Being a new party, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) are canvassing different sectors of society for input on policy making. GREG NICOLSON went to a party forum in Johannesburg on minorities to see if there's any meat behind the rhetoric. He wasn't impressed.
Zanele Muholi and Gabrielle Le Roux’s exhibition Queer and Trans Art-iculations just closed at the Wits Arts Museum. Using a range of media, the artists described the perilous situation of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community in South Africa and the struggle for equal rights in a climate of violence and discrimination. “They tell me they will kill me. They will rape me and after raping me I will become a girl. I will become a straight girl,” wrote one of the subjects for Muholi’s work. It was just one of the horrifying accounts from the LGBTI community.
“I am just a visual activist claiming my full citizenship in this country,” Muholi told the audience at the exhibition’s opening.
A few blocks away, the EFF held a seminar for minority groups on Tuesday evening at Braamfontein’s Easy Hotel. The audience included people from the LGBTI community and others with disabilities. The party’s Wiekus Kotze said he invited around 200 white people, but few chose to attend. Dali Mpofu, EFF candidate for Gauteng premier, came straight from the Marikana Commission to be the event’s keynote speaker.
The party represents society’s most vulnerable, “the underdogs”, who have been marginalised under the current system, Mpofu emphasised. EFF believes an indignity to one person is an indignity to all and we must recognise that black lesbians living in townships are most vulnerable, the advocate continued. The party’s manifesto doesn’t deal with LGBTI issues, which according to Mpofu is because they wanted to consult people on the details of each issue in the manifesto and hadn’t had the chance to deal with LGBTI issues until Tuesday’s forum. “That’s what’s exciting about this meeting,” he told the audience – a new party is open to public influence.
After a long-winded speech, Mpofu took questions. An activist said she’d searched the party’s website and couldn’t find anything on LGBTI issues. She then criticised EFF leader Julius Malema’s comments on Caster Semenya (“There is no such a thing hermaphrodite in Pedi,” he said while he was the ANC Youth League president). Deaf audience members and those in wheelchairs said they wanted equal rights to be respected for people with disabilities and for those rights to be instituted on a practical level: providing sign language services at police stations and hospitals; wheelchair accessible buildings at university campuses; decent work for all.
“You must judge EFF policy on EFF policy. What any individual might have said before EFF cannot be ascribed to EFF,” Mpofu said on Malema’s comments. It was the first in a string of non-answers. He doesn’t want to get hung up on terminology, he continued, when faced with different minorities and forms of discrimination. EFF still needs to form its policies but Mpofu is against the “ghettoisation” of issues relating to women, children and people with disabilities created when President Zuma introduced the related ministry. Government should have a policy that ensures each ministry takes these issues into account (his argument mirrors that of Thabo Mbeki). People with disabilities need real jobs, he said, and not not be confined to call centres.
Practically, how will that happen? Mpofu offered no solutions and hardly mentioned current government policy or legislation. The one law he did mention, the Gender Equality Bill, Mpofu admitted he hadn’t read.
He was more comfortable speaking on ideology. The ANC’s adoption of “the ultimate sell-out document” the National Development Plan shows the party will never achieve the goals of the Freedom Charter, he said. “In a paradigm that is dominated by profit maximisation, any reasonable employer, quote unquote, will not invest in sign language,” he told an audience member. Asked why voters concerned with issues relating to LGBTI groups and the disabled should vote EFF, which is yet to define its policy, while the ANC has more experience on the issues, Mpofu said, “The ANC’s policies will never address these kind of issues we’re addressing… It empowers few but leaves the majority out.”
On disabilities, the DA’s manifesto is the most comprehensive, committing to promoting job opportunities, ensuring an efficient grant system and providing state-funded schooling options, as well as promoting public accessibility. The ANC manifesto cites its creation of the ministry of women, children and people with disabilities and commits to providing quality, equal work for all, including those with disabilities. (Though the department that was created to deal with the issues is an unqualified disaster.) The EFF commits to prioritising affirmative action policies, which include people with disabilities, and improving accessibility on public transport. On LGBTI issues, the EFF manifesto says the group will benefit from social welfare services, alongside other key issues such as safety and security and quality healthcare, but the document doesn’t elaborate (Mpofu says details will be added). Neither the ANC or DA mention the issues.
Cameron Modisane, who married his partner Thoba Sithole in a traditional Zulu wedding last year, said he has been with EFF since the beginning and he has been accepted within the party. “I found a home in EFF even though I’m gay,” he said on Wednesday evening. “It’s not just lip-service,” he said of the party’s focus on minorities. “Issues of the LGBTI community, they are going to be addressed.”
But how? While lacking attention in the mainstream media, there’s a significant amount of information available on issues facing minorities. Mpofu did not show that he had researched the issues or convey any options EFF has in addressing them. “When we run Gauteng it is exactly this kind of discussion we should be having,” said the aspirant premier. Some of the speakers commended the party for opening up discussion and being willing to listen.
But the EFF needs to prove it can go beyond rhetoric and provide detailed plans for its ambitious promises of equality and economic freedom. Recognising that discrimination against minorities isn’t good is hardly groundbreaking. Crafting policies that addresses those issues is. The EFF needs to add pages of policy and understanding to its book of populism. Mpofu was not convincing that the party can do that. DM
Photo: Dali Mpofu addresses the EFF’s forum on minorities in Johannesburg. (Greg Nicolson/Daily Maverick)
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