It would be easy to dismiss ANC Youth League president Julius Malema as an irresponsible fool. That he surely is, but fools can be dangerous — just ask the relatives of Iraqis who were killed during or after the American invasion ordered by another irresponsible fool, George Bush — so we may do well to take this fool seriously.

According to the Times, Malema told a Youth Day rally that his organisation was “prepared to take up arms and kill” if the impending fraud and corruption court case against Jacob Zuma was not dropped. Malema, who was addressing the rally in Thaba Nchu, Free State, said Zuma’s trial would “divide the country”, as the ANC leader is widely expected to be the country’s president when the trial begins in earnest around 2010.

When Malema was pressed by Redi Direko of Talk Radio 702 yesterday morning, he contradicted and confirmed his statements, saying:

“If anybody threatens our democracy, we don’t need anybody’s permission to act. Prosecution of Zuma is political. We are prepared to kill and die for forces of darkness who undermine the black majority or those who are opposed to progress.”

I must say, when I first saw pictures of Malema I was rather smitten — he is such a pretty guy — but now it turns out he is not at all boyfriend material. He sounds like a cross between Robert Mugabe and a character from The Lord of the Rings, huffing and puffing and muttering about the Dark Lord Sauron.

But what to do about this out-of-control youngster? Of course, if the ANC were serious about instilling discipline in its cadres, it would first distance itself unequivocally from these dangerous statements and then institute disciplinary proceedings against Malema. Surely he has bought the name of the organisation into disrepute? Should he not be “dealt with” and expelled, at the very least? What more must he do? Flash his buttocks for the camera?

Some have suggested that his comments constitute “hate speech” and that he could be held to account in terms of the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act. Section 10 of the Act prohibits anyone from making statements based on one or more of prohibited grounds such as race, sex, religion, sexual orientation or disability “against any person, that could reasonably be construed to demonstrate a clear intention to be hurtful; be harmful or to incite harm; or promote or propagate hatred”.

But as his words were not directed at an identifiable group listed in the Act (whites, women, homosexuals, Muslims), he has clearly not infringed this prohibition against hate speech. “Hate speech” is a much-abused term in our body politic. Whenever a person says something nasty or stupid, some politician (Patricia, are you there?) runs to the South African Human Rights Commission to complain about “hate speech”. Often, as in the present case, there are no grounds for such a complaint because a listed group was not targeted by the speech.

But it is a criminal offence to engage unlawfully and intentionally in conduct that defeats or obstructs the course of the administration of justice. To threaten to begin killing unspecified people if Zuma is tried (let alone if he is convicted) could well fall within the ambit of this criminal offence. Surely by stating that Zuma’s trial must be stopped and that the Youth League is prepared to kill to prevent Zuma from being convicted, Malema is interfering with the administration of justice? If I were the judge in any of Zuma’s trials, I would be rather nervous and feel intimidated by such irresponsible talk.

Somebody with some time on their hands should lay a criminal charge against Malema with the police. Maybe we can ask Gandolf or Frodo to do it for us?


  • Professor Pierre de Vos teaches constitutional law at the University of Western Cape. His writing has been published widely in both scholarly journals and in the popular press on a wide range of topics, including gay rights, the right to equality, social and economic rights, and affirmative action. Since October 2006 he also publishes a blog, Constitutionally Speaking.


Pierre de Vos

Professor Pierre de Vos teaches constitutional law at the University of Western Cape. His writing has been published widely in both scholarly journals and in the popular press on a wide range of topics,...

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