Malema calls for massive land-grab

PRETORIA – Influential South African ANC youth leader Julius Malema called for a mass seizure of land and nationalisation of major industries, challenging the ruling party's line and a move likely to alarm investors.

Malema, head of the African National Congress’s Youth League, is one of the best-known politicians in the country with ANC leaders using the populist firebrand to whip up support for the party among millions of unemployed youth.

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“We should transfer the ownership of the land over to the state,” Malema told a news conference on Thursday.

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ANC leadership, worried about scaring off foreign investors in Africa’s largest economy, have deflected most of Malema’s ideas but could find themselves forced to be more receptive if the party fares poorly in local elections on May 18.

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Malema has been able to keep the idea of nationalising mines in the resource-rich state on the ANC’s policy agenda even though the mining minister has voiced her opposition and economists saying it could cost hundreds of billions of dollars.

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Malema’s drive for nationalisation of the country’s giant mines has unnerved investors in the world’s No. 4 gold producer and his militant speeches nearly 17 years after the end of apartheid have scared many white South Africans.

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He also called for requiring that minerals be refined in South Africa before going abroad, which could add impetus to the government’s costly plans for processing plants and smelters.

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“We (shouldn’t) allow our minerals as raw as they are to be exported out of the country.”

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Malema’s call for land seizure, which includes caveats to avoid residential areas and to make sure that productive land stays productive, could speed up the government’s stalled land reform programmes.

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Malema has seen his popularity — and therefore his influence in the ruling party — surge after his appearance at a trial where he was accused of hate speech for singing in public the apartheid struggle song “Shoot the Boer (Farmer)”.

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A polished and confident Malema easily brushed off questions from the prosecution and then spoke to hundreds of supporters waiting outside the Johannesburg court.

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The ANC is expected to storm to victory in the May 18 polls for control over all of the country’s metropolitan areas and local councils given its dominance over the country’s politics.

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But any gains by the main opposition Democratic Alliance could undermine President Jacob Zuma and embolden those looking to seize greater control when the ANC holds elections for its leaders next year.

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“We cannot sit back,” Malema said. “This generation does not require anyone’s permission.