Julius Malema’s presence has irked Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) affiliated unions, such as the National Union of Mine Workers (NUM)  and there is an increasing perception that they are losing their almost 30 year position as 'protectors of the poor'.

Ousted African National Congress (ANC) Youth League president, Julius Malema.

On 23 August 2012, at the memorial for the slain Marikana mine workers, Julius Malema stated that the government did not have the best interests of the people at heart and that they had in fact betrayed the trust people had in them. A week later Malema made an appearance at the Grootvlei mine on the East Rand and insinuated that the government was only concerned with the profits made from the mines and not with the mine workers themselves. Similar events were orchestrated by Malema at the Goldfields Grootfonteinmine which has also been facing difficulties with its  labour force.

These reports have prompted a question about Malema’s political future; whether it will remain dormant because his expulsion from the African National Congress (ANC), as well as the party’s youth league (ANCYL), or whether the incidents at the Marikana mine may have breathed new life into his currently beleaguered political career.

Prior to the tragedy which took place at Marikana, Malema’s political career appeared to be over. While Malema points out that he does not wish to incite violence but merely educate the mine workers about the inequality which they are being subjected to, his methods remain a contentious issue in South Africa. Malema urged the workers to adopt a “tools-down” approach as this would halt production and force government to take action. The mine workers see Malema as saviour who will lead them from the darkness of their difficulties, into the light of solutions.

We cannot blame the workers; Malema is all they have.

He has built their confidence in him by speaking their language, listening to their problems and most importantly promising them that there would be a change in their circumstances. Malema’s presence has irked Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) affiliated unions, such as the National Union of Mine Workers (NUM)  and there is an increasing perception that they are losing their almost 30 year position as ‘protectors of the poor’. The country’s president, Jacob Zuma is also under attack, and Malema’s current action are directed at dislodging Zuma in the African National Congress (ANC) elective congress in December 2012. Zuma will be contesting for a second ANC presidential term, and would be worried by Malema’s attempt  to paint him as betrayer of democracy.

With every day that passes Malema’s objective to disrupt the country’s political and economic order seems to become a reality,  foreign investors, although not avoiding South Africa entirely, are seeking other more stable and secure African destinations to invest in. The lack of action by powerful groups such as NUM (long viewed as the traditional labour partners in South Africa’s mining industry) has not gone unnoticed by investors, and they have expressed concern regarding the protection of their investments amidst such heightened labour and political risk.

Malema’s actions are not without criticism by those that are currently supporting him. Although Malema would like to come across as a defender of the defenceless, some see his ‘rants’ as expected from politician desperate  to stay in the media limelight,  keen on ‘stirring up problems for the government’ and ulitmately retain his once influential position in the ANC.  Sebelo Fateine, a mine worker, said he is not a supporter of Malema but he realises that when Malema is around the media is not far behind. He contends that in this way their issues would most likely addressed because with Malema’s presence their voices will finally be heard.

But Fateine’s other colleagues are not in favour of Malema’s approach, feeling it detracts from their issues: the spotlight is focussed on Malema, rather than on the plight of the mine workers. Evidenced by the fact that 95% of workers reported for their shifts the day after the ‘wildcat strike’ in Goldfield mines, and 92% the following day. This in an industry where 7 % of absenteeism is a norm therefore this shows that not all mine workers are in support of Malema’s approach in solving their issues with employers.

Although it is evident that Malema has not gained the support of mine workers across the board, it is also evident that he has reached enough people to create a cause for concern not only for the government and unions but also for the mine owners and foreign investors in the country.

– Political Analysis South Africa

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