EFF 'the most influential political party through ideas' - Malema on land expropriation

EFF leader Julius Malema has vowed that his supporters will increasingly seize unoccupied land to put pressure on the government to redistribute land to black people.

Malema warned that poor, young South Africans felt abandoned by the country's post-apartheid politics since 1994.

Land reform has become a fierce battleground ahead of next year’s elections, when President Cyril Ramaphosa will try to revive fading support for the ANC.

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"It's a completely new generation running out of patience," Malema told AFP in an interview at the EFF’s Johannesburg headquarters.

"The EFF came at the right time because it was able to amass all this energy into a party to agitate for economic struggle," he said.

The EFF won just over 8% in the 2016 local elections, and hopes to make a major breakthrough in the 2019 general election by tapping into frustration among millions of young and poor South Africans.

"The EFF said to our people – the most practical way to get the land is to occupy the unoccupied land to put pressure on the state, and it has worked," Malema said.

Ramaphosa's new land policy 'fake'

"Now the state and the owners of the land are beginning to say 'maybe we should do something'."

Unemployment nationwide is about 28%, with youth unemployment topping 50% in some areas.

Malema is renowned for his fiery speeches, but his party's flagship stance of demanding radical land reform has been overshadowed by Ramaphosa's announcement that the constitution would be changed to explicitly allow for the expropriation of land without compensation.

The government's policy spooked foreign investors – and threatened to steal the EFF's thunder.

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"Cyril says this today and says something else tomorrow, depending on where he is speaking," Malema said, describing Ramaphosa's new land redistribution policy as "fake".

"We say the same thing all the time, and they keep on changing.

"The EFF is the only relevant party in South Africa today – we are the most influential political party through ideas."

According to Ramaphosa, white people make up 8% of the population and possess 72% of farms, while black people make up 80% of the population but have only 4% of farms.

'There won't be violence'

Malema said he had led land seizures near his home in Polokwane, with more than 3 000 families settled on unused land whose owner lives in Canada.

"He came back and wanted to start negotiating," Malema said, predicting land seizures would not be violent – unlike in Zimbabwe where brutal farm invasions wrecked the economy under Robert Mugabe.

"There won't be violence. I think (white farmers) want to give up land as both black and white are talking to each other about how we can resolve the land issue.

"We are going to share the land, but it must first be owned by the state and reallocated back to all of us – black and white."

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Such inclusive talk may do little to calm fears among potential investors and wealthy South Africans over Malema's ambitions, and he still relishes taking a dig at the privileged lives that many white citizens enjoy.

He suggested white people could not emigrate to Europe as they cannot afford domestic workers abroad.

"In 1994, people thought white people were going to leave South Africa. They are still here. Where will they go?" he said.

"White people with money in South Africa are poor people in Europe. They are so used to being fed and looked after, they can't clean after themselves."