South Africa’s ruling party, African National Congress (ANC) has opened a case of treason against opposition politician Julius Malema after he threatened a violent overthrow of the government.
The ruling party’s move follows an interview Malema gave to Al-Jazeera television on Sunday in which he said “we will remove this government through the barrel of a gun” if it continued to use violence to suppress protest.
In the interview Malema said: “We (the Economic Freedom Fighters, EFF) are a very peaceful organisation, we fight our battles through peaceful means, through the courts, through parliament, through mass mobilisation, and we do that peacefully.
“But at times the government has attempted to respond to such with violence, they beat us up in parliament… They sent soldiers to places like Alexandra (township) where people are protesting.”
Asked whether he was literally saying people should take up arms against the government, Malema responded, “Yeah, literally. I mean it literally. We are not scared. We are not going to have a government that disrespects us”.
“We are not going to stand back; Zuma is not going to use the army to intimidate us. We are not scared of the army, we are not scared to fight. We will fight – yes, literally we will fight. I mean it literally, we are not scared.”
ANC national spokesperson Zizi Kodwa said the party had gone to the police to lay a charge of treason against Malema.
“The ANC opened a case against Julius Malema in his capacity as the leader of the EFF and the EFF, his organisation, following his statement – reckless utterances he made last night that they are prepared to remove a democratically elected government through undemocratic means; in his words, “through a barrel of a gun”. We don’t want to take these utterances for granted that he explained that he meant literally. We think that a democratic government can’t be removed undemocratically and therefore his utterances constitute treasonable charge…a charge of high treason,” Kodwa said.
The ANC spokesperson said the step was taken as a responsible government could not afford to wait for bloodshed before investigating and taking measures to protect the country’s democracy.
The ruling party is not the only one to condemn Malema’s utterances. While the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) described the act as a ‘coup’, Democratic Alliance (DA) leader and official leader of the opposition, Mmusi Maimane said the threat should be taken seriously.
“Why do you want to listen to people who are motivated by hatred? Someone motivated by hatred; they hate everyone, they hate black people, they hate white people, they want to bring violence to society; and this is not an empty threat. You can remember in the Northwest they torched the university there…,” Maimane said.
Last week, Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille blamed violent protests that erupted in Dunoon on the EFF.
De Lille’s spokesperson Pierrinne Leukes said the mayor had met with community leaders.
“The community leaders that Mayor De Lille met with reported that the EFF are mobilising and inciting public violence on the ground. This is also reflected in police intelligence which has been gathering the past few days.”
Abuse of Freedom
Meanwhile, the South African National Civic Organisation (Sanco) has accused the EFF leader of abusing his right to freedom of speech.
Sanco says Malema has violated his oath of allegiance to Parliament through his comments and should be sanctioned.
The organisation’s spokesperson Jabu Mahlangu said, “In a democratic state, such a statement would be irresponsible and actually should be a criminal offence for anyone to make a threat that he would pick up arms to fight against a democratic government.”
“A leader of a party that sits in Parliament, who is a lawmaker himself, makes these undemocratic statements, which suggest that he undermines the Constitution and does not understand South African law. He calls for a civil war which we are saying is something that should be rejected.”
This is not the first time that Malema would be making such threats. In 2008, as leader of the ANC Youth League before he was expelled from the party, Malema said at a youth rally, “We are prepared to take up arms for Jacob Zuma”
Another statement of his that was seen as incitement to violence was when he said, “Kill the Boer (White farmers)”
Also recently, in the heat of allegations of the billionaire Indian family the Guptas influencing government, Malema said “We cannot guarantee the safety of ANN7 (TV) and The New Age (Newspaper) journalists.
The Guptas own both news organisations.
His latest threat is seen as a violation of the Election Edict which all political parties signed recently. The edict demands certain electoral standards, one of which is ‘no room for violence or intimidation’.
The EFF has been demanding the ouster of President Jacob Zuma for several months, accusing him of corruption.
EFF deputies regularly disrupt parliamentary sessions, sometimes shouting anti-Zuma slogans.
Last year, EFF MPs were expelled from the assembly by security guards after fights broke out.
The fiery 35-year-old Malema was expelled from the ruling ANC in 2012 when he was head of the party’s youth wing.
He founded the radical leftist EFF a year later which entered parliament with 25 deputies after the May 2014 elections, becoming the third largest party.