Juilus Malema may never be able to shake off the “firebrand” label, but the 38-year-old leader of South Africa’s second largest opposition party can no longer be seen as simply a hot-headed politician.
The “son of the soil”, as he has been styled by his Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), has spent the last six years turning the party he founded into a disciplined force that has set the agenda in some policy areas.
Expelled from the governing African National Congress (ANC) in 2012, Mr Malema, or “Juju” as he is sometimes called, has positioned the EFF as the true inheritor of the ANC’s radical agenda and has exposed the governing party’s left flank.
The relentless focus by the EFF’s commander-in-chief on the inequality in South Africa, and the failure of the ANC to redistribute land from the white minority to the black majority, has cost support for his former party, which led the fight against apartheid.
The EFF took just more than 6% of the vote in 2014 in its first run in a general election, but its influence seems to outweigh that figure.
The 25 MPs dressed in red boiler suits and hard hats in parliament along with their staged walkouts and Mr Malema’s willingness to come out with quotable lines has meant he and his party have grabbed the attention.
Ever since the start of his public life he has not shied away from controversy, offending a wide range of people from women’s rights groups, to white farmers, to his own political bosses.