“Why are you calling me when I’m in trouble?” asked a chuckling Andile Mngxitama, when I reached him by phone on Thursday afternoon. Reporters, as Mngxitama is well aware, never call when life is peaceful, so I’d guess the question was rhetorical. Trouble? I wanted to find out what he had to say about a knee-to-the-crotch press release the Economic Freedom Fighters had issued at his expense, in order to deal with Fighter Mngxitama’s increasing outspokenness.
“The party has decided to go for my character,” he explained, “and politically assassinate me.”
As far as political assassinations go, I’d give this one a solid 7/10. On Thursday morning, the EFF released a statement, signed off by sniper-in-chief Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, that took Mngxitama to task for allegedly leaking to the press (mis)information regarding the party’s purchase of a swank Golf GTI. Then there were Mngxitama’s claims, during a recent SABC interview, in which he thumped his party for continuing to support a member of the North West legislature named Papiki Babuile, who happened to be a leading member of a posse convicted for killing one-time ANC regional secretary David Chika.
Babuile is a nasty piece of work—less a political assassin than actual assassin—and Mngxitama told the SABC that he found it shocking that the EFF had kept him on the books. “Our party is taking the position of continuing to pay the salary of a convicted murderer… a murder that has nothing to do with the Economic Freedom Fighters. This suggests that the party is failing [to uphold] the very high standards we set for others for accountability and also fighting corruption.”
(The party insisted that it would not act until his appeal had been considered, but Babuile doesn’t stand a chance against even the drunkest of judges).
Should Mngxitama be ejected from the party for making these claims, “then it would be confirmation that we have indeed imported the worst of the cultures of the ANC into the EFF,” he told the national broadcaster.
Now, for anyone who is even tangentially aware of Julius Malema’s record as a bareknuckle political brawler, this was the equivalent of begging for a beatdown. And when the beatdown arrived, courtesy Ndlozi, it was swift and unforgiving. But could any marriage between an unbending Bikoist and a supple political pragmatist ever end in anything but a nasty split? As Mngxitama told The Con in late 2013, shortly after ditching the September National Imbizo outfit for the EFF:
“For me, the intentions of a revolutionary are not that important. What is important is whether the articulation of a project is consistent with the possibility to bring change. The ANC has very good intentions but its actual process fucks up black people.” So long as Julius Malema was willing to build a party that would take the country forward—and by forward, think Zambia in the 1960s—then it didn’t matter why he was doing so. “I can’t imagine any political process which has, one way or the other, not been complicated by alliance building, joining up,” continued Mngxitama. “Lenin is the ultimate revolutionary of the 20th century and he joined up with many people at different times.”
When Malema demanded “expropriation without compensation” while running the ANCYL, he pushed the alliance into an ideological corner that it was too obese to inhabit. It was Mngxitama’s task to build a team that would install the EFF comfortably in that corner. The party’s “seven cardinal pillars” and subsequent election manifesto, which Mngxitama helped draft, articulated a left wing alternative to the ANC’s grab-first-and-ask-questions-later neo-liberalism. This was a late night hook-up between men who were in almost all matters opposites, but who nonetheless shared a vision. A vision iterated by Mngxitama, who was anointed the party’s ideologue-in-chief and, with scraggly Castro beard and cryptic Marxist text messages, played the role to perfection.
Which would have been fine and well, were Malema and Mngxitama the only people in the EFF. But throw in Floyd Shivambu, Dali Mpofu and a host of other personalities with either ties to the ANC Youth League or ideological positions that could best be described an “undefined”, and you have—well, you have a political party. And Mngxitama, after the high of winning 25 parliamentary seats in the 2014 General Election started to wear off, no longer fit in. He seemed to expect Malema to act like an incarnation of Thomas Sankara or Khotso Seatlholo; he wanted the party to talk more about a genuine leftist revolution (heads in buckets) than the sanctity of the Freedom Charter (the land belongs to everyone).
All of these personal and ideological rifts came to the fore during the EFF’s electoral conference in Mangaung last December. Mngxitama was certainly not the only party member to refuse a nomination during a process in which Gauteng delegates left the University of Free State auditorium in disgust, but he did so with the most Sturm und Drang. “Comrade President, protect this movement,” he implored from the microphone, to cheers from the remaining Gautengers, “I spoke to Fighters and was going to accept, but my revolutionary consciousness cannot allow me to accept the nomination.”
