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Meeting Malema

Andrew Harding | 12:35 UK time, Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Julius Malema loves golf. Not playing it, of course. Just hanging out in the clubhouse - especially Wentworth in Surrey, Britain - drinking and messing around with his friends. He's a big fan of nightclubs too - but not football.

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I learned all this, sitting in Mr Malema's sparse, handsome corner office on the seventh floor of the African National Congress's headquarters in the centre of Johannesburg. The country's most outspoken, notorious, divisive political figure had kept me and our television crew waiting for about four hours in his assistant's room while he plotted party strategy with his colleagues from the ruling ANC's youth league.

Eventually, Mr Malema ushered us in. A photograph of Nelson Mandela in combat gear hung proudly behind his bare desk.

In person, the plump 29-year-old can be charming, frank and funny. He talks with confidence and authority - about his desire to make money, his three-year-old son, golf, revolution, racial divisions, Robert Mugabe, and his life-long devotion to the ANC. He is clearly no fool. But he is also domineering, slippery, quick to lash out, and almost as quick to the play the "race card."

I'm not entirely sure why he agreed to speak to the BBC. His recent behaviour towards a colleague of mine inspired several dance hits but didn't do Mr Malema much good. As he made clear early on in our interview, he still regards the organisation as "imperialist".

But it's been a bumpy few weeks for Mr Malema. Fined, shamed, forced to attend political education and anger management classes by the ANC for undermining the party - was he looking to mend some fences? I'm not sure that's his style. But here, in no particular order are what I'd consider the highlights of about 40 minutes' frank discussion.

• "I didn't let myself down." Mr Malema steadfastly refused to admit any wrongdoing. When it boiled down to a simple "yes or no", he brushed the question aside, saying: "Yes or no doesn't work with me."

• "I'm open to new things." He laughed off his various punishments, saying anger management didn't sound very "African" and as for political education classes - "if you punish me with what I like, I must celebrate." He made it clear that the only thing that mattered was his continued membership of the ANC. "I'm an ordinary man. I'm not above the ANC... Many of you are disappointed that I'm still sitting here."

• "Never rely on an individual." This was the main lesson he said he'd learned from the disciplinary experience - a clear reference to the power-struggles within the ANC. He refused to say to whom he was referring. "I don't want to be a gossip." He vowed to continue backing President Zuma. "We will continue to support him until the ANC tells us not to."

• "I will make considerations." This was how he described his apparent climb-down on singing the inflammatory line "kill the Boer". He agreed that he "might" cut those words out of the song, and in fact he has already begun singing "kiss the Boer" in public. Later he scathingly referred to Helen Zille, the white premier of the Western Cape and leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance, as "that beautiful queen of yours".

• "You don't know Mandela." Not for the first time, he said he was being groomed to continue Mandela's legacy, and spoke about the former president's early radical role within the ANC.

• "We must never use violence." He praised President Mugabe's programme of land seizures as "very good except the violent part of it," and insisted that South Africa was heading in the same direction. He said the government here could not afford to pay market prices for farm land and therefore expropriations, and "take it or leave it" flat payments were the way forward.

• "We know what kind of work the imperialists are doing amongst our people." He insisted that nationalisation was on the ANC's "agenda", and spoke with real passion of the "racial divisions in this country," where "the gaps between the haves and have-nots grows - and it's racialised. Those who become more poor are black and Africans. Those who become rich are white. I'm fighting that. There's no racism in that."

• "I'm not going anywhere." Malema said he had another five years in the ANC's Youth League. He brushed aside, rather unconvincingly, talk of presidential ambitions, and said he wanted to spend more time with his son, and "lead the youth from the front in business." He insisted there was "nothing wrong" in combining business and politics, although "sometimes you get screwed there by your own people because money has got no ethics."


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  • 1. At 1:11pm on 25 May 2010, life wrote:

    There is no such thing as a simple "yes or no" answer.

