of my fears is that one of these days, we’re going to have our own version of the Arab Spring,’ said Mbeki.
He said there was no national plan to address the poverty, unemployment, and inequality plaguing South Africa and warning that it could lead to violence.
Unemployment in South Africa is rife, inflation is at a 13-year high, corruption is perceived to be rampant and the energy sector is troubled.
Protesters have demanded the immediate suspension of South African and ANC President Cyril Ramaphosa, the reduction of the fuel price, immediate end to load-shedding (planned electricity blackouts) interruptions and implementation of the living wage and a 12 per cent salary increase for all public servants.
The current President Cyril Ramaphosa has acknowledged a ‘difficult time for the country’ but in a separate speech said the ANC had a plan to fix things.
But it is questionable whether his words will have any credibility with the 30 million South Africans, 55 per cent of the country, who live below the poverty line, according to the World Bank.
Malema, 41, has been a controversial figure in South African politics, having been convicted of hate speech in 2010 and 2011 for singing the song ‘Shoot the Boer’, which critics claim celebrates violence against white people.
Prior to 2012 he was a member of the ANC and on the inside of South African politics until his expulsion for his hate speech convictions and fomenting racial tensions.
In 2013 he founded the left-wing EFF, which has been accused of fomenting anti-white and anti-Indian racial discord. In 2019 the EFF won nearly 11 percent of the vote and has 44 seats in parliament.
He was also charged with fraud, money laundering, racketeering and tax evasion over his handling of government contracts. The case was dismissed in 2015 and Malema called them ‘politically motivated.’