Mngxitama, along with many in the movement, seemed shocked at how quickly the EFF had swung from an open and inclusive political love-in to an entity led by a single man with an unbending point of view. “Malema is a dictator,” delegates spat as they filed out of the auditorium, showing reporters a leaked list of the delegates Malema and his cabal had supported for positions on the central command. In other words, this wasn’t an electoral conference but a weekend-long orgy of rubberstamping. And Mngxitama didn’t like it one bit.
By refusing his nomination, Mngxitama had already signed his own death warrant. But then he decided to take a few swings based on principle, the most notable of which was the SABC interview concerning Papiki Babuile. The counterpunch, when it landed, was first-class political entertainment. The EFF press release, a masterpiece in unrestrained snark, claimed that Mngxitama was one of those who leaked to the City Press false information about the purchase of the contested Golf, and that his remarks to the SABC should instead have been part of an internal review.
And where was that contested interview filmed? Nowhere else but in the pit of sin and inequity that is Sushi-King Kenny Kunene’s Sandton residence! “It is a matter of fact that the Puppet masters of Fighter Mngxitama are Kenny Kunene and Gayton Mackenzie, the ex-convicts and ‘former-fraudsters’ who tried politics and dismally failed,” claimed the release, an undoubted reference to the play-play political party the high-flyers launched last year, shortly after retiring as the EFF’s early celebretoid Fighters-in-Gucci.
All of Mngxitama’s antics, the EFF insisted, came down to him being a sore loser: he wasn’t voted into the top-six, and this was his revenge. “The EFF is a revolutionary movement with sound internal organisational systems and principles, not some shapeless association holding meetings in bookshops,” read the release. “The EFF will not be derailed by egomaniacs whose revolutionary conscience is derived from sushi tutelage and guidance.”
But was that true about Mngxitama spewing to the SABC in Kenny Kunene’s house? Kunene, who opened Thursday with a Tweet that read, “Bitches be looking 4 a Valentine’s more than they look 4 a job….Just a reminder abt priorities….Morning,” followed up with a micro-missive that stated, “I invite any media house to come to my house n see if I have that cheap furniture.” (One assumes he was referring to the Ikea-lite tchotchkes framed in the background of Mngxitama’s SABC interview.) When I tried to take him up on that offer, he made some unkind comments about this publication, and basically told me to get lost.
Mngxtima was more forthright. He is not friendly with Kunene, he insisted, and also offered me a tour of the tycoon’s residence. “But Gayton, I know him,” said Mngxitama. “But we cannot evaluate each other based on the friends we have. I mean, Floyd was at the sushi party, and I’m not saying he was hobnobbing and is part of Kenny’s project. I don’t understand—how can they raise this as an objection?”
The ex-ideologue-in-chief went on to answer his own question. “Politics is about smoke and mirrors and lies. But if we don’t do the politics of truth, we will have no hope. We must do the impossible, it will be tough and difficult, but we must do it.”
So what happens next? “Only God and Julius know,” Mngxitama told me. “I am a committed member of the party—and my going public is part of defending the integrity of the party.”
And then: “If I survive this thing, it will be a miracle.”
It will be, indeed. But it would also be a shame, I think, to see Mngxitama spat out of the South African political machinery, partly because he is a genuine iconoclast (his From a Place of Blackness, written with Aryan Kaganof, is one of the wildest books published in this country in a decade, even if it was launched in a vegan bookshop), and partly because not everyone in Parliament should sound like Cyril Ramaphosa (or Floyd Shivambu, or Julius Malema). He has said some properly dumb shit, he has done some properly some shit, but without his input, it’s hard to see how the “Marxist-Leninist Fanonian” EFF will remain any of those things. As it professionalises, the party is in danger of doing nothing more than sculling the ANC’s wake, picking up leftist scraps and repurposing them for them for the red beret set. But Politics Inc. has no space for an Andile Mngxitama, because the sharp edges must be beveled: safety first.
He will be purged. One day—who but God and Julius knows?—perhaps he will be rehabilitated. But for now, Mngxitama will be forced back to the margins, into vegan bookshops and Twitter wars with insufficiently Bikoist Bikoists. To become Lenin, Lenin needed Trotsky.
What was it that Marx said about history repeating itself? DM
Original photo: Andile Mngxitama (Photograph: Lisa Hnatowicz/Foto24)
"Joyfully to the breeze royal Odysseus spread his sail and with his rudder skillfully he steered." ~ Homer