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  • 2. At 1:26pm on 25 May 2010, lola971 wrote:





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  • 3. At 1:30pm on 25 May 2010, lola971 wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 4. At 2:16pm on 25 May 2010, Knavesmere wrote:

    I agree with Mr Malema that there is still a great divide between rich and poor in South Africa. I also agree that the rift between rich and poor appears to be growing. Is this gap as a result of racism?
    The legacy of apartheid will not disappear in a few short years, it will take time, but the radical scare mongering which Mr Malema engages in does little to encourage those who live in SA and who have benefitted from a past filled with wrong to help improve the country and share their wealth of knowledge.
    You do not feed a nation by scaring off the fisherman, but rather by asking the fisherman to teach his skill, to share his knowledge. There is no doubt that Mr Malema has some valid criticism of how far SA still has to go to address our past, but I fear that his approach, if un-curtailed could result in disaster for a country which so much potential.

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  • 5. At 4:02pm on 25 May 2010, Thembisile wrote:

    As a black South African I find Julius Malema's continued presence in SA politics rather disturbing. He may be intelligent, but he is undoubtedly disturbed. He talks of racial divides within our country? Then why is he prominent in the media perpetuating hate? The fact that the ANC have continued to employ Malema speaks of a bleak future for my country.
    People in South Africa do not want to follow in Zimbabwe's footsteps. That would be a blazing sword to our rainbow nation. It's time for him to be evicted from his position. He speaks only for himself and no-one else. Like he said, he wants to mix business with politics so that he can make money. What happens to the poor people he most often references?

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  • 6. At 8:15pm on 25 May 2010, Olde Saxon wrote:

    It is extremely difficult for non-South Africans to understand the complexities of the situation in this country.It is not possible to apply Western, Eastern or any other standards, because Africa itself is unique, and South Africa is unique within Africa.
    Julius Malema is not acting spontaneously or promoting his own or the view of his youth league. He is a lightning rod for the ANC itself.
    The ANC has failed to deliver on its promises, and seeks to apportion blame for this failure on those who do not support it. Malema's charge that the Whites get richer and the Blacks get poorer is astounding, to say the least, coming from a person who has not done an honest day's work in his life, yet lives in one of the most affluent parts of South Africa and managed to spend something like R400,000 on his 29th birthday party.

    Malema is, sadly, correct in one aspect. South Africa is as racially divided as it ever was, not because of the Whites who have resisted the temptation to leave, and who want to make the country work, but because of the ANC's covert, yet thinly disguised, policy of maintaining power through condeming any criticism as reactionary and racist. The ANC gleefully pounces on the lack of Black representation in the South Afric's boardrooms, or the extent of Black ownership of the mining industry, or the of size and number of White-owned farms, etc., etc., but they never disclose the White:Black proportion of taxes collected by the South African Revenue Service. They seem to have forgotten, if they ever knew, that taxation without representation has always been a cause of resentment.

    The BBC and its correspondents should wake up and dig deep to report on what is really happening here. Eskom is bust, the transportation infrastructure has collapsed, just about every municipality is bankrupt, the police are riddled with corruption; the list goes on and on.

    The tragedy is that the great majority of South Africans, Black, White, Brown or whatever other colour simply want to get on with their lives, yet a small band of people in the ANC are determined to make themselves enormously wealthy at the expense of these masses, just as has happened in most other parts of Africa. I repeat, Julius Malema is a lightning rod for the ANC, testing just how far they can go.

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  • 7. At 9:01pm on 25 May 2010, Positive Change wrote:

    I have been reading South Africa's newspapers for sometime now and i see the society is deeply divided. I strongly believe the people there are sitting on a time bomb. Crime can only be high in a terrible ueven society where some people feel too cheated or too frustrated.

    When i again watched John Pilger's "Apartheid didn't die", it just confirmed what i have always been telling my friends. There is the urgent need to mend divisions in that country which has the highest discrepancies between the rich and the poor and starkly divided by race.

    I condem the sometimes emotional outbursts of Malema but, i think there is always some sense in most of the things he says. The problem with him is that he is too blunt.

    For South Africa to preserve their beautiful country, there is need to end or reduce the economic divide. However, black south Africans must learn more technical jobs and aspire for higher heights.

