Usually donning the uniform of the African National Congress Youth League, the flamboyant and outspoken Julius Sello Malema epitomises the militant and impatient new generation of emerging political power in South Africa.
Clearly a man the media loves to hate – or hates to love – Malema was last month voted South Africa’s top media personality, while in September 2011 Forbes magazine named him one of the “10 Youngest Power Men In Africa”.
Paradoxically, he made Time magazine’s list of Least Influential People of 2010.
At 31, Malema is a giant if rather notorious figure within South African politics and, despite being expelled from the ANC for the second time last week, he is steeped in controversial political declarations and acts, attracting the ire of alarmed South Africans.
Notorious as an extrovert rabble-rousing orator, Mr Malema speaks in a commanding voice, his heavily accented English and assertive intonation, with the consonants exploding to give his fiery speeches more authority.
It is that authority that saw Malema gaining prominence as the boss of the ANC Youth League, an organisation that holds sway amongst black South African youth.
With many of them still besotted with the anti-apartheid rhetoric that their hero is fond of, they have idolised Malema as their spokesperson – the man who articulates their deep-rooted frustrations with the social, economic and political situation in their country.
To their delight, Malema, always raring for a good fight, has routinely taken on powerful figures in the ANC. His latest verbal diatribe was directed at President Jacob Zuma, whom he accused of being a dictator.
Speaking to a cheering crowd of supporters at the University of the Witwatersrand, Mr Malema did not pull his punches while accusing Zuma of intolerance to the views of the youth.
“It is under President Zuma that we have seen the youth of the ANC being traumatised, the youth of the ANC being expelled from their own home,” he said. “It is under President Zuma that we have seen a critical voice of the voiceless being suppressed ...We have seen under President Zuma democracy being replaced with dictatorship.”
Saying the current ANC leadership feels threatened by new ideas, Mr Malema proceeded to accuse President Zuma of being impatient and failing to provide proper leadership, while surrounding himself with yes-men and considering himself above criticism. He further accused the president of curtailing freedom of thought and opinion within ANC ranks.
“We have seen intolerance, people becoming impatient with the youth,” Malema told his cheering audience.
“We have seen under President Zuma people who do not appreciate new opinions. They actually suppress new ideas … You must never allow a situation where somebody takes away your right to think.”
A perennial slugger, Mr Malema was widely credited with the exit of former president Thabo Mbeki from the pinnacle of South African politics. That feat resulted in Mr Malema becoming known for his awesome political clout and being recognised as a power to reckon with inside the ANC.
Podgy and endowed with apparently boundless energy Malema, popularly known as Juju, has become a thorn in the flesh of the party that has provided him with his power base. The result has been suspension from the party.
Having unsuccessfully appealed against his first suspension in December last year, he had announced plans to go to court if necessary, but that was before he was slapped with a second suspension.
But, undaunted by his current political predicament, Mr Malema has continued to hog the limelight in South Africa, and it seems the more uproar he elicits, the more he revels in rubbing more raw nerves.
Sporting sunglasses and smart, dark suits, the youthful politician walks around surrounded by a posse of mean-looking bodyguards.
Radical politics aside, Mr Malema loves attention whenever he puts his show on the road, and is hedonistic. When it comes to good living, when he takes to the highways, it is in the latest model luxury vehicles, many of them rarely seen on South African roads.
As for taking to the skies – which he often does – the enfant terrible of South African politics is not averse to making his jaunts around the country in flashy aircraft loaned out by well-endowed friends whose myriad business interests have allegedly benefited from association with him.
Reputed to be immensely wealthy, he has a thing for the limelight, whether social or political, and has over the years built a reputation for high living and serious partying, usually in the company of South Africa’s society beauties.
He is also said to have a predilection for designer products and chooses his accessories carefully, particularly watches. According to informed social scene watchers in South Africa, the flashy man has an apparent soft spot for the Breitler brand, and has, for a long time, sported impressive and fashionable time pieces, which acquired fame by normally adorning the wrists of Hollywood stars and pop idols.
An indicator of Malema’s class is that the model he has recently been flashing around costs a cool $17,000 (Sh1.4 million), which is probably loose change for a man whose expenditure is usually cited in the millions, whether in South African rand or US dollars. His residences are to be found in the most exclusive locations.
Mr Malema reportedly owns three properties – an ultramodern mansion in the Sandton district north of Johannesburg, another one in Polokwane and some urban prime real estate he allegedly paid for in cash. He is said to be choosy about his surroundings, and reportedly spares no expenses in ensuring total luxury in his living quarters.
In Johannesburg, for instance, he used to live in a mansion valued at R3.6 million (Sh36m). But, not content with that well-appointed residence, he reportedly decided to flatten it and build it anew. That process, closely monitored by cynical South African media, resulted in a brand-new pad whose value is estimated at R16 million (Sh160m).
Still unmarried, Mr Malema reportedly has a son on whom he dotes, and whose name, Ratanang, he also gave to a trust he set up.
In the meantime, his status as one of South Africa’s most eligible bachelors has made him the focus of many a seemly damsel, and it is little surprise that, at glittery social events, he always has one hanging from his arm, looking starry-eyed.
While the normally short-lived relationships last, the Malema girls are guaranteed luxurious living with no-holds barred. Ask Lizelle Tabane, 21, the comely university student reported to be his current focus of attention, with the duo often described by the gossip media as inseparable.
Already, her association with Mr Malema has seen her getting a decent dose of the stratospheric lifestyle he leads, including being flown out in a leased plane to attend a Malema buddy’s dreamland society wedding reception in Mauritius at the end of October 2011.
Given Mr Malema’s penchant for the good life, it is not surprising that his original mansion, located in the exclusive Sandton suburb, had gained notoriety for the disturbance long-suffering neighbours had to contend with courtesy of his regular, raucous parties.
But, while his flashy living has naturally placed the combative Malema in the limelight, and sometimes earned him some notoriety, his public profile has grown in recent times.
So, too, has his capacity for controversy, and it is not surprising that critics in the media have taken to describing him simply as a demagogue. That notwithstanding, and despite his reputation as a bare knuckle fighter, Mr Malema remains widely popular in some quarters, easily commanding huge crowds whenever he attends a political rally, and is widely revered by the younger generation.
On the flip side, Mr Malema, not famous for tact, has been on the record for numerous actions and declarations that have raised eyebrows even among the ranks of the most tolerant sections of South African society. He has particularly come up for barbs regarding his views on race relations and property and land ownership in the country.
While eliciting kudos from his wide youthful following, Mr Malema’s most provocative outbursts have continued to arouse widespread outrage amongst the more sober South Africans, who evidently find him an irritant. He is viewed by many as a reckless populist with the potential to destabilise South Africa and spark racial conflict.
With his uncanny knack for provoking controversy, Mr Malema found himself in trouble following a 2009 incident when he characteristically addressed himself to the gallery, in the process uttering words that offended many South Africans.
That happened during a meeting of the South African Students Congress in Cape Town, during which Mr Malema told the assembled students that a woman who had accused Mr Zuma of rape had in fact had “a nice time” with him because in the morning she had “requested breakfast and taxi money”.
Fined on many occasions for hate speech, he is however most notorious for more crude language that has not endeared him to many South Africans.
He particularly provoked great ire when, at a rally on a university campus in March 2010, he gleefully sang Shoot the Boer (Dubul’ ibhunu).
Taken from the anti-apartheid song Ayasab’ amagwala (the cowards are scared), the words inflamed many passions and provoked a barrage of complaints, given that “boer”, the Afrikaans word for “farmer”, is also used as a derogatory term for any white person.