South Africa

HANNIBAL ELECTOR: The rise and rise (and rise) of the EFF

By Richard Poplak 17 February 2014

Think you’re safe from the future of South Africa’s radical left, Mr. and Mrs. Mittel-Klass? Think your high walls, electric fencing, and liberal pieties will insulate you from Commander-in-Chief Julius Sello Malema? Think again. RICHARD POPLAK spends some time among the Fighters.

I.

Where Malema was concerned, my thoughts were frozen and my tongue benumbed. If you are born with a pen in your hand, you want to write something with the morning dew glistening upon it, something cucumber fresh and virgin as a peeping bud… Let us therefore be glad, writer and reader alike, that my thoughts have now been thawed and my tongue untied.

The Moving Finger Writes, Vol 2—Moss Mashamaite

The Economic Freedom Fighters’ brand new party truck, inaugurated just a day earlier in front of thousands of screaming acolytes in Mamelodi, rattles down a track into Soweto’s Elias Motsoaledi Informal Settlement. If it weren’t for the late-model Audi TT and Golf GTI trailing it, and if the truck itself were not a Mercedes Benz 2528 emblazoned with Julius Sello Malema’s benevolently smiling likeness, the procession would resemble a small Mozambican rebel operation in the mid-70s—men in berets yelling loudly, going nowhere. The track’s ruts are a foot deep, lined with rubbish and running with sewerage. There is no way the truck will make it into the settlement. Absolutely impossible.

Five minutes later, the truck makes it into the settlement.

On this hot Sunday afternoon, about three thousand of Elias Motsoaledi’s inhabitants are braving the sun for one of the dozens of EFF rallies held across Gauteng’s forgotten communities since election season kicked off. Formerly an ANC stronghold, Elias Motsoaledi went to war against the state last year, losing one of its young men to a series of service delivery protests that resulted in the nearby KFC being looted of family buckets, and then flame broiled. Despite the usual sturm und drang, you’ll be unsurprised to hear that Elias Motsoaledi has not been transformed into a model 21st century green knowledge community. It remains one of the universe’s pit latrines, with human beings forced to sub for turds.

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The EFF cortege is thus warmly greeted, and the truck makes its way towards the clearing that serves as the sports grounds to a round of cheers. The Red Marketing Machine is impressively sophisticated and I make my way over to a black bakkie with a “Thanks God I Am A Black Man” bumper sticker. A man in his late 30s named Fannie Mashiyane is selling EFF merchandise from the bed of the bakkie. “I’ve been mandated for two months now, and I am a provincial sub-committee member,” he tells me. He sells about R5,000 worth of merch a day, the most popular item being the R100 beret, although the similarly priced golf shirts are also doing strong business.

And while the EFF is apparently committed to rewriting the rules of white monopoly capital, their literature remains pricey. I’m approached by Mashudubele Mamabolo, CEO of Chatworld Publishers, and dinged R250 for a fresh copy of the as yet un-launched The Moving Finger Writes, Vol. 2. The author is someone named Moss Mashamaite, a graduate of the University of Limpopo, where according to his bio “the impact of his ideas greatly shook his contemporaries”. There is no mention of a Vol. 1, but TMFW starts thrillingly in medias res, the subtitle summing it up nicely: “Will the ANC be in power until Jesus comes—or is it until Julius comes?”

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By now, the party truck is doing a suitable impression of a vehicle from Michael Bay’s Transformers trilogy, only noisier. The starboard side of the rear container has scrolled up, and a large stage stacked with amps disgorged onto the grass of the sports field. Sixty or so kids sit patiently in the rear, listening to the EFF’s limitless supply of branded ditties. Later, one of the composers, named Soldier, will tell me that music is central to the Commander-in-Chief’s Weltschmerz. “He likes music a lot,” Soldier says. “Music is the key, it touches a lot of people.” Soldier’s signature EFF song is called “Azania” and is about how “we want our land back, without compensation.”

“If you look at this place,” he says, pointing to Elias Motsoaledi informal settlement, “You can see that is time to take what is ours.”

II.

My Name is Julius, Poem I

I am Julius son of these soils

And I speak for such as have no soil

I am the voice of those with no voice

Now they are muffled.

