He is a young star within the ruling party in South Africa, the ANC. He's the president of the youth league of the party and has been described by Jacob Zuma, the President of South Africa, as the "future leader" of the country.
He considers himself a Marxist and a son of the working classes, but he is already, at age 28, a very wealthy man, who clearly enjoys the trappings of an elite lifestyle.
In March of this year Malema visited a university and sang the line "shoot the Boer" from an ANC revolutionary song. A regional court then found that he had incited violence and ordered him to stop. But he once again sang the words when visiting Zimbabwe and claimed that the judges who found against him were "white males who were refusing to change". The ANC has appealed against the court's decision.
At a news conference this month, Malema did announce that the words "shoot the Boer" would be substituted in South Africa but he then sang another song about beating up white farmers.
It's a serious message in South Africa, where well over 1000 white farmers and family members have been murdered since 1994. There are 40,000 commercial farmers in the country so the murder rate amongst these farmers is extraordinarily high.
Malema is a big supporter of Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe. During his visit to Zimbabwe this year, Malema spoke out in support of Mugabe's seizure of farms and mines,
"In South Africa, we are just starting," said Malema. "Here you are already very far. We are very happy today that you can account for more than 300,000 new farmers, against the 4,000 who used to dominate agriculture.
We hear you are now going straight to the mines. That's what we are going to be doing in South Africa. We want the mines. They have been exploiting our minerals for a long time. Now it's our turn to also enjoy from these minerals. They are so bright, they are colourful, we refer to them as white people, maybe their colour came as a result of exploiting our minerals and perhaps if some of us can get opportunities in these minerals we can develop some nice colour like them."
Journalist Rian Malan finds these comments deeply troubling:
This is not a coldly scientific Marxist-Leninist. It's Pere Ubu or Idi Amin.
It could be that President Zuma has simply lost control of the ANC, or that Malema is the puppet he uses to mouth ideas too radical to emerge from the presidency. If you ask me, Malema is the point-man for a powerful ANC faction whose motive is greed...
The trouble is that this card trumps all others. Our underclass is huge, poorly educated and desperately poor. They know what happened in Zimbabwe, but even so, the prospect of loot is irresistible, and that's Malema's bait. Mandela gave them free houses. Mbeki gave them welfare grants, leading to a situation where five million taxpayers support 13 million indigents, with the total rising far more rapidly than our ability to pay. Now Malema and the faceless vultures behind him are offering them the rest. They are playing the death card ...
The South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR) is also worried:
In order to shore up support in the black community the ANC increasingly appears to be seeking to shift the blame for its delivery failures onto the small white ethnic minority, which today comprises well under 10% of the total population of South Africa.
The SAIRR press release is blunt enough in its criticisms of the ANC. But the solution it puts forward is not really a happy one for the whites of South Africa. The whites are held to be valuable to South Africa largely for providing taxes and expertise for the economy:
... many minorities ... may simply get so fed up that those who can will pack up and go. Here they may take the advice of President Zuma to remain calm as they pack up their businesses and their families and calmly board aircraft for Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States, and Great Britain. With the exodus will leave much of the tax and expertise base of the country.
... the ANC depends greatly on the tax income paid by white South Africans to balance South Africa’s books. Secondly, it depends entirely on the food produced by a small number of white farmers to feed the country. Thirdly, white South Africans still dominate the skills base of the country ...
While the ANC ... may even take drastic action to confiscate white commercial interests as they are currently doing in agriculture, these actions will be ruinous for the economy ...
Is that what's left to white South Africans? To be protected as the ones who keep the economic wheels spinning? It's a niche role that doesn't really express what nationhood is supposed to be about.