by Thapelo Ndlovu
When asked by the programme anchor, Justice Malala about the potential and prospects of his Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), the South African, Julius Malema recounted an encounter; on his entrance into Malala’s Justice Factor interview, an eNCA cameraman had enquired about the procedures of joining EFF. According to Malema that brief inquisition reflected the popularity of his one year old red beret movement.
It is easy to dismiss his anecdote as mere campaign gloating a few months before the general elections; the common nodding however seems to suggest that EFF is unlike its older siblings in the opposition ranks. The truism- coming with a bang- seems an apt description of the way the political party toyi-toyied (marched) into the South African politics.
The ruling party, African National Congress boasts that it will only be upstaged after the return of Jesus Christ. In February, the party’s youth league was however forced to hastily organise a music festival a few streets away from the launch ceremony of EFF’s election manifesto in Tembisa. If this was meant to overshadow the launch, the opposite was achieved. The 30 000 capacity Metlhareng stadium where EFF was launching was over spilling before all delegates arrived. The official count is reported to have been more than 50000.
By the look of things it is only second to ANC, if not equal, in crowd command. With elections in May, could these numbers translate to votes and ultimate displace the ANC? The answer to this question would only be definite in the outcome of the elections. But serious mumblings are audible enough to make not only the ANC but the current leading opposition, Democratic Party, lose some buckets of sleep. Already there have been reported clashes between the ruling party and EFF cadres over the running of funerals and other politically relevant social ceremonies. EFF always ensures it has presence in every community disturbances in the country; at some point Malema had to deny accusations that his followers were distributing car tyres for burning in the street protests. The commander in chief himself has endeared himself with the community of Marikana, who were the victims of the worst post-apartheid police massacre in the country. When presenting his party manifesto Malema continued with one of his anecdotes: a young boy was sent on an errand to buy some stuff at a local grocery. He never returned!
“Your child was gunned down by the police,” a bystander informed the inquisitive family.
“No, that cannot be, our boy is not part of the street disturbances; we sent him to the grocery shop” insisted the parents, only to learn that indeed their child was shot by the police on his way from the store, carrying his shopping bags.
What works for him is that the stories are mostly true. Street disturbances in most parts of the country give credence to such stories. A Growing number of cases of police brutalities, at times shown on television, embolden Malema’s account that the police is no better than their apartheid counterparts.
For Malema it is about appealing to the downtrodden. He never finishes his address without mentioning the taxi drivers, cleaners, petrol attendants, waiters, waitresses, farm workers, and many other similar of the same ranks. In the party manifesto all these workers would have their wages almost doubled. In fact, according to EFF there will only be permanent workers once they assume power.
Socialist or militancy
Modeling himself after his idols in the likes of, among others, Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, Robert Mugabe, Peter Mokaba, Malema is no push over. Having suffered the humiliation of the public expulsion from his beloved ANC and the stripping of his bling-bling lifestyle, the young man did not just trip into a ditch of wilderness.
Towards his expulsion, Malema had already found a niche in the political space. Just when many were beginning to write him off, he organised a successful march under the banner of economic freedom to the suburban Sandton, presumably the epitome of South Africa’s capitalism. On hindsight, that was a glaring warning to the ANC, to dare touch him. The rest as the cliché goes is history. The Breitling watch gave way to the red beret!
According to him on June 11, 2012 a way forward was established to pick option number three and abandon the other two, which were: to continue seeking readmission into the ANC or to form a non- governmental organisation. On July 26 and 27, option number three, Economic Freedom Fighters was registered to partake in national elections. Its war cry became same issues that catapulted Malema out of the ANC; nationalisation of mines and expropriation of land without compensation. Only now the list has swollen to 7 cardinals that tell a story of socialism.
Expropriation of land without compensation brings back memories of the neighbouring Zimbabwe. Malema, an open student of Robert Mugabe, the Zimbabwean long time president, is a great admirer of the Zimbabwe land redistribution programme. This has brought him face to face with the white minority, who, however, command a superior ownership of vast fertile land in South Africa.
While nationalisation of mines has always been one of Malema’s priorities, it is the extension to 'banks and other strategic sectors of the economy' that is supposedly unsettling investors in the country. EFF promises to claim 60% of ownership in all these businesses, from which according to the commander in chief, the socialist state will roll in earnest.
This will effectively dent the ambition of the rising black businesses who are eagerly awaiting to emulate their white counterparts. Existing businesses can easily scale down their enterprises in anticipation of the impending changes or there could be drastic investor flight. It is therefore the local businessman who would have to face up with the economic freedom flaws encapsulated in the fabric of state domineering effects. Already the controversial Black Economic Empowerment would be discarded; this is probably one of the few areas that EFF could find patronage in the white citizenry.
With the prevalence of the words 'shall' and 'must' in the EFF manifesto, the state dominance in the country’s social and economic is inescapable.
It will also be of interest to observe EFF’s external relations. The party could already count out the neighbouring Botswana among its friends. With what Malema keeps on referring to as the Africa agenda, Botswana is pin pointed as a threat towards its achievement. This appears to have been inherited from the ANC, who have not confirmed it though. ANC has however chosen a rather diplomatic and careful approach devoid of rocking the boat. The party has gradually strengthened its relationship with Botswana Democratic Party. This Africa agenda does not come out very clear except the desire of South Africa to be a regional and continental power house in the same way USA is to the world. Botswana has proven to be a stubborn and reluctant accomplice; a Kuwait of the region. This obviously does not amuse the EFF.
Thapelo Ndlovu is a writer. His latest published work, Dear Power, Monologues- is a political satire on African leadership. His professional life spans across different sectors, government, NGO and private sector. He has been a teacher, journalist and above all a media and civil society activist. Ndlovu currently works part time as a sub editor for Botswana's only independent daily, Mmegi; runs his own online news magazine, Sniffdog hosted at www.thapeloindlovu.com and occasionally contribute to international websites such as ThinkAfricaPress, Community to protect journalists and has also contributed chapters to other books, notably, democracy index on Botswana by IDASA.