Before Julius Malema became the architect of radical land expropriation without compensation, he was a farmer.
The images in this article were taken in 2013 on his farm, Schuilkraal, a few kilometres away from his home at Seshego in Limpopo. They are some of the softest images yet taken of the young South African politician who has put a firebomb under public life in South Africa.
In them, he proudly showed then City Press photographer Lucky Nxumalo around the cabbage and tomato farm for which he had paid R4-million via one of the many companies he was associated with at the time. He didn't expropriate the farm or hijack it; he paid for it at a premium to market value at the time.
I thought the cabbages were lovely and the tomatoes too and when we showed them off in City Press, which I edited at the time, the response went viral. It became an image of realisable aspiration for young black South Africans who then, and still now, feel locked out of the elite economy.
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The photographs suggested it was possible for a young, black man to own a farm and grow beautiful cabbages and healthy tomatoes. And it is interesting looking through the lens of today at how much investment Malema placed in the world of business and of agriculture to realise his ambition.
At the time, Malema was president of the ANC Youth League and also a businessman. Together with comrades, he ran a slew of companies in business with the state, which helped establish the South African culture of tenderpreneurship.
The photographs suggested it was possible for a young, black man to own a farm and grow beautiful cabbages and healthy tomatoes.
City Press did not only do farm tours with Malema. It also uncovered all the so-called "back-to-back" deals some young politicians engaged in as they learnt to massage the provincial tender system to earn big bucks. It was corruption but there was an underlying story and cautionary tale for the private sector or white economy: it had locked out young people with aspiration and pushed them into politics and into tenderpreneurship.
Tenderpreneurship is defined as the business of getting rich through winning government tenders at prices paid at a premium to market.
The economy continues to lock out young people. Six-million young people are out of work with curtailed aspiration and dreams that turn to dust. They are Malema's new army and he is their militant and latter-day Ché Guevara, the beloved Cuban revolutionary, or Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan revolutionary. Malema visited Chavez before he died and his ideas of social solidarity and his brusque dismissal of the markets and of private capital rubbed off.
It finds expression today in Malema's new threads: his red beret and worker overalls. Yet, it is worth remembering that Malema's earlier aspirations were for business and for farming. The story of Malema's cabbage farm does not end as tenderly as it starts.
Six-million young people are out of work with curtailed aspiration and dreams that turn to dust.
On June 10th 2013, his farm was auctioned off for R2.5-million, about R1.5-million less than he paid for it. And it went to a neighbouring farmer called Callie Calitz who snapped up the bargain. By then, the rows of cabbages were dead and rancid. And so were Malema's dreams of farming. He was on the defensive from the asset forfeiture unit of the National Prosecuting Authority, which also seized his Sandton home.
The unit seized his assets to pay off a huge SARS debt: many unanswered questions remain about why Malema was pursued by the revenue authority just as he posed a huge challenge to former President Jacob Zuma. He has since settled with SARS and since also eschewed the market as a means of land transfer.
Now Malema believes in the full expropriation of land into state ownership with an elaborate system of renting rights back via a licensing system. It's an absolute balls-up of an idea and surprisingly free of the intellectual acuity Malema has spent many years building up as a student.
Malema is still a figure of realisable aspiration for a generation of young (and sometimes not so young) South Africans. This is both for the ballsy, thumb-your-nose-at-authority quality of the Economic Freedom Fighters but also because he converted his poor school results into an honours degree. Now he has enrolled for his master's.
I look back at those pictures of Malema in his cabbage patch and learn something about our country and its radically unfair economy. With a more responsive market and a private sector more invested in South Africa's long game, could this story have turned out differently?