On 26 April 2017, Julius vs the ANC was broadcast to more than 310 million households in over 100 countries.
Starting with the police killing of 34 striking mineworkers at Marikana in 2012, Rehad Desai’s authored documentary condenses five years of volatile South African politics into 48 disturbing minutes. From the Nkandla-related booing of President Zuma at Nelson Mandela’s funeral, to the violent brawl in parliament at his State of the Nation address, to the Constitutional Court’s finding that he “failed to uphold, defend and respect the constitution,” to the #feesmustfall student protests, Julius vs the ANC provides the context for South Africa’s shifting voting patterns, which saw the ruling African National Congress (ANC) lose four of the five biggest cities during last year’s municipal elections.
The documentary also chronicles the controversial rise of Julius Malema, a star in the ANC until 2012 when he was expelled after a bitter fallout with President Zuma. In 2013, he founded his own political party, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), now the third largest in South Africa.
“For me, witnessing this shift in the political landscape after 22 years of democracy, and especially since the Marikana killings, was momentous,” says Desai, who won an International Emmy for his last documentary with Al Jazeera, Miners Shot Down. “The ANC, that had led the liberation struggle, was being challenged for not delivering on what it had promised… Julius Malema’s EFF, though small, is growing precisely because it is attracting those who feel let down by the ANC – and are impatient for change. The issues covered in the film remain very much at the foreground of South Africa’s troubled political landscape.”
Professor Achille Mbembe, a political historian, puts this shift in historical perspective in the documentary. “Political organisations that have led the decolonisation process usually reach a cul-de-sac 20-25 years after they have come to power. This is the moment when new generations that have nothing to do with the struggle begin to emerge on the social scene as social protagonists on their own terms. This is also the moment when old crises that have not been resolved are festering and to them are added new crises, and both the new and old crises are set on a collision course.”
Mbembe notes a significant shift in the debate in South Africa at present. “During the past 20 years, the debate was about the present and the past. The current debate – the one that emerges when one listens to especially young people, students, protesters, and so on and so on - is about the future. What kind of future do we want to create? And, in the name of that future, why is it important to destroy the existing dispensation?”
The next South African elections are in 2019. “Democracy is a contest and it’s a perennial contest,” says political commentator Moeletsi Mbeki. “What we are seeing in South Africa is that the power of the ruling party is being contested and it will be contested more and more and more as we go forwards. There will be costs to it but I don’t think the other players are going to give up: the media is not going to give up, the judiciary is not going to give up, the other political parties are not going to give up. They are preparing for a long haul.”
Desai describes Julius vs the ANC as the second film in a trilogy about South African politics that began with Miners Shot Down. The expanded festival version, The Giant Is Falling, was named Best South African Film at the Joburg Film Festival at the end of last year – beating out local fiction films - and has screened at seven festivals worldwide, including IDFA and One World International Human Rights Festival.