The Youth League leader of the African National Congress has refused to answer journalists’ questions about how he funds his extravagant lifestyle, saying his finances were none of their business and that he is in fact a poor man.
The controversial firebrand Julius Malema, who in the past has said he earns about €2,000 a month from the ruling party as leader of their youth wing, hit the headlines in recent days when it was reported he was building a house worth over €1.6 million in Sandton, one of the country’s richest suburbs.
Since his rise to power in the Youth League in 2008, Malema (30) has continuously lambasted rich white South Africans who, he claims, hold most of the wealth in the country. He has also heralded himself as a champion of the poor.
As part of his plans to redistribute wealth, Malema has been calling on the ANC to nationalise the mines and introduce land expropriation without compensation.
The furore over his new house has prompted a number of opposition parties to ask the South African Revenue Services to investigate how he could afford his luxury home and cars and if he was paying tax.
At a press conference he called in Johannesburg on Wednesday, Malema denied building an expensive house and owning a Mercedes Benz C63, insisting instead he was poor.
When asked to explain how he could be poor when he had such possessions, he replied: “Because my definition of rich is those who own the means of production, I do not own . . . ”
He added: “That house you always make noise about in Sandton is owned by Absa [bank]”.
When pressed further about his extravagant lifestyle, he refused to elaborate, saying his personal affairs, salary and business interests were “none of anybody’s business” because he was not a public representative.
“A house costing R16-million [€1.62 million] to construct only exists in the imaginations of right- wing, narrow-minded and obsessed white people, who always think Africans cannot and should not build houses of their own.”
When asked how he justified his lavish lifestyle to those he claimed to represent, he said his supporters did not care about his wealth. “Our people don’t care about our money. What they care about is political consciousness, the will to liberate them . . . Our people want the political will and the ability to act and that is what we are doing.”
He added: “One of the things I have learned in my short life in politics is the ability to live in the conditions of capitalism while fighting it and defeating it. I don’t exploit people.”
Malema boasted that he was the only ANC leader who could go into any informal settlement in the country, an outburst that observers say is a swipe at South African president Jacob Zuma.
He has always had a difficult relationship with the South African media. In yesterday’s daily Times newspaper, an editorial called him the true face of a 21st- century post-apartheid revolutionary.
“In post-apartheid South Africa, revolutionaries have transformed themselves. Now they use the language of liberation, and lyrics from struggle songs, to mask an acquisitive nature that revels in conspicuous consumption,” the paper said.