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  • 8. At 10:34pm on 25 May 2010, SurreyW wrote:

    Perhaps after 16 years of 'democracy', Mr Malema needs to look at where the issues are? The fact that there are a number of people who are working to pull themselves out of poverty, and working towards their future, in spite of the majority who decide it's their 'right' to have everything handed to them on a plate shows where the problem is.

    I hope that South Africa can work it's way out of the pit they are in, however, unfortunately, I see the problem going the way of the rest of Africa. A country with so much going for it, and a government that is committed to driving them into the abyss.

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  • 9. At 00:55am on 26 May 2010, papenwors01 wrote:

    Iam tired of hearing racial dividing from that fool. In south africa,the only reason for being racial motions is because the government keeps on indoctrinating everyone that there is racial tension. I grew up and went through schooling when the new change of government came in and the new rainbow nation was instilled. We all need to learn each others cultures but in the same aspect respect that some people prefer to live among people who share the same culture. Culture is about beliefs and values NOT COLOUR. I lived in a peaceful neighborhood and my neighbor was black, that didnt phase me, he shared the same views as me. He also wanted a peaceful and tidy neighborhood. And everyone in the neighborhood got along fine, being black,pink,white or purple.People who share the same views will live together, its human nature. We all should start being more Proudly South African than trying to find faults in the past and blaming someone. Learn from the mistakes of the past and move forward. And as for poverty.. Ask all the MINISTERS who have stolen the Tax payers money but yet have failed to return it... Maybe if the gravy train passengers get off at the next stop and pay for their tickets, then just maybe does South Africa have a chance to start being the country it should always have been. I mean. Mr Zuma. Do u really need the 740i series BMW and the X5's for escort. Cant u just get the 330i BMW and use the rest of the money for other departments like the Health Dept or the Education Dept???

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  • 10. At 07:56am on 26 May 2010, Andrew Harding BBC wrote:

    Thanks for your comments. Did you see this article about the ANC Youth League's recent vandalism in Cape Town?

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  • 11. At 08:31am on 26 May 2010, RogerII wrote:

    I'm a bit worried about your lack of insight!!
    You comment "I'm not entirely sure why he agreed to speak to the BBC"... yet earlier you said he kept you waiting for four hours.

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  • 12. At 08:59am on 26 May 2010, BA wrote:

    It is about time the ANC stepped in to shut JM up when he continues to preach divisive politics. He does each and every person, regardless of colour, who are trying to rebuild and better themselves, a great disservice let alone the continued racial card being used whenever he feels or cannot reply intelligently to questions put to him. I'm afarid that the racial prejudices will continue as long he continues to spout them out of his mouth. From the overflow of the heart comes the outpouring from the mouth. In my opinion,from reading and listening to what he says, JM would honestly like to see a 'Zimbabwe-like' situation in South Africa and the sooner the better. When your people are hungry, poor and down-trodden you can do almost anything you like because the will of those is now so focussed on survival that the politics of the land are the most furtherest thing from their mind.
    Perhaps if the ill-gotten gains of the parlimentary elite was paid back into the coffers, because SA is a very rich country, then real progress will be seen. Whilst the top few are ensuring their wealth is the first and foremost course of action and that family members are ensured of a pocket full of loot, the rest of the people, who coted thwem in because of promises of a better life for all, will continue to be scrounging for the crumbs that fall from the political table. Cry the beloved country.

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  • 13. At 09:25am on 26 May 2010, sagat4 wrote:

    As an African, i am saddened to hear comments from this bigot called Malema. He is doing more harm than good to the country

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  • 14. At 09:59am on 26 May 2010, sagat4 wrote:

    What was wrong with my earlier comment? what i wrote was true

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  • 15. At 10:59am on 26 May 2010, GG wrote:

    Thank you BBC and Andrew Harding for making people more aware of who Malema is and what South Africa are up against. Why would he want to change his hateful ways when it makes him so rich?

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  • 16. At 12:36pm on 26 May 2010, Knavesmere wrote:

    There is a certainly a theory in SA that the ANC was using Mr Malema as a sounding board for some of its more radical ideas, to test the waters. If this is true, it is certainly alarming, but I also fear that they (the ANC) have lost control of it's mouth piece.

