A South African opposition leader’s call to arms is a dangerous cheap shot

The landscape of South African politics.
The landscape of South African politics.
Image: AP Photo/Themba Hadebe
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The leader of South Africa’s fastest growing opposition movement threatened to take up arms if the government responds violently to potential protests during municipal elections in August.

“Part of the revolutionary duty is to fight and we are not ashamed if the need arises for us to take up arms and fight,” said Julius Malema, leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters, in an exclusive interview with Al Jazeera late Sunday.

The ruling African National Congress criticized Malema’s comments as “clear incitement to people to commit acts of violence,” in a statement on Monday, calling for an official investigation.

During the Al Jazeera interview, Malema also said that the Economic Freedom Fighters are a peaceful party that preferred to fight their political battles in court and in parliament, but would respond in kind if the ruling party used violence.

“We’ll run out patience very soon and we’ll remove this government through a barrel of a gun,” he said.

The Economic Freedom Fighters’ spokesman told a local radio station that Malema’s comments were linked to perceived irregularities in the 2014 election that saw the army deployed to stop pockets of violence. The spokesman said Malema was responding to President Jacob Zuma’s disregard of the constitution in general.

Such inflammatory statements are likely only to increase Malema’s grassroots popularity. He has threatened violence previously. Before he and Zuma became political foes, Malema said in 2008 that he would “kill for Zuma.” He was kicked out of the African National Congress in 2012 when as leader of the party’s youth league he made statements that were seen as inciting regime change in neighboring Botswana.

After launching the Economic Freedom Fighters in 2014, Malema and his new party have become popular with some of South Africa’s youth and the poor. Where some see political gaffes, others see a leader willing to tell the truth in an uncertain political and economic climate.

Only months after being launched, the EFF won over 6% of the national vote in 2014. Referring to themselves as “the government in waiting,” Malema’s party is determined to increase their local footprint after the August 3 municipal elections.