“We Are Not Scared to Die”

Julius Malema and the New Movement for African Liberation

by Tiffany Thames Copeland (Author)
©2021 Monographs XIV, 238 Pages


The charismatic Julius Malema and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) have descended onto the South African political scene like superheroes, vowing to liberate South Africans with their radical, militant, and revolutionary stance. Their pledge in fighting the four evils of this world including colonialism, imperialism, racism, and sexism, has given them an allure of being saviors while striking fear in the hearts of the white monopoly capitalists including their African conspirators, labeled sell outs.
The nexus of this book comprises of two social media studies on Malema’s eye-opening, controversial, and at times humorous rhetoric—and his audience’s unfiltered reaction to it—during the 2019 South African general election season. Malema’s discourse is also assessed from South Africa’s historical, cultural, and socio-political environment, with special attention given to the poor black majority.
The EFF is part of an international protest movement, and connections are, at times, drawn between the South African and the African American experience—both of which have been severely impacted by an international system of white hegemony.
Ultimately, this research shows that Malema’s fiery and witty rhetoric has firmly situated the EFF at the forefront of a new movement for African liberation. As Malema said, "The time for reconciliation is over, now is the time for justice," solidifying him as one of the most controversial political figures in South Africa, Africa, and perhaps one day, the world over.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Part I Hashtag #IAmVotingEFF
  • Chapter One: The Economic Freedom Fighters Spice Up Politics
  • Chapter Two: Social Media, Protests, and the EFF Movement
  • Part II: It’s Unapologetically, Julius Malema and the EFF
  • Chapter Three: The Root of Malema’s Humor
  • Chapter Four: Malema’s Rhetoric Stings Like a Bee
  • Part III Dear Black Middle Class and Elite: “Come Back Home”
  • Chapter Five: Malema Is the Undisputed Thorn in the ANC’s Side
  • Chapter Six: “Black Diamonds” in a Sea of Poverty
  • Part IV It’s Real Talk: Julius Malema and His Digital Audience
  • Chapter Seven: YouTube Rhetorical Analysis on Julius Malema
  • Chapter Eight: Audience Reaction to Malema’s Rhetoric
  • Chapter Nine: “We Are Not Scared of Anything”
  • Index


“Until the lions have their historians, tales of hunting will always glorify the hunter.”

–African Proverb

To my mentors, thank you for helping me prepare for this moment.

Wei Sun, Ph.D.

Carolyn Byerly, Ph.D.

Willie Rogers, Ph.D.

Leonard Gadzekpo, Ph.D.

←xiii | xiv→


Julius Malema is the widely admired, young, firebrand leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), the third-largest political party in South Africa, but he is also detested by many and has had multitudes of hate speech claims filed against him. Malema doesn’t mince his words. When Jacob Zuma was the president of South Africa, Malema called him a “postcolonial disaster,” a “con man,” and a “trickster” (From South Africa 2018). He called President Cyril Ramaphosa, head of the ruling African National Congress (ANC), a b@stard, outraging supporters of that party (Head 2020). He has described some Africans as “rent-a-blacks” and “sellouts” (SABC Digital News 2019), as he warns other Africans about them. Malema claims the EFF is the only political party that will stand up to whites living in South Africa (ZithiniVele SA 2018); after some whites had threatened to go into exile in Australia, Malema stated that they must remain in South Africa, “because if they leave, they will poison the land” (SABC News 2019). He has even questioned the tactics of one of South Africa’s most revered leaders, Nelson Mandela, the first president of a democratic South Africa. In response to his critics, Malema said, “I don’t belong to a religion called Mandela” (City Press 2015).

The two main reactions to Malema’s remarks are polar opposites. His rhetorical jabs have caused some to feel empowered and at times to burst out in laughter; while others feel outraged and become jittery, questioning his tactics, calling him an ill-mannered menace on the South African political scene (Steinberg ←1 | 2→2012; Redelinghuys 2014; The Citizen 2020). The British-owned The Guardian published an article called “Julius Malema: The Man Who Scarred South Africa” (Steinberg 2012), describing him as a far cry from the previous genteel, refined, well-mannered black leaders. “Around dinner tables and at barbecues,” the article stated, “generations of white South Africans have died a thousand deaths, imagining the black leader who will turn on them” (Steinberg 2012). Malema’s agitation rhetoric has made him one of the most controversial politicians in South Africa, and some blame the growing levels of poverty for the rise of a person like Julius Malema (Karimi 2012; Steinberg 2012).

The World Bank (2018 121, 6) in Overcoming Poverty and Inequality in South Africa an Assessment of Drivers, Constraints and Opportunities, made the shocking pronouncement to the international community in 2018 that South Africa is “one of the most unequal countries in the world,” with high levels of “chronic poverty.” The report also stated that concerning consumption expenditures, South Africans are facing greater inequity than when apartheid ended about twenty-five years earlier—in fact, South Africa is seemingly in a state of emergency. The Africans, who make up 80.7 percent of the country’s population, are mostly landless and poor, too many are residing in tin shacks, and some do not have even have a toilet or running water in their homes (Statistics South Africa 2017).

