The ANC has experienced breakaways and splits before. Historically the most significant was by the PAC in 1959. Of the most recent, Bantu Holimisa’s UDM was never going to be a threat to the ANC whereas Cope was potentially never a life threatening hazard but rather a less venal and self-serving version of the ANC itself. More ominously the EFF with its self-proclaimed populist radical policies are more lethal and hazardous not only to the ANC in particular but to SA in general. The dilemma for the ANC is whether to politically engage with them or totally ignore them. What is my prognosis for the EFF?
Main Picture: Julius Malema sings after addressing a group of soldiers in civilian dress at the Lenasia Recreation Centre
Julius Malema’s leitmotiv is attention. His defining characteristic and style is the clarion call to populist sentiment. It is akin to attempting to have a rational discussion with a shop steward. Leaders in the ANCYL prior to Julius were equally as radical in their sentiments but as the mainstream media and political parties considered their views to be too quixotic in a large measure they were ignored.
So it would have been with Malema & the ANCYL as well except that his ostensible target eventually was no longer the racist Boers but the so-called neo-liberal policies of Jacob Zuma. This was bound to catch the attention of the media. What was the ANC’s initial response? Instead of a swift rebuke or a rapid rap over the knuckles, the ANC pandered to him. Jacob Zuma even went so far as to stroke Malema’s pride by commenting that in Julius there was a future ANC President in the making. Needless to say, such praise emboldened rather than mollified his ambition.
Malema, the media star, was conceived.
The ANC’s chance to ignore his febrile, libellous and racist comments was over. It was now a fight to the death. Instead of throwing the book at him, they excluded various actions such as his rallying call “kill for Zuma” and “kill the Boer.” The reason for this stance was overtly political. They would reflect poorly on the ANC itself and in other instances on Jacob Zuma himself. Ultimately one of the charges relates to the proposed overthrow of the elected Botswana government as that would not cause ructions within the ANC itself.
With a radical political agenda totally divergent from theirs, the contestation between the ANC & the EFF could only be on the basis of their policies. Ad hominem attacks so favoured by the ANC would not have the desired impact. Furthermore there has been ample opportunity to use Malema’s own words and deeds against him.
But what has been the ANC’s response?
In typical Malema fashion, Julius will make some outrageous statement in order to rile the ANC. This is typical political bluster honed from his days within the ANC itself yet when the same tactic is used against them, they become apoplectic. Surely the experienced wily politician that is Baleka Mbete should not have fallen for Malema’s ruse. Instead flustered by this cheeky upstart, the ANC attempts to banish Malema. It has almost been an attempt to shut Malema up.
Instead they should have returned fire with accusations of their own regarding corruption, expensive houses, tenderpreneuring contracts and the like. As opposed to that, the response of the ANC has been to use the organs of State to silence him. This will only make Malema a martyr in the eyes of the voters.
So far the EFF have played the politics of spectacle. This stance can only carry them so far. What will count in the fullness of time is the politics of substance. What does that imply practically? Simplistically substance has to be given to their slogans in the form of detailed policy proposals.
The spectacle of embarrassing Zuma in Parliament and even ingenious grounds for appealing Mbete’s decision to suspend them from Parliament is vacuous without concrete substantive proposal on how to address issues such as the electricity crisis, the appalling state of education, and the dysfunctional hospital system ad infinitum will ultimately suffice.
With the advent of the EFF in Parliament, it is certainly has become a livelier place. Moreover it is also a more productive place. Contrary to some commentators’ views, a rowdier Parliament does not make it less effective. It is not axiomatic. The level of debate in the British Parliament should disabuse one of that correlation. What it has done is to make Parliament’s governance role more pertinent and effective. Instead of the ANC’s steamroller dismissively rejecting criticism, it now is compelled to account to Parliament. The EFF goes for the jugular and demands a proper explanations rather than being fobbed off by some arbitrary explanation.
Ironically, the ANC might be on the horns of a dilemma on how to best address the issue of Malema but unless the EFF CET [Central Command Team] develops policies to elaborate on the strategy, they will remain a party of spectacle and not of substance.
An elegant example of such a detailed proposal was the Democratic Alliance’s proposition on how to tackle the electricity crisis in South Africa. Rather than merely berating the ANC for the lack of electricity and the concomitant black-outs, a concrete proposal has been put on the table. It is such detailed proposals that should be the subject of debate in Parliament and the rest of South Africa and not just fatuous mud-slinging.
After an impressive start in Parliament and obtaining the attention of the South African public, the EFF now still has to go beyond simplistic slogans to concrete implementable policy proposals.
If not, the horns of the electoral impi a la Shaka Zulu will surround them and will gore them to death.
Figuratively of course
But just as expeditiously
What is my prognosis for the EFF? Julius Malema could be like an Adolf Hitler who was a non-entity on the political until the Great Depression broke. At that moment, the Nazi Party gained traction and ultimately gained power. So it can with the EFF too. Given the way in which the ANC is mismanaging the economy, the possibility of a lengthy recession is not out of the realms of possibility.
An equally likely possibility is the EFFs imploding along the lines of Cope except that instead of a leadership tussle it will revolve around the personality of Julius Malema himself. Having attracted an ill-sorted bunch of disaffected ANC supporters, their failure to espouse a clear unambiguous policy will be their death knell.
Instead it will be a clamour for resources commencing at the apex: Julius Malema. Julius has already been implicated in feeding from the trough of cronyism and tenderpreneurship and is unlikely to change his spots now that he is in Parliament.
Three very recent are stark pointers of this eventuality. Having the whole civil service in its pocket, the ANC will use the power to wreak vengeance on Julius all in the name of applying the letter of the law non doubt whilst simultaneously precluding Jacob from having his day in court.
The first and probably most serious is SARS reneging on a settlement deal with Julius regarding his tax affairs. This could result in a significant sentence which would preclude him from ever warming the green benches of Parliament again.
The following two exemplars also strike at the core venality of the smiling man. The latest to break was a claim by EFF employees that their Income Tax and Pension Fund deductions had never been paid over to the relevant authorities.
So much for being the champions of the underdog in South Africa!
This has the potential to expose the EFF and its leader in particular for their self-serving rhetoric.
The other example relates to the expulsion of 3 of their MPs. This troika is incensed at Julius’ abuse of EFF’s funds. The likes of a Dali Mpofu is being sullied by the venality of Julius and his mates from the ANCYL
Perhaps these three actions are the cause of Malema’s silence on the national front. The EFF is in all likelihood totally internally focused on internal squabbles much like Cope was in their history.
These ructions are unlikely to curb Malema. His method of defence is deflection and attack. It might even reveal an ogre even more racist and populist than previously known.
That type of populist demagoguery could well ignite a racial conflagration the like of which South Africans had thought that they had been spared.
That alarmist possibility notwithstanding, it all likelihood the EFF will be akin to a fireworks rocket: all flame and sparkle but it rapidly fizzles out and crashes back to earth unnoticed and unmourned.
The optimist in me – for one has to wear rose-tinted glasses in South Africa – hopes for the latter scenario.
As an Aside the PAC was established in 1959 in the Orlando Community Centre being the same hall from which the Orlando Athletic Club 21km race was held on Sunday 14th December. Its founding President was Robert Sobukwe.