The EFF’s long weekend swung from a peaceful love-in to angry hate-fest to smiling hug-a-thon. Disgruntled delegates were no longer burning apparel, and exhausted Fighters filled the hall to get a classic dose of Juju. They weren’t disappointed. He’s after the mines, and he’s after the banks—and he’s coming for them in 2015. By RICHARD POPLAK.
“It’s been a hectic year,” said Julius Sello Malema as he closed his party’s First People’s Assembly. Yeah, no kidding. From zeroes to heroes at warp speed, Malema and his merry band of revolutionaries have come to define the political space as no other upstart movement in this country’s (admittedly short) political history. Nuclear politics: light fuse, quote Marx, observe mushroom cloud.
The last time he left Mangaung, Malema was another of Zuma’s casualties, shipped off to the political cryogenic freezer where he was supposed to be experimented on by future generations, a textbook case of later-stage ANC-itis. Instead, he re-animated himself, and became another South African Lazarus. This time, he left as the president of his own—by which I mean his own—party, jacked up on the democratic amphetamines of an electoral assembly, ready to take on the universe.
Photo: Julius Malema votes at the EFF’s first National People’s Assembly on Tuesday bringing the conference to an end. (Greg Nicolson)
Malema opened the conference on Sunday with a business-like speech. He closed it on Reconciliation Day with a genuine work of oratory. “I want to congratulate you,” he roared, “for a well behaved conference.” All of the very real political jostling that threatened to sour the process yesterday? All of the lighters sparking up, burning lists and hats and tempers? It was a dream, a chimera, the creation of hacks desperate for a story. Those Fighters that walked out of the delegate nominations because it all seemed rigged? “They are back,” said Malema. (Many were not.) “All of those chanting yesterday during elections, we forgive you. We know that elections can be emotional. You have disappointed the enemy.”
These huggy Mandela-isms were a smart countermeasure to a rare mis-step. On the first day of the conference, Malema had underplayed the inevitable discord that was bound to rip through this conference, and issued stern warnings to those who “dared” to misbehave. A few rebel Fighters took his dare, and now there’s a whole bunch of mopping up to do in Gauteng and the Western Cape, members of which did not get their preferred delegates elected. Had Malema recognized the inevitability of trouble, the trouble wouldn’t have read like trouble, but politics as usual. There was no violence, and nothing except feelings were hurt. But those feelings were really hurt. No matter, it was all the media’s fault. “Find good mentors,” he warned us.
As far as prominent EFF MPs Andile Mngxitama and Khanyisile Litchfield-Tshabalala were concerned, both having declined their nominations on what appeared to be points of principle? “It is [their] call. No one is going to deal with you. We are a living organisation.”
Photo: EFF’s first large-scale conference ended on Tuesday with leaders declaring it a success. (Greg Nicolson)
This was the end of the housekeeping. Next, it was time for some home renovations. Malema reached for his sledgehammer and took a swing: “We are going to occupy the unoccupied land,” he promised. He informed Fighters that a legal fund would be established to protect those engaged in acts of civil disobedience, and was very specific about what constitutes civil disobedience during capitalism’s twilight years.
“Why are you not occupying the mines?” he asked, incredulous. “If it means jail, so be it. If it means death, so be it.” Malema spent a moment whipping his favourite dray horse, the billionaire Patrice Motsepe. “Any mine that has a high profile BEE, that must be the one that it is occupied. The time,” he roared, “for the Revolution is now!”
Thing is, sending Fighters out into the maw of the mining security complex doesn’t seem like revolution so much as suicide. We’ve seen what happens when a protest goes awry on a local platinum property: this being the 21st, there are other alternatives. (Even the backward-ass commie Shangri-La of North Korea has a cyber-hacking division.) Later, during the press conference, Malema said that the EFF would be targeting banks as well, and FNB was singled out as the first target. The ostensible intent, so far as I understand it, is to jam corporate social responsibility into the mainframe of the capitalist oligarchy, while transforming the EFF into a broad social movement abridged to a structured political entity that punches people in parliament. They’ll fight on the streets, they’ll fight in the mines, they’ll fight in the JSE, they’ll presumably fight on the beaches—next year, the EFF come to a bank near you.
Photo: “Pay back the money” T-shirts were on sale outside the EFF conference venue. (Greg Nicolson)
Malema’s constituency is vexed and anxious, but unlike past leaders in this country, he is not asking them to be patient. In 2015, as the CiC made clear, the EFF will be employing a double-pronged, self-enforcing tactic to a) gobble up more and more of the electorate by staging massive, media-ready protests, and b) turn that electorate into a bigger, mobilized social movement, which c) becomes a bigger voting constituency. “[In 2016] we know the ANC will lose Johannesburg,” said Malema, “we know they’ll lose Tshwane, we know they’ll lose Ekhurleni.”
Attack, attack, attack—own the offensive, let the saps play defense.
Photo: Malema sat in the crowd on Monday night as EFF delegates voted for the party’s top six leaders. (Greg Nicolson)
But what is the EFF after this rollicking, roller-coaster conference? Is it still a vanity project that will send 300 pissed-off delegates back to Gauteng, all set to huffily de-campaign against the new dictator that they claim to loathe? Or is it a viable political party anointed in the holy fire of an electoral assembly that, however messy, provides the irrational alchemy that turns a bluffer into a player?
A bit of both, of course. The EFF are the same warmed over Marxist-Leninist school project that they were before the elections. The difference now is that they have downloaded into 500,000 members (their count, not mine) a very clear iteration of who they are, why they are, and where they are going. Like any political party in this country, the EFF will not grow if it is nice to all of its delegates. It will grow by forging its political mettle in the viciousness of a fake electoral process, by defining clearly those who are winners, and those who are losers.
Photo: Delegates to the EFF’s first National People’s Assembly linked arms as the event came to a close on Tuesday. (Greg Nicolson)
The EFF is a political party now. Everything is no longer possible. Your Uncle Thabo will not sit on the Central Command Team. Your pet issue will not be enshrined in the constitution. You are still staring up at power instead of exercising it. Harsh lessons to learn. But Malema has made a play: his Fighters will ignore these divisions if there is movement towards “economic freedom for the people.” And so the country must brace for splashy revolutionary gestures at the seat of the ANC’s sprawling BEE project: the mines and the banks and then the other big industries.
“You must love each other,” Malema implored on this Reconciliation Day. “You must prepare to die and be buried with one another, because you love each other.” He informed the crowd that he was off for a “private function”—an allusion to his impending nuptials—and that when he emerged on the other side, bearing a Patrice Motsepe-mined ring (I’m kidding), he’d be a better leader.
“We deserve a break,” said Malema. “We have worked hard. Go home and take care of each other.”
Cue music. Roll credits. And yet, the movie has barely begun. DM
Main photo: Malema sat in the crowd on Monday night as EFF delegates voted for the party’s top six leaders. (Greg Nicolson)