    What's worse, it seems as though the rest of the ANCYL are following in its leaders shoes, given the Times Link you have provided Andrew. One has to ask the question how these people hope to get better services by destroying the facilities which have been provided.

    Perhaps the ANCYL and Mr Malema need to realise that living in a democracy does not constitute a right to have. It is something which you have to work at and for! Just because the ANC is in power does not mean that everyone will get a house and a fridge (as was the understanding in 1994 after the first democratic election), but rather that other people are going to be considering how best to use public funds, currently that is the ANC, not the "whites".

    But as I have said, 16 years is not going to undo decades of segregation and division and there is a long way yet to go, but the manner in which Mr Malema and the ANCYL are going about it is, in my view, inappropriate, embarrassing and frankly disturbing!

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  • 17. At 12:37pm on 26 May 2010, BA wrote:

    I have posted a comment earlier and thought that this might be ineteresting reading from iafrica website in reporting about the destroyed toilets in the township, which were erected for the people using taxpayers money. I hope that this will be published here...

    Earlier in the day, the ANC Youth League,(of which JM is the President - my insert) which led the destruction of the controversial toilet structures on Monday, threatened widespread vandalism in the city in protest over service delivery. On Tuesday, the ANCYL's Dullah Omar region called on the youth to vandalise the city over poor service delivery.
    "We are going to destroy everything and make the city ungovernable," threatened regional secretary Loyiso Nkohle, one of those responsible for the destruction of the toilet enclosures.
    "We are calling on all youth to do this, especially those living in informal settlements."
    Regional treasurer Andile Lili said the ANCYL did not intend being violent, but was being forced to by the city.
    "Anything with the city emblem on it will be destroyed," he said, adding: "The youth league will be vandalising the city."

    And from the Mayor of Cape Town
    "Money that is badly need for service delivery is wasted through damage for the benefit of certain agendas.I am therefore asking the ANC as the governing party to publicly confirm by close of business on Thursday 27 May that they will constrain their youth league.They must prevent the league from intimidating the community and from organising this resistance and damage to public property paid for with public money."

    Please feel free to read the entire report on the iafrica website.

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  • 18. At 2:23pm on 26 May 2010, Richard wrote:

    Thank you Mr Harding and the BBC for providing this forum, I love reading the comments and in many ways being able to comment on these threads gives us a chance to get our frustration out. It is well managed and well balanced and give everyone with a reasonable point of view the chance to air their views. Keep up the good work.

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  • 19. At 3:49pm on 26 May 2010, zaza wrote:

    It saddens me to say that it is too late! Unfortunetly Mr. Julius Malema will be president one day. The ANC has given this man to much power and he knows it. I don't even want to imagine how the future will look.

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  • 20. At 4:46pm on 26 May 2010, Aleksas wrote:

    An article I would really like to see (or topic I would really like to have investigated) is what the majority population (the black people in SA) think of the ANC, how it's doing, and of Malema.

    Specifically, the youth, because it is such a large part of the SA population.

    I always argue that "I doubt that the black people, however poor (and with poverty, lack of education, leaving them open to manipulation) would put someone with such radical, racist/agressive views in power".

    In the end, it is the black middle class AND the impoverished black people that hold the "swing vote". They are the only ones that could "remove" the ANC from power if it was ever necessary.

    The black population is naturally loyal to the ANC (it fought for their freedom) -- but does this loyalty end when SA threatens to end like Zimbabwe?

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  • 21. At 5:40pm on 26 May 2010, Andrew Harding BBC wrote:

    Is Malema the problem or the symptom? Interesting article here...

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  • 22. At 5:43pm on 26 May 2010, canafridoodle wrote:

    Andrew thanks for waiting the 4 hours. I am mulling a burning issue as I read your blog. Do you believe that Malema is a barometer for the current sentiment under the South African youth? If so, then why are they so impatient to financially establish themselves at the COST of education and hard work? Based on what business model? They embrace a role model who is not known in the academic or business circles, yet drives an expensive vehicle and lives the high-life. They follow him blindly. Is Malema the Black ET? Great speeches (charismatic) yet zero deliverables? I am an outsider but am alarmed at the levels of violence, open disregard for seniors and above all the number of youth in each and every protest and court case. Who is accountable for the youth? If nobody takes responsibility for their guidance then do not act surprised if they all fall for a Malema as he is definitely providing some guidance. In the absence of none, one will prevail.