Muffled either with a muffin,

A huffing and a puffing

A bun or a ban

The Moving Finger Writes, Vol. 2—Moss Mashamaite

At this point, only a fool would believe that the EFF doesn’t represent a serious threat to both the ANC and the DA in communities like Elias Motsoaledi. And while the ANC has proved a wretched governing party, its supporters continue to believe that survival is woven into its DNA, that it will change, transform, become better. But at the age of 102, the organisation’s agility appears severely diminished and Julius Malema’s EFF—101 years its junior—outmanoeuvres Luthuli House at every turn. Like Wile E Coyote vs. Roadrunner, the bombs the ANC lobs end up blowing its own face off, while the rest of us laugh until we cry.

On the Thursday before Party Truck Inauguration Weekend kicked off, the EFF called a press conference for 9am at the Protea Hotel in Centurion. The ostensible point was the release of a formal statement regarding the recent provisional sequestration of the Commander-in-Chief over his failure to pay the South African Revenue Service R16-million in back taxes. Much of the media coverage up to that point had focused on the fact that Section 47 of the Constitution bars an unrehabilitated insolvent from holding a seat in the National Assembly. Translation: because the sum of Malema’s assets are less than the R16-million he owes SARS, he is bankrupt. And in this country, bankrupts can’t hold office.

If you’ve figured out how the EFF are planning to use this as a plus over the course of the campaign, pick up a gold star on your way out.

And there they sat, the unsmiling EFF commissariat (minus the CiC, who was otherwise, um, detained), looking like children dressed up as revolutionaries. But then again, aren’t all revolutions started by people playing dress-up? Proving that no amount of venality or uselessness disbars one from politics in this country, the Commissar of Justice, advocate Dali Mpofu, read from the sequestration debacle playbook, which sounded more and more like a gift than a punishment.

“From a constitutional point of view,” said Mpofu, looking sharp in his red beret, “that a person—merely because they are poor or can’t make ends meet—is denied office is ridiculous. Section 19.3 of the Constitution says, ‘Every adult citizen has the right to stand for public office, and if elected, hold office’”.

In other words, the SARS sequestration is another salvo fired not just at Julius Malema, but at the poor of this country, who were betrayed by democracy right from inception (example: Section 47). Discarding the usual liberal banalities about our glorious Constitution, the EFF were consciously calling its legitimacy into question. “This is an archaic system based on commercialism and capitalism,” continued Mpofu, who knows a thing or two about commercialism and capitalism, “based on the idea that the human rights you have are less than the rights of your creditors. Which, from our ideological point of view, is palpable nonsense.”

In the EFF narrative, SARS was forced by the ANC to “bend over to political pressure” and remove Malema from the race by ancient decree. In order to counter that blatant tactic, an independent trust was to be established in order to raise funds to either pay off SARS, counter the sequestration in a court of law, or some combination of the two. Another war chest in the EFF armoury, stuffed with mystery cash. Malema would have money to fight the charges, make them disappear.

In this country, money makes all bad things disappear.

It’s hard to know if the ANC was ever this dexterous in its infancy, but the party had different enemies, and was once upon a time a moral force inexorable in its righteousness. Now, a century after birth, it is Julius Malema’s punching bag, and a repository for everything “real” South Africans stand against. Listening to the commissariat blather on, one thing became clear: were the EFF to one day run this country—and please don’t scoff, my friends—they wouldn’t merely tweak. They’d rip up our Roman-era Constitution, and hand it out to the residents of Elias Motsoaledi Informal Settlement for toilet paper.

“Our land is going to be expropriated without compensation,” said Commissar Andile Mngxitama. “We’re going to end white supremacy, and end the domination of our country by monopoly.” As one of his fellow Fighters noted, “It will be a huge battle. Just [ask the] many millions in the squatter camps, [whether their] liabilities exceed their assets. [We live in] what the predecessors of the DA used to call ‘qualified enfranchisement.”

Time to burn it down, like a township KFC.

III.

General Jan Smuts commented on the black man’s patience as under suffering and trying conditions as “one of the world’s marvels, second only to the ass’s”. The ANC knows that and after twenty years, black South Africans still exhibit that legendary donkey patience. But here as a young man who wanted the black asses, masses if you prefer euphemisms, to wake up from their colonial slumber and count the years gone by and soon put on their famished negro bodies the garments of militancy.

The Moving Finger Writes, Vol 2—Moss Mashamaite

I’m standing by the cab of the Party Truck and Wiekus Kotze—famously, the “White EFF Guy”—is pointing me in the direction of a competing ANC rally. “No, they came here in two bakkies to try intimidate us,” he tells me. “When they saw how many we were—phew!—they were gone.”