The ANC (the party of Nelson Mandela) has been South Africa’s ruling party for a quarter-century, yet only 8 percent of the land in South Africa has been distributed since the end of apartheid (Africanews 2018; Bernardo 2019; Mamdani 2019). Some South Africans point fingers at the country’s African immigrants and Afrophobic (expressing a fear of or a hatred for black people) attacks, more commonly referred to as xenophobia, have continued. Conversely, the 8.1 percent of whites in South Africa control the economy and have an average income six times higher than Africans, both native born and immigrant (Fairbanks 2013; Serino 2016). This is not the “rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world” (SABC News 2015) that Mandela envisioned, although these words, uttered at his inaugural address, resonated with the hopeful audience members and viewers who tuned in excitedly from all around the world.

Some say a racial time bomb is now ticking in South Africa (Friedman 2014). Its explosion could have an impact on nations throughout the world. Moreover, if the youth of South Africa, including Malema and the EFF, succeed in their call for land expropriation without compensation, this could be a gigantic step in the eventual reversal of the tides of neo-colonialism in Africa, under which the countries of the Global North maintain significant control over those in the Global South (referred to as neo-imperialism, neo-apartheid, or even neo-slavery). Black people around the world have been trying to release the tight cloaks of ←2 | 3→European hegemony, and some of them view Malema and the EFF as their only hope. Accordingly, the controversy surrounding Malema and his rhetoric deserves careful examination.

This book is based on the first research study on Julius Malema’s YouTube rhetoric and the reactions of his audiences during the 2019 South African general election season. I incorporated a rhetorical and thematic analysis and applied a bottom-up approach to this research. In this way, I was able to understand the digital audience’s reaction to Malema’s rhetoric. As a non-traditional student enrolled in Howard University's Communication, Culture, and Media Studies doctoral program, I had visited South Africa with my husband, Kennard, prior to embarking on this research for my dissertation. The issue was especially intriguing since African Americans are confronted by similar historical and present-day injustices as South Africans. I was particularly interested in the EFF’s unique way of effectively combining activism, politics, social media, and at times humor, while self-classifying as a radical and militant political organization with an immediate goal of economic empowerment.

The EFF is not alone in its efforts, it is a part of a grander protest movement occurring among young people all around the world who have become disenchanted with the operations of their respective governments—Black Lives Matter is one of the most popular movements. Young people are using new media technology, mainly social media, to facilitate their liberation struggles (Castells 2015; Bosch 2016; Daniels 2016)—making their experiences drastically different from the generations of activists preceding them. When these young people enter urban centers around the globe in protest, they display their placards and raise their fists high, and engage in hashtag activism for the entire world to see. Some African American youth have held up signs reading, “We are not our ancestors” (Brown 2020; Simpson 2020), as a way of questioning why black people are still in such dire circumstances after decades of agitation—just as the South African youth in the EFF are also questioning their oppressive circumstances.

The fight for black liberation long precedes the EFF, but this new movement for African liberation is distinguishable from its predecessors, like the African Independence Movements, the Anti-Apartheid Movement, the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Power Movement, the Negritude Movement and so many others. This new movement still combines activism and politics, but because of social media, these young African activists have easy access to relaying continuous, instantaneous, and unfiltered messages to others who are just as restless for a change in their respective society. A key finding from my research is that Malema and the EFF—after combining social media, activism, politics, and a resounding message of African liberation— have ultimately sparked a new era in Pan-Africanism, called digital Pan-Africanism.←3 | 4→

Chapter Overview

This book places Malema’s rhetoric in the South African sociopolitical context, so as to provide a holistic understanding of the discourse of one of the most controversial politicians of our time.

Chapter One highlights the EFF’s rise in popularity and how the organization became what some have referred to as the big winner of the 2019 South African general election. It introduces Malema, who is known for reenergizing South African politics, and his rhetorical skills have led some to call him an unstoppable tsunami. I also provide a basic understanding of the top three political parties in South Africa: the ANC, the Democratic Alliance, and the EFF. Among them, the EFF’s protest orientation, its emphasis on social media, its quick rise to becoming the third-largest South African political organization after the party’s first major election in 2014, and its constant display of Black Joy in radical politics have made it stand out among all other parties in South Africa.

Chapter Two highlights the EFF protest movement and shows how Malema and the EFF have become like superheros, as they try to save South Africans from the villainous white monopoly capitalism. It examines how the EFF has become part of an international protest movement of young people who are demanding equal rights and are using social media to aid their efforts. It shows how the EEF was officially launched at the site of the Marikana Massacre, where thirty-four miners were killed while protesting. Some of the more recent South African protests are also covered in this section, including the EFF’s #BlackLivesMatter protest, #ClicksMustFall, and other #MustFall protests. The #FeesMustFall activists are highlighted, including those who have become members of Parliament (MPs) since the 2019 election, representing the EFF. I also compare the top three political parties with regard to their social media presence.


XIV, 238
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2021 (September)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2021. XIV, 238 pp., 1 table.

Biographical notes

Tiffany Thames Copeland (Author)

Tiffany Thames Copeland is a professor of digital media and broadcasting at Montgomery College. She earned a Doctor of Philosophy degree from Howard University in 2020. She is also a former Smithsonian Faculty Fellow and has travelled throughout the world.


Title: “We Are Not Scared to Die”
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254 pages