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  • 23. At 7:40pm on 26 May 2010, lily2001 wrote:

    In the above video Malema stated the richer are becoming richer... so isnt he one of the few becoming richer and unfortunatley people will follow him thinking they are going to get better lifestyles, especially since he is leader of the ANC Youth and can easily twist young peoples minds it is a scary thing what people are walking into.
    Alot of my family are still in SA and I am blessed to be in the UK with my family. I have seen alot of my friends and family there struggle withthe issues apartheid have left behind including the racism, as a white and my partner indian South African I can clearly see the racism that still divides the country and I have had the racism directed to myself, husband, and child from some white South Africans. Seeing what I see from Malemas behaviour they do have every right to be scared that they will lose their land if he comes into power, but unless they stop thinking that they are better than the blacks and indians then they will never show that they are past apartheid, and some of the the ways I have seen blacks being treated by white employers (like my gardener cowering in fear of the white caretaker we did employ untilI saw his treatment of blacks!) we will end up with a situation like Zimbabwe, as SA is a stunning country and full of opportunity if people reprise the roles of apartheid of master and slave.
    The ANC started as a communist party where people like Patrick Chamusso started to believe in after injustices to their family thinking that they were getting a better life by fighting for the cause, Malema I feel is making a joke of what these people fought for believed in and were ultimatley locked up for at Robben Island, or killed for, ANC really need to think about the roots of the Party and the forgiveness of the REAL freedom fighters felt and thought about when they were released.

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  • 24. At 04:49am on 27 May 2010, ananse wrote:

    Julius Malema claims to be fighting for the poor to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor. Unfortunately, his lifestyle is a contradiction to the very people he claims to be fighting for. How many of his followers own the cars and mansions he owns? Has the gap closed since he assumed office? His actions aren't different from many African leaders who crave the support of their people into leadership positions so they can amass more wealth for themselves. Wake up, ANCY, Malema is in this for himself!

    While not discounting the racial divide that still exists in SA, there is a better way of addressing the economic and social problems in that society. There needs to be a dialogue based on self-respect, understanding, and mutual interest. This can only be achieved by well-informed leaders who truly have a heart for the people. Unfortunately, Malema doesn't posses any of these qualities. He is full of hate and does not have character. He is a disgrace to the ANC and South Africa and needs to be dismissed from office. Unfortunately many of the people he leads are blind and enchanted by him because he feeds on their plight. When will the ANC and the people of SA wake up realize the need to appoint/elect REAL leaders and not "STREET BOYS" who just feed on anger and hatred?

    "Men of genius are admired!
    Men of wealth are envied.
    Men of power are feared, but
    Only Men of character are trusted."
    -Arthur Friedman.

    Perhaps Malema will take sometime away and focus on rebuilding his tarnished image and character.

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  • 25. At 10:38am on 27 May 2010, Englishman_in_Jozzi wrote:

    No one should be shocked by the actions of the ANCYL or its leader after all the ANC is nothing more than a South African version of the IRA (a paramilitary terrorist organization with a political wing), what has been forgotten during the last 16 years of hype is that ANC members were imprisoned for acts of terrorism against innocent citizens much like the ANCYL is still doing in Cape Town today.

    Imagine what would have happened to the UK if the likes of Jerry Adams had become Prime Minister of the United Kingdom just after Sinn Fein had their political sanctions lifted.

    Could it be that the problems that exist today are not the legacy of apartheid but the legacy of an inexperienced ruling party? 1994 was like taking a class of school leavers and putting them in charge of running a chain of supermarkets then asking why things went wrong.

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  • 26. At 11:41am on 27 May 2010, MamFlow wrote:

    The best question for Mr. Malema would be "where did you get the money for all the luxury and opulence you live in, young man?" I find it really astounding that the ANC cannot find anyone more suitable to lead its youth movement, than a person who completed secondary education when he was 21 years old!

