South Africa's most outspoken politician Julius Malema was at the centre of a furious row yesterday following allegations that he bankrolls his lavish lifestyle through lucrative state contracts awarded to his companies.
The fiery leader of the ruling ANC's Youth League accused his critics of conducting a "smear campaign" after he was accused of pocketing millions of rands from government infrastructure projects. After initially refusing to answer questions and telling reporters they had "no right to know", the self-styled voice of the people held a press conference in Johannesburg yesterday to "clarify" the situation.
"I take serious exception for being audited by media institutions through spreading of lies and rumour," he said. "Spreading lies and rumours that I have millions [of rands] puts both me and my family in danger, as criminals might believe the lies and resort to criminal victimisation against myself and my family with the hope that I have money."
Mr Malema has become increasingly prominent in South African politics and was the mouthpiece for some of the most stinging attacks on the President Jacob Zuma's political rivals before and after the elections in April last year. He has recently led calls for South Africa's highly lucrative mining industry to be nationalised and openly accused the opposition parties such as the Democratic Alliance of racism.
But his critics have also accused him of being one of the country's leading "tenderpreneurs" – ANC politicians who use their connections to profit from state tenders.
The man who claims he won over the youth vote by making the ANC cool is often seen in designer labels such as Gucci and travels around in a fleet of luxury cars. He frequently hosts parties at Johannesburg's trendiest nightspots where expensive whiskey and Veuve Clicquot champagne is on tap, according to his unofficial biographer Mandy Rossouw.
Despite being relentlessly attacked in the media, Mr Malema has been spoken about in some quarters as a future head of the ANC. Mr Zuma appeared to encourage that speculation last year when he referred to Mr Malema as a "leader in the making" and someone "worthy of inheriting the ANC".
The youth leader who has never had a job outside the ANC was revealed on Sunday as the partial beneficiary of more than 20 state contracts awarded between 2007 and 2008, some of them worth as much £3m. According to the South African Sunday Times, some £10m worth of government tenders were awarded to SGL Engineering, a small firm which Mr Malema co-owns with Lesiba Gwangwa based in Limpopo, one of South Africa's poorest provinces. The contracts were awarded for projects from road and pavement construction to refurbishing cemeteries and while public documents reveal that some of the projects were completed on schedule, the majority of them were not, the newspaper said. When contacted by The Independent, Mr Gwangwa refused to comment on the contracts or on his business links to Mr Malema.
In a furious response yesterday the youth league leader said he would not "dignify these misrepresentations and lies" about SGL. But in a sign of the pressure he is under he announced that he was instructing lawyers to process his resignation from all his business interests in Limpopo province.
He had earlier insisted there was no rule that said a "politician could not be a businessman".
The 29-year-old son of a housemaid whose official salary is less than £1,600 per month owns two luxury homes. The party youth leader insists that he is the victim of mining interests who want to block nationalisation, which he says will become ANC policy. Mr Malema has so far retained the backing of the ANC who said he had broken no ethics rules or laws.
His critics have called for a full investigation of his business interests and the award of public tenders. And the AfriForum youth organisation has written to South Africa's revenue service demanding that they conduct a full "lifestyle" audit of the politician.
In his own words: Malema's wisdom
* "We are the elite that has been deliberately produced by the ANC to close the gap between whites and blacks in this country. It was the ANC that made it possible that, as part of the elite, some of us are now able to live in the suburbs."
* "It's not me, it is this office. I don't know which car is which. When they come to me and say, 'chief, we are using this car today', I get in and we go."
* "If we are going to refuse the youth to drive these cars it means they are only good for white youth. Ours will never drive those cars. So we must sit and appreciate the good things by whites and not by one of our own. That's what we're trying to break."Reuse content