Julius Malema, the charismatic, firebrand leader of South Africa’ Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party, arrived in Kenya on Wednesday of this week. He came to the country for the launch of the Pan African Institute at Lukenya University. Malema may have come in order to mark this important development for the Pan-Africanism movement but the outspoken politician had no designs on ensuring that his visit was a quiet one.
What did Julius Malema have to say about Ruto?
In an address of the country that he made on the same day as president Ruto made his 2023 State of the Nation Address, Malema criticized Ruto for what he perceives as a stark disconnect between Ruto’s election promises and his actions as the current Head of State.
Malema expressed skepticism about Ruto’s commitment to the promises made during the 2022 General Election, specifically highlighting Ruto’s stance on currency issues. The EFF leader questioned Ruto’s sincerity in advocating for the abandonment of the US dollar in favour of a local currency, noting that Ruto’s actions do not align with this vision.
“Because I heard him saying we need to do away with the dollar and build our own currency, but his actions are not speaking to anything of doing away with the dollar.”
Malema also used his press-given platform to question Ruto’s commitment to a Pan- Africanist agenda. Alluding to the Kenyan president’s recent courting of foreign loans and, perhaps also, the many and varied state-sponsored trips that Ruto has done recently, Malema presented Ruto as a statesman more inclined to get into bed with the West and, perhaps, the East than with other African nations.
“We call upon the Kenyan government to be firm and to decide what they want to be, do they want to be Pan Africanist or do they want to be proponents of neocolonialism? You can’t have it both, only one call must be made and that call is open Africanism.”
Malema’s scathing remarks about President Ruto extended also into Kenya’s welcoming of British royals into the country. The South African opposition leader condemned Ruto for the recent visit to Kenya by Britain’s King Charles III; it was the first royal visit by Charles as Kind of Great Britain. According to Malema, the grandeur showered on the visiting British royals was unmerited.
Malema drew attention to the fact that King Charles did not give Kenyans a direct apology for the atrocities committed by British soldiers during the colonial era in Kenya. He also gave some indication as to what a proper apology might look like.
“Unless they try to bring trillions of pounds to heal the deep wound they left in Kenya”, Malema added.
As Ruto made the 2023 address of the nation, Malema’s sideshow provided what the president will have undoubtedly considered an unwanted distraction. There are many Ruto malcontents in this country who would not have needed an influential, foreign actor in order to criticise the president.
Ruto undoubtedly hoped to use the State of the Nation address to soothe certain of Kenyans’ concerns. Amidst a still high cost of living crisis and with new taxes and fees for government services arriving seemingly daily, the president’s address was aimed at giving context. Malema, in typically bombastic fashion, would not allow the president a monopoly over the country’s attention.
The EFF man had come here to say his peace and say it he did, often at Ruto’s expense.
“I don’t know if President William Ruto means [what he said on the campaign trail] because he said so many things and I cannot locate him these days because the things he said during elections and the things he is doing now are two different things,” said Malema.
Julius Malema and the ‘Kill the Boers’ controversy
Many readers will have heard of Julius Malema before. As a politician unafraid of courting attention, he’s been a prominent figure in South African politics for quite some time. However, recently, a video from a political rally led by Malema and held at the end of July 2023, went viral.
In the video, Malema leads EFF followers in a chant of “kill the Boer, kill the farmer”, referring, as many of you will know, to the descendants of the first Dutch settlers in South Africa.
Despite widespread criticism, Malema, and certain historians, have defended the chant, arguing that it holds historical significance as a liberation struggle song. He pointed to a court ruling that deemed the chant not to be hate speech and reiterated his victory in the legal battle against AfriForum, a civil rights group that reported the EFF to the Equality Court for hate speech.
Malema argued that the song targets a system of oppression rather than individuals, using it as a tool to remind people of the historical struggles against apartheid. South-African/American billionaire businessman, Elon Musk, however, argued, in the wake of the video’s virality, that the chant was a call for a white genocide.
On the meaning of this chant, the jury is, therefore, still out. What’s more, what those powerful lyrics mean to one person will undoubtedly be different to another. What is for certain is that, whether here in Kenya or back in South Africa, Malema remains a divisive figure.