It is 10 February 2016, one of the most important political events in the year: The State of the Nation Address (SONA) in parliament, where the President of South Africa reports on the affairs of the nation. However, it’s different to the previous years. President Jacob Zuma has barely begun his speech when exponents of the radical Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party start disrupting the procedure. They accuse him of stealing people’s money, they state that Zuma is not recognised as a president. Finally, they get thrown out of parliament. After they have left, Zuma continues his speech as if nothing had happened. But can they be ignored any longer?
The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) is a comparatively young party, started in 2013 by EFF Commander-in-Chief and former ANC Youth Leader Julius Malema. Malema joined the ANC in 1995 as a regional chairman and was president of the ANC Youth League from 2008 until 2012. During that time, he was a prominent supporter of the ANC as well as of Jacob Zuma, whom he was quoted he would kill for.
However, as time went on, Malema began to turn away from the party, attacking several groups of people, including journalists, the DA and Zuma. He blamed Zuma for not being a respectable leader and for following Western capitalists rather than vouching for the disadvantaged South Africans. Moreover, he criticised the ANC in public, which led to a disciplinary hearing by the ANC. In 2012, after a fall out with Jacob Zuma, Malema founded the EFF, with the aim to form a powerful opposition against the ANC.
The EFF describes itself as a ‘radical and militant economic emancipation movement that brings together revolutionary, fearless, radical and militant activist, workers’ movements, non-governmental organisations, community-based organisations and lobby groups under the umbrella of pursuing the struggle for economic emancipation’. Its primary concern is, as reflected by the name, to free the South African economy. The EFF aims to do everything to close the wage gap between the rich and the poor as well as to close the apartheid wage gap and promote rapid career paths for black Africans in the workplace.
The EFF aims to achieve the following:
- Expropriation of South Africa’s land without compensation for equal redistribution.
- Nationalisation of mines, banks and other strategic sectors of the economy.
- Building State and government capacity, which will lead to abolishment of tenders.
- Free quality education, healthcare, houses and sanitation.
- Massive protected industrial development to create millions of sustainable jobs.
- Massive development of the African economy and advocating for a move from reconciliation to justice.
- Open, accountable government and society without fear of victimisation by State police.
The party draws inspiration from the broad Marxist-Leninist theories as well as Fanonian schools of thought in their analysis of the state, imperialism, culture and class contradiction. Their movement is anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist and inspired by socialist and communist ideals. The EFF sees itself as the voice of the poorest South Africans, mainly the black community.
It’s worth noting that currently, the EFF is already the third largest party in both houses of the South African parliament gaining more than a 6% share of the votes in the general election in 2014. It even managed to overtake the 1975 founded Inkatha Freedom Party, which lost almost half of its seats to the EFF. It gained popularity in a very short time and it is predicted to gain even more votes in the 2016 municipal elections. Their recipe for success seems to be pretty simple: they are radical and angry. The EFF are not afraid to speak out, criticising and offending everything and everyone from Zuma, the other parties, the system of capitalism, rich white farmers and mine-owners to women’s rights groups – basically everyone and everything apart from the very disadvantaged South Africans whom they see as a victim of the past as well as of the present in a system of ‘white supremacy’peaking out after the incident termed as ‘Sparrowgate’, EFF spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi said anti-black racism in South Africa had become normalised.
One of the factors that certainly contributed to their rise in popularity was the after-effects of the Marikana massacre on 16 August 2012. On this day, Marikana mineworkers led a strike to demand increased wages. Prior to this, there had been ongoing conflicts and violent incidents between the ANC-allied National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and its emerging rival, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU). The event received international attention after the SAPS opened fired on mineworkers, killing 34 and wounding 78. More than 250 were arrested. The event was the biggest incidence of police brutality since the advent of democracy and it reminded people of the brutality suffered under apartheid security police. Marikana caused a major setback for the ANC government, as they were accused of not reacting properly or taking responsibility. Julius Malema blamed the ANC and Jacob Zuma for killing the mineworkers. The EFF party demanded compensation for the families of the killed mineworkers plus those who were injured. This was a key move in their rise to popularity. According to EWN, ‘EFF leader Julius Malema says his party will make sure President Jacob Zuma is unable to influence the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) in his bid to have politicians involved in the Marikana tragedy prosecuted.’
