Julius Malema is twitter’s top politician

Julius MalemaThese are the top 11 SA politicians on Twitter

Politics rules in the South Africa twitter universe‚ and Julius Malema is its prince – a dramatic turnaround from a firebrand who once threatened to shut down the social media platform.

While Fikile Mbalula and Helen Zille are the most talkative politicians‚ President Jacob Zuma‚ who almost never says anything on Twitter‚ is the man most people want to hear from.

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A list of the top 11 politicians on Twitter was compiled by eNitiate Integrated Solutions‚ a digital content solutions service provider‚ sourced from an analysis of the top 500 South African Twitter handles.

“Julius Malema and Helen Zille (former leader of Democratic Alliance) are far ahead of the rest of the pack‚” the company found.

Twitter users were in stitches in 2010 when Malema – then African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) president – called for the closure of Twitter because of a fake account set up in his name. At the time there were 12 users on Twitter including Julius-Malema‚ JMalema‚ Julius-S-Malema and jujumalema.

“We will look at ways of stopping this… Even if it means going to the police‚” former youth league spokesman Floyd Shivambu said then.

eNitiate noted: “In our observation‚ South Africa’s political parties have come to appreciate the value of social media in the last five years and are actively engaging‚ both through party and individual accounts.”

Malema’s new party‚ the Economic Freedom Fighters‚ now dominate the social network‚ the company said.


“From a political party point of view‚ the Big 3 all have three active politicians each in the top 11. On the strength of absolute follower numbers alone‚ the EFF rules the Twitter roost‚” the company said.

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“All the leaders of the Big 3 are in the top 11. South Africa’s President and leader of the ANC – Jacob Zuma – is 4th. Mmusi Maimane‚ leader of the DA‚ is 5th. Julius Malema‚ leader of the EFF‚ is on top spot.”


Only one portfolio minister – Fikile Mbalula (Sport and Recreation) is in the top 11.


In addition‚ only one politician – Helen Zille (Western Cape Premier) – is in the local government structures.

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Two politicians – Lindiwe Mazibuko (formerly leader of DA in parliament) and Mamphela Ramphele (founder and former leader of Agang) – currently do not hold office‚ and their Twitter profiles do not indicate that they are part of their former or any other parties. However‚ eNitiate said it based their inclusion in the top 11 on the rationale that they grew and continue to draw followers based on their historical political roles.

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Jackson Mthembu‚ the newly appointed African National Congress chief whip‚ rounds up the top 11 and leads with growth of followers in last six months.

Tweeting behaviours

Analysis of tweeting frequencies of the top 11 does not indicate a clear political party-based pattern for social media participation.

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The party where there is some pattern is the EFF‚ as the frequencies of its three officials – Malema‚ Shivambu and Ndlozi – do not differ drastically.

On average‚ top 3 Twitter activities by the top 11 South African politicians are RT (37%)‚ Replies (25%) and plain tweets (23%).


“Minister Fikile Mbalula is the most prolific politician‚ with an average of 1 tweet every hour. In addition‚ the Minister posts up to 3 pictures with every ten tweets‚ the highest contribution of this content type in the top 11. This is remarkable‚ given the time needed to take/source and select the right pictures for posting. This is an indication that the Minister and/or his social media team spend a fair amount of time on Twitter‚” eNitiate said.

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“Helen Zille is the second most prolific politician on Twitter with 17 tweets/day. In addition‚ she leads the top 11 in the contribution of Replies to her tweet volume. On average‚ Madam Premier posts 7 Replies in every ten tweets. No doubt Helen and/or her team monitor relevant Twitter mentions closely‚ and we suspect her response rate is the highest in the top 11.”


Lindiwe Mazibuko has the largest contribution of RT’s and mentions to her tweet volume of the top 11. Despite having been away from South Africa for close to two years now‚ she is still in touch with and actively engaging about the country’s political issues on Twitter.


As for Zuma‚ eNitiate found the South African President’s last tweet was posted more than a year ago‚ “clearly indicating that this media channel is not a priority for him and his Communications team”.

This is also supported by the fact that the President has posted a mere 100 tweets on his official Twitter handle in four years since his first tweet on the 10th of May 2011.

eNitiate said 77 of the 100 posted tweets were plain‚ 13 had links‚ 6 were RT’s and 3 had pictures. “The large number of plain tweets‚ as a percentage of total‚ can be read as an indication that the President was only keen on broadcasting on this medium‚ not engaging.” Despite President Zuma’s Twitter inactivity‚ he has received the highest engagement – made up of Replies and RT’s – by the Twitter massive by far.


Julius Malema and Minister Fikile Mbalula are second and third in the engagement stakes respectively.


According to the Kred social influence tool‚ Helen Zille is the most influential South African politician. “We are not surprised‚ as Madam Premier is the most responsive (based on her Replies as indicated above) of top 11. Julius Malema and Minister Mbalula are close second and third behind her‚ and this is also not surprising‚” eNitiate said.


Additional findings

The top 11 South African politicians have high Twitter followers mainly due to any combination of the following three factors:

  • The political office they hold‚ e.g. President of the country or leader a prominent political party; and/or
  • The level and type of Twitter activity
  • Premier Zille and Minister Mbalula; and/or
  • Political/personal/social profile
  • Mamphela Ramphele and Lindiwe Mazibuko.


“We found one exception to the rule – Solly Msimanga. While this politician – DA’s Mayoral candidate for Tshwane – has a strong political profile within his party‚ his name is not popular on Twitter (second lowest influence score)‚ nor is he very active on this social network (lowest tweeting frequency). We are not certain why he has such a large Twitter following‚ hence this makes him the exception.”

Do they write their own tweets?

There are varying levels of management of the Twitter accounts.

  • Helen Zille‚ Lindiwe Mazibuko‚ Fikile Mbalula‚ Mmusi Maimane and Jackson Mthembu appear to be running their own Twitter accounts‚ or are in direct control of teams that run these on their behalf.
  • Twitter accounts of the EFF trio appear to be integrated and centrally managed by a dedicated team‚ with some level of personal participation by the owners.
  • The President’s account has been run by his Communications team from the beginning‚ and he has hardly tweeted in his personal capacity.
  • It is not clear how Mamphela Ramphele and Solly Msimanga run their Twitter accounts.

Popularity of politics on Twitter

The most recent annual report by Portland Communications‚ the 3rd since 2013‚ shows that Africa uses Twitter much more for engagement in political topics than the US and the UK.

“…Almost 1 in 10 [or 10 percent] of the most popular African hashtags in 2015 related to political issues and politicians‚ compared to 2 percent of the hashtags in the US and UK.”– Portland Communications‚ 2016


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