The show went on for the EFF at Parliament on Thursday with Commander-in-Chief Julius Malema speculating whether the ANC were a bunch of drunks as well as promising reporters he would shut down Johannesburg’s economy. Business as usual, then. By MARELISE VAN DER MERWE.
“Overalls are going to stop the economy of Africa,” Malema promised during the EFF’s press briefing at Parliament on Thursday, threatening to shut down Johannesburg with a protest against the Gauteng legislature’s decision to ban his party’s red uniforms. “We are going to organise another march of not less than 50,000 people.
“We will shut down the business of Johannesburg. If the ANC knows what is good for it, and for the business of Johannesburg, the country, and the continent, it will resolve this issue of the overalls.”
It was vintage Malema: a quote a minute; radical promises with liberal dustings of wit and hilarity, because a spoonful of sarcasm makes the medicine go down. The audience loved it.
“That was the most entertaining press conference I’ve ever been to,” gushed one at the end.
But if the definition of politics is who gets what and how, then there’s a fine line between theatre and the lives of real people. We all know the EFF is leveraging the media machine to its advantage. The question is, will this advantage filter down to the people the party represents?
Malema was in top form on Thursday, providing eminently quotable one-liners and evidently enjoying the response from his audience.
“We are the official opposition,” he said. “The numbers of the DA do not mean anything. People do not remember what [Mmusi] Maimane says; what he said in response to the State of the Nation address. What are people quoting from Maimane? He says ‘what-what-something-step-aside’.” (Guffaws from the audience.)
South Africa had not seen a proper opposition until now, Malema said. “Those with high blood [pressure] will find it will be very high. The ANC and the DA don’t know opposition. They go and drink wine on the Ruperts’ farm together, and then the Ruperts tell them how to oppose each other.” (Squeals of delight.)
Malema did not tread lightly on Thursday. On issues of decorum, he said, the current Parliament had simply “inherited the Apartheid Parliamentary decorum”. “There is nothing in the rules forcing us to call each other Honourable,” he said. “What is this thing of calling people honourable who are not honourable?” he asked, citing President Jacob Zuma as a prime example. “We are here to change a lot of things.”
The ruling party’s hope, he added, that the EFF would eventually go away if ignored would not work. “It is not sustainable,” he said. “We are going to keep on their case for the next five years. We are not here to be liked. We are not here to make friends.”
That’s debatable, since Malema’s evry controversy seems to be making him an awful lot of fans/friends. “Check the viewership of the Parliamentary channel [since the EFF joined],” he said, with discernible pride. “It has increased. The real opposition has arrived.”
Perhaps the most raucous response came after Malema’s response to his party having recently been compared to Nazis. “We are called all sorts of names,” he began, “so we shouldn’t complain much. But just note this incident, so that when we do the same, we are not accused of not playing a fair game.” But then he got into his stride. “The ANC wanted to wear the same beret at one stage,” he pointed out, “which makes [Gwede] Mantashe a temporary Nazi.” (Laughter.) “It is a real pity, this lack of depth and intellectual poverty in the ANC. If there is an issue that makes us Nazis, then the ANC Youth League are also Nazis, because that is where we come from. I and most of us come from the ANC. And actually Gwede agreed with us on most things.” Then that mischievous smile. “So this means the ANC produces Nazis. This is their own mess that they have created. They have produced a Hitler.”
And that was that. It brought the house down.
Going beyond the stand-up comedy, the EFF had originally issued a statement regarding the budget vote debates over the past two weeks, during which the party had objected to the adoption of all departmental and entities’ budgets. “The EFF comprehensively and cogently objected to each and every budget vote because we believe that overall, the ANC is in pursuit of a wrong ideological, political and economic programme,” the statement read. “…It is based on the National Development Plan, which is a political programme of the ANC, Democratic Alliance and, it seems, all other smaller parties represented in the 5th Democratic Parliament.”
But the EFF, said Malema, was not having any of this nonsense. “We have exposed this Parliament,” he said. “We are here to make them work for their money. We are a necessary irritation. They have been sleeping.”
According to the official statement, “The ruling party and all existing political parties refuse to accept the simple logical fact that the problems and crises confronting South Africa today are a result of the implementation of the same capitalist and right-wing political programmes that have been tried and failed over the past 20 years. The EFF has begun the necessary task of educating members of Parliament and the whole of society that an alternate world and society is possible…not what has been happening for the last 20 years.”
Unsurprisingly, the statement called for a large-scale revision of capitalist policy as a solution to poverty and unemployment, and threw in a couple of punches for the benefit of the business sector too. For the first time in Parliament, the statement added, the EFF raised the issue of transfer pricing, base erosion and profit shifting, which it accused all other political parties of either not understanding or “deliberately turning a blind eye on”. These practices were “robbing all the natural resource producing countries in the African continent,” the statement read.
The statement further criticised the National Development Plan in some detail, reiterating some of its objections aired during the budget vote. Among these were the lack of protected industrial development at the centre of the development that South Africa should undergo until 2030; the unsustainability of the job drivers in the NDP; the NDP’s approach to workers’ rights; an insufficient focus on agricultural productivity; an inadequate focus on food security and an inadequate plan for the beneficiation of mineral resources.
There was a “crisis of quality” in the ANC, Malema said, and a “general crisis of capacity” in government, adding that the ruling party “[did] not engage” with the bread-and-butter issues that the country was grappling with politically and economically.
It has been acknowledged that the EFF’s criticisms, when one strips away the theatre, are not flimsy. (“Shut your eyes and, barring the economics, they could be the DA,” one colleague said. Don’t tell Malema.) Even his opponents have pointed out that they are asking important questions. The problem, however, is often that the criticism is so glib and the witticisms so appealing that it is tempting to obscure the content.
It would seem that Malema’s bugbear begins, also, on a superficial level, penetrating all the way to the ideological and economic. Is the shaking up of the status quo with regards to decorum and uniform, then, symbolic or cosmetic?
It’s a tough question, and one that will only be answered in time, based on the party’s performance.
“The ANC has got voting cattle,” Malema said. “Sometimes you think they are drunk. I cannot believe I was part of such an organisation.”
But he was, and they’re probably all wishing they were drunk, and this was all a terrible, booze-induced dream. But it’s not. He’s shown us, in a year with the EFF, that as an entertainer he has no equal. Now he needs to show that he can do more than make a noise. Which might not be that easy. DM
Photo: Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema reacts to comments made about his party being compared to a “Nazi fascist movement” at a news conference in Cape Town on Thursday, 31 July 2014. Picture: Nardus Engelbrecht/SAPA
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