It’s clear that Malema and his party intend to hold authorities and organs of power accountable. This applies not only to the Marikana massacre but also to Zuma’s over-spend at his private residence Nkandla. The EFF represent the disadvantaged people. They want to implement revolutionary socialism in South Africa. The ideas of socialism and communism are particularly popular in developing countries where there is a huge gap between the very poor majority of and the very few extremely rich people. The militarisation of the EFF is a cause for alarm for some, especially with Malema the Commander-in-chief, at the helm. As journalist and broadcaster Chris Gibbons states: ‘What is of much greater long-term concern is the militarisation of both the EFF and Malema himself. […] And now we have a Central Command Team, at the very centre of which sits the Commander-in-Chief, Julius Malema himself. The problem is that words and costumes take on a life of their own, as any actor will tell you. If you play the part of a commander-in-chief long enough, pretty soon you’ll come to believe that’s what you are.’
While busy criticising others, Julius Malema isn’t short of criticism himself. He has been accused of being racist, sexist and corrupt. He has also been involved in conflict with tax authorities who have taken court action to sequestrate him over his alleged failure to pay more than $1.5m. This led to the auction of his unfinished luxury Sandton mansion supposed to have a cinema and a hot tub. Malemas enemies accuse him of promoting violence and xenophobia, of reproducing racial stereotypes and of making money through business while taking advantage of the system of capitalism which the EFF want to overcome by their radical, revolutionary movement. Recently he’s been accused of treason by the ANC, but he proclaims that Zuma and the ANC are not the enemy, rather the white monopoly. In an interview with Al Jazeera, Malema said ‘As we are in the process of crushing the white monopoly capital, there will be some of those irritations that we have to deal with. Zuma represents such an irritation; the ANC represents such an irritation.’
‘EFF has 25 representatives in the national assembly. How can they be heard? If we had a softer approach, people wouldn’t have listened to us. We want to be heard and we are speaking for people that haven’t been heard in the past.’ – Bernard Joseph, EFF chairman
The chairman of the EFF of the Western Cape and member of the legislature, Bernard Joseph, echoes Malema’s sentiments above. ‘We want to bring about a radical change and transformation in South Africa. We want to expropriate land for equal distribution, we want to take ownership and redistribute it in such ways that economic change can be brought about in terms of food security.’ Joseph joined the EFF in July 2013, one month before it was officially launched as a structure. ‘Of course it is radical what we want, and we have to do it in a radical way. EFF has 25 representatives in the national assembly. How can they be heard? What can they achieve? We had to come up with our own way to address our issues. If we had a softer approach, people won’t have listened to us. We want to be heard and we are speaking for people that haven’t been heard in the past.’
The way they are addressing their issues is, indeed, different to the other parties in the parliament. Even if the EFF consist of only 25 members in the national assembly (compared to the ANC with 249 and the DA with 89 members), they have made themselves prominent by wearing red overalls, often combined with red berets. They want to identify with the workers of the country, referring to the domestic workers as well as the colour historically linked with socialists and communists. But they don’t use only imagery to convey their message, they also make use of their right to speak, as they call it themselves. In other words, they, and the best of all Julius Malema, cause chaos in the parliament shouting down any other member of the parliament who doesn’t belong to their own party. They don’t miss a single opportunity to offend Zuma or the ANC of not being able to run the country and stealing the money of their own voters. According to Malema, they have their reasons for that behaviour: ‘We must persuade Parliament to dissolve, they have failed to uphold the Constitution. We have to go there and fight those battles there and remind Parliament, remember you are an illegitimate body.’ Referring to the Constitutional Court which recently found that both Zuma and the Parliament failed to uphold the Constitution, he adds: ‘Parliament has failed this democracy. The executive has failed this democracy, Zuma is the head of the executive… South Africa, why do you want to continue with these failed institutions?’
