Is it premature to begin to profile him as a president of the country in the not too distant future?
Many think not.
Four of his close allies last night suggested it could become reality by as early as 2027.
In the last 10 years he has risen through the ranks from Cosas president to two-time holder of the position of ANCYL provincial secretary to president of the league, finishing off his first term this weekend as a political force to be reckoned with.
In the last year alone he has made a remarkable comeback to the centre of political life. A return from the political wilderness to which he was exiled when the parent party disciplined him.
Now at the age of 30 he is driving the country’s political agenda and pulling many politicians’ strings as he plots the path for the ANC’s succession race next December.
By the time Malema finishes his second term as youth league president he will be 33.
In the past he has hinted that he will not run for a third term but will return home to Limpopo, where he will begin to work his way up through the mother party’s ranks, first as provincial secretary and eventually as premier of the province.
Should he then decide to set his sights on the national leadership of the party he will not be the first to do so at such a young age. Dr AB Xuma became president of the ANC in 1940 at the age of 47.
When he delivered his political report on Thursday, Malema also referred to the fact that Walter Sisulu “was elected secretary-general at the age of 37 and turned (the ANC) into a mass, fighting movement”.
However, to assume that Malema’s rise might be unopposed is to ignore the fact that the 1 million-member political party has a number of men and women already waiting in the wings.
“They can make kings and queens in the league but not the ANC,” said one senior party member yesterday who scoffed at Malema’s alleged power.
“His influence today has to do with the ANC and not his personal brand,” said another who was also present at the Midrand conference.
Whether a second term for Malema would have repercussions on a second term for President Jacob Zuma was also a hot topic of discussion both within and beyond the Gallagher Convention Centre yesterday.
“The youth are in for the shock of their lives if they think they can unseat Zuma,” said one ANC insider. “We will not allow them to destroy this organisation.”
ANC Gauteng chairperson Paul Mashatile expressed his views in more measured terms.
“I don’t think the ANCYL and the ANC should be conflated,” he said. “When the time is right there will be a robust discussion about succession in the ANC, and the youth league will be a part of that discussion. But not until then.”
Political commentator Adam Habib said: “Malema’s win was already priced into the political balance of powers so I don’t really expect it to change anything fundamentally and certainly not Zuma’s chance at a second term or his future.”
However, when Malema said on Thursday that “the world is getting younger and South Africa is a young nation so those who lead the ANC and government should be younger” it was hard to ignore the fact that he was speaking directly to the sitting leadership and those standing directly in line to succeed it.
Malema’s mind is already focused on a younger generation and on ensuring that Fikile Mbalula, the current sports minister and Malema’s predecessor, close ally and friend, becomes secretary-general of the ANC at next year’s policy conference.
The position is considered to be the pound seat in the ANC and if Mbalula wins it it could alter the state of play greatly. The youth league was expected to pass a resolution last night expressing its support for the move.
“I would not underestimate anything that Malema says he wants to do,” said one European diplomat last night.
“In the past three years he has become the focal point of South Africa. He is the one we watch closely. He is the one we all write about in our reports.”
Businessman Sello Rasethaba, a known ally of Malema, also believes his friend is a figure to watch.
“He walks the talk. If he says he wants to empower black people he means it,” he said in reference to nationalisation, on which a resolution was also passed yesterday.
It is the intention of the youth to lobby support for nationalisation on the back of the succession race next year.
If would-be leaders want to count on the support of the youth they must also express support for nationalisation.
“The ANC is managing the state on behalf of those who own and control the means of production,” Malema said earlier in the week, adding he was not prepared to be part of that process.