Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema was in fine form as he addressed the media in Johannesburg on Thursday. While the party continues to grow, it's an understatement to say that there are still doubts about Malema's character and vision. The EFF, though, is taking the fight straight to Nkandla. By GREG NICOLSON.
“Fire pool! You think people are so stupid to accept such an explanation?” Malema asked the ANC on Thursday. “In my house there was a swimming pool because I can [swim],” he told journalists, one of the many wisecracks of the day.
Former President Nelson Mandela’s wife was actually beautiful, but he didn’t do what Zuma is doing for his family in Nkandla, he said, balancing vitriolic criticism of the ANC with his brand of humour. Malema dismissed the South African Students Congress as kids, called Peter Mokaba a fashionista, and said the families of SABC employees should be ashamed because no one at the public broadcaster is willing to stand up to COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng.
EFF leaders briefed media at the Easy Hotel, across the road from the party’s new offices in Braamfontein, Johannesburg. They clarified the party’s position on a number of issues and described the progress since EFF’s official launch in Marikana in October last year.
This year’s elections will be remembered as the “red beret election”, said the EFF commander-in-chief, who allowed his commissars to respond to the first questions from journalists before taking control of the press conference. The 2009 elections are remembered for the ANC Youth League’s (ANCYL) attempts to engage young South Africans with bling, braais and motorbikes, he said. “We made those elections fashionable and exciting […] Now we are no longer there – the people of ideas, creativity and excitement – now they are always [asking], ‘What are they doing now?’” said Malema, referencing accusations that the ANC is copying EFF by distributing 50,000 red berets this week. “We are the most creative organisation in South Africa,” he claimed.
“I think that this is going to be the most exciting elections. Our people are looking forward to the elections. It was going to boring if we were not in the space,” Malema told journalists and a small group of party supporters. “What is going to be the legacy of 2014 elections? The red beret.”
The EFF does not yet have audited membership numbers but the party say there are more than 400,000 members and it hopes to get to 500,000. Every province has at least 10,000 election volunteers and since it’s launch EFF has been inundated with inquiries and requests for membership, said Malema and new party member Dali Mpofu. During the briefing, Malema’s former ANCYL comrade Magdalene Moonsamy was welcomed into the party as well as Wiekus Kotze, from Gauteng. The party plans to run candidates for every position available in this year’s elections.
“The EFF will be contesting the 2014 general elections with the sole intention to win. The EFF will field candidates for all spheres of national and provincial government and will submit the maximum number of candidates required for each legislature. We however have realised that the playing field for elections is not levelled,” said Malema. EFF will approach the Independent Electoral Commission to complain about the required R45,000 fee per province to register a political party and R200,000 national fee. It will also raise the issue of party funding, which is based on a party’s portion of seats in Parliament.
EFF’s main goal, emphasised Malema, is to improve the livelihood of impoverished South Africans, (aka deliver economic freedom). If elected, the party will expropriate land without compensation. Malema said it’s been compensation enough that white land-owners have been able to keep their properties for the last 20 years. “We cannot eat ideas. It is our time to eat,” he added, later explaining that the latter phrase refers to enriching the African majority, not politicians.
Asked about the fear of South Africa following the economic decline of Zimbabwe after President Robert Mugabe introduced expropriation policies, Malema and Moonsamy hit out at international and capitalist interests. “I think we must move away from the constant comparisons with Zimbabwe,” said Moonsamy.
“You’ve exploited Africa,” Malema told the west and capitalism. “You’ve diseased Africa […] Who are you to tell us that Zimbabwe has failed?” The only system that has worked in Africa is the Zimbabwean system and its economy is growing, said Malema. Despite that support, neither ZANU-PF or Mugabe, still allies of the ANC, have offered funding for EFF.
Neither is the party in discussion with the National Union of Metalworkers SA (Numsa) or suspended Cosatu General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi about forming alliances, as was suggested by ANC NEC member Tito Mboweni this week via Twitter. EFF wants to find allies on the left who share the same values and wants to talk with Numsa in the future. During the union’s December special congress where it decided to withdraw support from the ANC, General Secretary Irvin Jim expressed doubts about the new party. “While Numsa’s position is a clear class position, the position of the EFF is not,” said Jim. “The organisation is committed to a struggle against capitalism, but it does not clarify what kind of society it is struggling for.” Malema said he hasn’t met Vavi since a Cosatu rally in March 2012. He also accused Mboweni of making up nonsense to serve Zuma in the hope of getting a decent job.
Malema said bluntly that the ANC doesn’t care for the people any more. “The ANC of Mandela would not have killed the people of Marikana. The ANC of Mandela would not build a R200 million house,” he told journalists before quoting opposition parties’ favourite Madiba quote: “If the ANC does to you what the Apartheid government did to you, then you must do to the ANC what you did to the Apartheid government .”
Juju’s comments weren’t original but reflected public anger that is expressed in many quarters across the country. It’s not hard to find a Zuma joke and blame the ANC for not doing enough to improve livelihoods. Malema, however, is the most direct and inspired voice of disenfranchisement.
While EFF leader is scandal heavy, the party is still light on policy. Take the land issue, for example: Malema says land will be expropriated without compensation without negatively affecting the economy. Land that contributes to growth won’t be taken. But what happens after the land is expropriated? Malema said that’s not for us to know. EFF’s new commissar on land and agrarian reform Andile Mngxitama will surely have to provide elaborate details on the plan if the EFF want to persuade doubters. Presumably, the party will answer all the questions with the launch its election manifesto on 22 February.
Then there’s Malema’s own scandals. Charges against him for benefiting from a tender that the Public Protector found to be “unlawful, fraudulent and corrupt” will not be heard until after the election. But his switch from being Zuma’s praise singer to one of Zuma’s staunchest critics raises questions of his personal legitimacy and makes his claim to represent the poor look like an act performed to serve Malema’s best interests. Still, he has tonnes of charisma and is a magnet for his followers.
The EFF leader explains the change by admitting he made a mistake. He told a story on Thursday about how Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, whom he has great respect for, warned him in 2007 that it was wrong to support Zuma. She told him over the phone and he didn’t take her next call. His generation of leaders are paying for the mistake and now have to right the wrong, he says.
But the EFF want to prove themselves through mass-mobilisation and publicly confronting the ANC. The party will be touring the country in the coming weeks; on Saturday, while Zuma speaks in Mbombela about the ANC’s election manifesto, EFF will be in Nkandla to officially hand over a house the party built for someone in need. “We are building a house next to the museum of corruption,” said Malema. “That’s what we’re dealing with, not dancing and singing but when we leave we have touched the life of an African child.” It’s a test of political tolerance, he added. “If there is anyone with any intentions, even killing, they can do that on Saturday.” DM
Photo by Greg Nicolson.
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