ANC Youth League President Julius Malema, right, addresses a crowd outside… (Alexander Joe, AFP/Getty…)
Reporting from Johannesburg, South Africa — Julius Malema, the ambitious, firebrand leader of the South African ruling party's youth wing, Thursday called for the nationalization of mines and seizure of land without compensation — policies the government has repeatedly ruled out in the past.
Speaking at the African National Congress Youth League's electoral conference, Malema said the youth league had put nationalization and land seizures on the agenda. He has also pushed bank nationalization in the past.
Malema faces a leadership challenge, but is expected to be reelected and his nationalization drive will probably gather steam in the lead-up to next year's ANC national conference, which sets policies for the party.
"Our calls for mines to be nationalized and land to be expropriated without compensation is currently our most important issue," he told delegates in a 90-minute speech.
Malema, flanked by President Jacob Zuma, said past efforts to redistribute resources from the white minority to the black majority had failed dismally.
"The struggle for land reform and transfer of land is long overdue and should be speeded up to avoid the conflicts that characterize many post-independence African states," he said. "We refuse to continue living like we are in a colony. The only solution available to us now is expropriation without compensation.
"We have demonstrated, through sound political and ideological arguments, that mines in South Africa can be and should be nationalized," he added.
South Africa currently derives most of its export earnings from mining, including of platinum and gold.
Government officials, such as Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and Mines Minister Susan Shabangu, have taken pains to reassure investors and international markets that nationalization of mines will not happen any time soon.
Supporters tout Malema as a young Nelson Mandela, based on the former president's rebellion against ANC leaders in the late 1950s to push successfully for the party to take up arms against apartheid.
Yet it was Mandela who abandoned nationalization after his 1991 release from prison, because of warnings that investors would abandon South Africa, which he believed would have been catastrophic for the country as it tried to move past the poisonous legacy of apartheid.
Malema's economic policies put him closer to Zimbabwe's leader, President Robert Mugabe, who in 2000 ordered seizure of farms from whites without compensation, a policy that has caused the collapse of the nation's agriculture-based economy. Mugabe's government also passed a law in 2008 to force international mining companies to hand over 51% of their assets to Zimbabweans, and in March, firms were ordered to submit plans on how they will meet the requirement.
Malema attacked critics who described him as reckless.
"What is reckless about calling for changing property relations to favor the working class and the poor?" he said. "We should be the voice of farmworkers, of garbage carriers, of street sweepers, of manufacturing workers, of the unemployed reserves of workers. We should be the voice of all people in informal settlements and underdeveloped areas."
Malema has kept Zuma guessing on whether he will support him for a second presidential term, with media reports that the youth league leader and allies are part of a faction planning to oust Zuma at next year's national conference.
But on Thursday he pledged his loyalty to Zuma — just two weeks after commenting that former President Thabo Mbeki, Zuma's archrival, was the best leader the ANC ever produced.