Hard for South Africans not to be interested in 'firebrand' politician Julius Malema

In a radio studio in the suburbs of Johannesburg, a group of producers is huddled around a speaker. They are laughing uncontrollably at their "celebrity guest".

Outside, the cleaners have downed their buckets to try to catch a glimpse of him.

Whether they like him or not, it’s hard for South Africans not to be interested in Julius Malema, the chubby 33-year old sitting behind the microphone, wearing his trademark red beret.

Julius Malema, leader of the Economic Freedom Party (EFF), waves to supporters during his party's final election rally in Pretoria. Credit: Reuters/Skyler Reid

Malema, commonly described as a "firebrand", led the ANC’s youth league before he was kicked out of the movement. Now he has a political party of his own, the "Economic Freedom Fighters"’.

We're with him on the campaign trail as he travels from studio to studio, rally to rally.

Supporters of Julius Malema's Economic Freedom Party (EFF) wait for his arrival in Pretoria. Credit: Reuters/Skyler Reid

Malema’s opponents accuse him of being a "mini Mugabe" with a dangerous vision for South Africa that includes a plan to nationalise the country’s mines.

But his superstar status is down to a sharp mind, a sharper tongue and a powerful message which resonates with many young, black South Africans: twenty years after the end of apartheid, democracy hasn't delivered for them.

South African president Jacob Zuma. Credit: Reuters

He has become an outlet for the frustration of much of South Africa’s youth - anger which might explain why only one-third of adults born after 1994 have bothered to register to vote.

The disillusionment of the ‘born free’ generation in a country where the potential of politics is well known reflects badly on twenty years of democracy.

Supporters of Julius Malema's Economic Freedom Party (EFF). Credit: Reuters

Malema says one man is to blame. During our interview, he keeps a reserve of vitriol for the South African president Jacob Zuma, who he describes as the most dangerous person in the country.

He believes that under Zuma’s leadership, the ANC has drifted away from the ideals of Nelson Mandela and has failed the poorest South Africans. His country is “going to the dogs” he tells me.

As an example, he cites the revelation that Zuma spent £14 million of public money upgrading his private home.

Supporters of Julius Malema's Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party cheer at the Tembisa township, east of Johannesburg. Credit: Reuters/Mike Hutchings

But is Malema’s gloomy assessment of South Africa correct? The country is certainly richer and safer than it was at the birth of democracy. But it remains a society blighted by inequality - both racial and economic.

And its education system was found to be the 146th best of the 148 countries included in a survey by the World Economic Forum.

Loyalty to the ANC - perceived as the party of the liberation struggle - means an election victory is guaranteed.

But if its majority is badly dented in tomorrow’s vote, South Africans might begin to imagine a day when the ‘natural party of government’ is voted out of office.

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