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  • 27. At 11:50am on 27 May 2010, ananse wrote:

    I wish to add that Malema is acting as if SA is still in the Apartheid. While not denying the socio-economic and political problems affecting SA today, Malema needs to understand that the apartheid ended in 1994. The ruling white minority handed over the destiny of SA into the hands of the Black majority. Therefore Malema and current ANC leaders must own every problem the people of SA encounter today. He needs to grow up!

    I was appalled at the way he dressed down the BBC reporter who was only there as a journalist to cover the press conference. Using his own words, Malema is a "small boy" in fact a "street boy" who needs to complete his secondary school education and enter college and get a degree. Then he would be in a proper position to debate and act intelligently.

    "He who knows not and knows not that he knows not is a fool."

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  • 28. At 12:16pm on 27 May 2010, me wrote:

    Mr Malema wants to follow in the legacy of Mr Mandela, yet he has no humility- he is rude and arrogant, no desire for reconciliation with those of other ethnic groups- he treats anybody who is not like him as an imperialist. Mr Mandela was after a rainbow nation, he pursued it with humility and great integrity. The apartheid was an evil and has caused much pain, Mandela and the ANC broke that evil. I wonder what Mr Mandela thinks today?

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  • 29. At 1:09pm on 27 May 2010, Richard wrote:

    Personally I agree with the idea that JM is a lightning rod for how much the ANC can get away with before people sit up and so NO MORE.

    The toruble is the ANC are a freedom fighter party that 'liberated' South Africa form the dark days of oppression. Unfortunatly what they havent done is made the switch from liberators to governors. The party needs to overhaul its image and begin governing. JM shouts kill the boer (Basically attcking all whites) becasue that is how historically they rallyed support. They dont know how to change the way power is summoned in SA. Without that support of the people they are dead. So they keep the hatred alive because it gives them power. They are very good at whipping their crowds up into a frenzy to serve their purpose. What they shoudl be doing is asking the people what they want next. 90% will say things like: Roads, Water, electricity, jobs, food, access to education.

    The other 10% will say: More black people on the boards of directors, more majority black owned businesses, higher tax for white people, re distribution of land.

    Those are not the things that will make SA better......we need to go back to basics boys.

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  • 30. At 5:50pm on 27 May 2010, illiterateLola971 wrote:

    I disagree strongly with this pro seizure African sentiment! Malema is as ignorant to the plight of his 'people' as he is wealthier than them. I firmly believe he should be tried for man slaughter based on the actions taken by those indoctrinated or should I say intoxicated on the putridity of his hate speech sing song antics.He hopes to continue the legacy that Nelson Mandela sacrificed 27 years to accomplish by destroying any semblance of unity between different ethnicity Africans(White, Black and the many others). I feel ashamed that the world has to hear him speak on behalf of our country. It cannot be fair to expropriate or "nationalize" because our national infrastructure was mostly planned by "white" people who are also in the most part the one's whose farms he wants to seize.If there is nothing wrong about mixing business with politics in government then why can't we buy votes from the IEC?

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  • 31. At 10:21pm on 27 May 2010, Norman Conquest wrote:

    You waited for...what.. four hours on Mr. Malema? Tsk, tsk, tsk. Andrew, andrew, you know nothink about the ways of the world.

    I bet if Julius made you take the interview standing on your knees (or in various other poses) you would've done that too.

    However I am genuinely surprised that you'd managed to muster enough courage to interview this young man already of great repute. Thank you, keep up the good work.

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  • 32. At 3:42pm on 02 Jun 2010, BrandonSA wrote:

    The scary thing about JM is that he is the living embodiment of the people he represents - poorly educated (post 1994), a limited understanding of economics, no respect for his elders, desperate for the material booty of the capitalist West, yet quick to blame the same West for all of the ills of his race - and with a dangerous sense of entitlement. The only difference between him and his supporters is the fact that he has profited hugely from his skin colour (R130M in black-empowerment government contracts) - but this only makes him more attractive : a shining example of what can be done by thumbing his nose at the whites, promoting race hatred, and using political connections to win corrupt tenders.

    He is a truly dangerous individual.

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  • 33. At 4:13pm on 28 Jan 2011, U14749465 wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

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