Joseph is confident that this strategy will eventually lead to victory for the EFF. ‘We want to contest all the municipal wards in the different municipalities and ensure a great presence of the EFF in the upcoming municipal elections. In 2019, we want to take over the government. People are approaching us, even if the official opposition is much more resourceful. We can engage them and provide a voice for people who haven’t engaged in politics before since there was no party that could deliver them what they wanted. Those people know that something is wrong and it needs to change. We are a government in waiting.’
However, not all of the EFF supporters are as optimistic as the chairman. Enrico Jacobs is one example for that. He thinks that the EFF won’t get enough votes to overthrow the ANC in the next few years. ‘I know the EFF won’t be able to take over in the next years. But for now, the EFF can still be the voice of the people who challenge the ANC. No other party but the EFF is able to do that.’ Like many of the EFF members and supporters, Jacobs was once a supporter of the ANC but lost patience with the party. ‘The ANC wasn’t delivering anything and I got annoyed by the ANC’s leadership style. I was looking for a more radical change at the political front.’
Jacobs was contacted by the EFF via Facebook. EFF often uses social media to get in touch with its (potential) supporters and members. Other than that, they often do house visits to recruit people in specific areas in which they might be successful. Those are, according to Jacobs, the poor black areas, where you can expect disgruntled ANC supporters willing to join the EFF, who can fight for what they really want – equal distribution of land, education, healthcare, money.
Confronted with the often-heard reproach of the EFF being anti-white, Jacobs rejects this: ‘Even after apartheid, white people still keep their land they’ve once stolen from the blacks making money with it. There is a lot of farmland here, but it belongs to a few rich owners while people in Khayelitsha don’t even have space to live. And still, the ANC is profiting from that money, the government uses it to fill its own pockets. Instead of the government relying on taxes, they could use the money of the mines and the farms and use it to equip poor people with houses, for free education, improving healthcare, there’s a lot of things it can be used for. It’s not about being racist or anti-white, it is about wanting to have our piece of the cake.’
‘If there’s anything that the EFF has done, it’s that more people are interested in South African politics, who didn’t take it seriously five years ago.’ – Stephen Grootes, political commentator
What about Julius Malema feathering his own nest with the money he made through business? ‘I don’t know the wealth of Julius Malema,’ Chairman Bernard Joseph replies. ‘But just because he is the leader of the EFF, it doesn’t mean he has to live in a shack. There is no contradiction in my opinion. That was before his time in the EFF, when he still was a member of the ANC. He wants to change South Africa for the good for the poor, and he has achieved a lot so far.’
Asked what the EFF has achieved, the opinions of political analysts differ. From the point of view of political analyst Richard Calland, the EFF has both injected life into parliament and established themselves as rule breakers: ‘They have a strong political brand,’ he says. Although he describes the tactics of the EFF as ‘an appalling and disruptive abuse of parliamentary process’, he says the value the EFF brought to South African democratic politics should be recognised. Stephen Grootes, award-winning journalist and political commentator states: ‘If there’s anything that the EFF has done, it’s that more people are interested in South African politics, who didn’t take it seriously five years ago. Those people have a voice in formal politics and that’s a big contribution to our politics so far.’
Political analyst Elvis Masoga makes a far more negative assessment. He points out the expulsion of three MPs of the EFF one year ago: ‘The commander-in-chief’s political philosophy is to not accommodate a member who defies a leader’s instructions or command. But such actions are likely to have extremely disastrous long-term political implications because political parties are formed by members who expect leaders to promote a diversity of views. The moment a leader becomes intolerant of divergent views, it spells doom and disaster.’ Another disadvantage of the EFF, according to him, is that the EFF is motivating his members to exude anger and destruction.
The EFF might to be a young, over-confident and unexperienced party with radical views on what should happen with South Africa, but if there is one thing they have achieved, it is creating movement in the South African politics. Their frank talk on uncomfortable matters and their refusal to be intimidated by the government has certainly changed the nature of South African legislature. And last, but not least, they have encouraged a broad mass of people to engage in politics and empowered a large collaboration of the poor, black South Africans – an alliance which is expected to grow even more.
Pia Schneider Pia graduated in communications last year and came to Cape Town to dive into South African culture and the spirit of the people. She is passionate about writing and politics and found that she can combine both in an optimal way. At some point, she hopes to return to Cape Town and continue her political analysis.
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