I stroll over to a dismal, dusty clearing and find 20 or so heat-bedraggled Zuma-ites, a gathering that would make more sense if this were the Soweto chapter of a White Power movement, rather than the ruling party in its supposed fastness. In the next few months, one of these choreographed face-offs will end in blood, but not today—the police presence at the rally is laid back but significant, at least 80 officers in all. Over at the EFF shindig, a three-man act called the Red Berets, wearing branded revolutionary coveralls, is wrapping up their act. A silver Mercedes wagon has entered the grounds and the crowd is now primed for the main act.

Julius Sello Malema saunters up the stairs of the Party Truck, flanked by the EFF command. He’s put on 5kg since last I saw him, and dressed in a style I’d describe as Township Boer Chic— loafers, a pair of khaki slacks, a linen safari suit button up, and a pair of gold rimmed aviators. It’s the type of outfit Cyril Ramaphosa would buy an R18-million buffalo in. (More on Cyril in a moment). The CiC dances slowly with his fellow fighters as the tunes wind down, and then sits impassively at a table. The entire commissariat is introduced—Wiekus gets the loudest cheers—until, of course, Julius walks to the railing of the Party Truck’s stage, and starts speaking. And speaking, and speaking.

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He starts off, in a voice an octave lower than any of those who spoke before him, by reminding us of Elias Motsoaledi, a struggle veteran who, like Moses, would not see his Canaan, having died in 1994. “Elias Motsoaledi stood firmly for black power,” says Juju. “Elias Motsoaledi believed in black people. He only wanted beautiful things for beautiful black people. Elias Motsoaledi wanted us to stop self-hating.”

Then, Juju gets down to business. He speaks extemporaneously for more than an hour, mostly in English but also in isiXhosa, never stumbling over his words—as skilled a speaker as any in the history of this country’s politics. “The struggle was about giving you jobs,” says Juju. “The struggle was about quality education. Your children still go to school without shoes. The same road you have travelled. The same road your parents travelled. They have not received the fruits of freedom. Because your future, they have postponed it permanently.”

He makes jokes, but he never once cracks a smile. He makes a crack about the dompas being the same as e-tolls—“black people must always be carrying something”. He tells the crowd that where once they were held low by racism, “now they use economic muscle to keep you in the same condition. We need more than a dancing president. We are not looking for Dr Malinga as president. We are looking for a president to look after the poor.”

But he barely bothers slamming Zuma, who is presently lower than goat shit in Elias Motsoaledi. He rips at billionaire Patrice Motsepe—“there are no rich black people”, he insists, and then moves on to Cyril Ramaphosa, who takes the brunt of his ire. “The Oppenheimers identified him when he was young, and they corrupted him,” spits Juju. “He is a direct agent of white capital. He chose a buffalo over the people of Venda.”

He cites Marikana and Sebokeng and Bekkersdal and the long list of indignities that befell poor black people in the last few years. “You have a new home,” he tells the crowd, “a reliable home. A home that is proud of you. Poor as you are, you are now children of the EFF. Before we help you, help yourself. Change your vote.”

On and on it went, and the people of Elias Motsoaledi stood under umbrellas and berets and ball caps for over an hour, and listened. As I watched, I understood that what I was seeing was the slow sliding away of a chunk of this country, as if a glacier were calving, and that the poor of Elias Motsoaledi were ready to throw the ideals and rhetoric of liberation out of their shacks with the day’s rubbish. Julius Malema understands that the failures of this country can’t be blamed on Jacob Zuma or the ANC alone. He knows that people want to hear that the system will come up for a review, and that title deeds are going to be shredded, banks nationalised, the Mzansi flag raised over the mine shafts. They want to know that “white minority capital” will be replaced by “black majority capital”, and that Agent Cyril Ramaphosa will meet his comeuppance.

And here is Julius Malema, on a stage appended to a Mercedes 2528, holding the proverbial matches and Molotov cocktail.

So I wouldn’t be glib in handicapping the EFF’s chances at a chunk of the electorate. With their manifesto launch coming on 22 February their “pro-poor” policies will be spelled out, and their promises—however impossible or outlandish—will find purchase. Because when the cheering crowds follow the magic Party Truck out of Elias Motsoaledi, over rutted tracks that will never get paved, they pass a KFC they once burned down. It is now gloriously refurbished, ringed with metal fencing, and lousy with cops—a big, delicious monument to white minority capital, and a prime target for this country’s mounting, unstoppable rage. DM

All photos by Greg Nicolson/Daily Maverick.

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