Over the weekend, the Economic Freedom Fighters dropped their election manifesto. And then they dropped the mic. By RICHARD POPLAK.
It was an hour past noon when the spaceship finally descended from the heavens. It spewed huge plumes of purple smoke, and from its bowels emerged Commander-in-Chief Julius Sello Malema of the Galactic Order, wearing nothing but a bedazzled exoskeleton that shot lasers from a pair of bug eyes. “Behold South African humans,” he intoned, “I come bearing a policy document that has a picture of my face on it.”
This never happened.
But last Saturday, inside a sun-bleached Orlando Stadium, it might as well have. The day before Mayday marked the occasion of the Economic Freedom Fighters’ 2016 municipal election manifesto launch, and the country’s upstart revolutionary party was clearly fixated on vanquishing both the ANC’s Port Elizabeth-set snore-fest, and the DA’s pretend Audi unveiling. Political experts who don’t leave the house (a.k.a. most of them) tend to sneer at the notion of rallies as bellwethers, but as usual they’re mistaken: the past three weekends have laid bare the terms of South Africa’s new political reality. The ANC are a sclerotic, teetering monolith with a vague social democratic political agenda that garners zero votes, mostly because it isn’t intended to – they campaign on the back of brand recognition and handouts. The DA are a smaller, hyper-organised but limited version of the same thing, whose vague social democratic political agenda tragically is intended to garner votes.
And then there’s the EFF.
The EFF is the Future. That statement shouldn’t be confused with a qualitative assessment of what lies in wait for us – it is but a fact. If you were inside a raucous Orlando Stadium, it would not have taken you long to understand why Malema and his posse have made the Future their bitch: the on-the-ground organising power of this party is extraordinary. They held over 200 consultations leading up to the launch, many of which Malema himself chaired; the 57,000 or so Fighters who filled Orlando to capacity had long ago munched the Marxist magic mushrooms. Dudes and dudettes were jacked up on Social Revolution, and frankly the EFF could have played Lemonade on a loop for 10 hours and those in the stands would have chanted Malema’s name until they dropped dead from heat exhaustion.
But no. Instead there was the usual roll-out of rappers, many of whom have accumulated a proprietary trove of EFF beats, most of which double as anti-Zuma tirades. (There was even a rangy magician named Michael Mogotsi, who said that – despite repeated requests – there was nothing in his bag of tricks that could make Zuma disappear.) Meanwhile, as the crowd was being roasted into delirium by the Soweto sun, tearing through the ‘hood towards the stadium was a cortege of hardcore Saudi juice-powered motorcycles. The launch properly launched when they roared through the tunnel onto the pitch, trailing a primal scream of petro-agony. Do you know what five-million horsepower of motorcycle sounds like when revved into oblivion? It sounds like the Devil taking a dump. It sounds like the end of the world. It sounds like Creation.
I ducked in anticipation of dwarves being fired out of F16s.
Anything felt possible. Which means everything was possible. Over the stadium flew a small plane trailing a small DA banner that read “Together For Jobs”. The EFF’s banner, pulled by a helicopter, was five times as big. [Insert tiny dick joke here]. When Malema entered the stadium with his entourage, his eyeholes comfortably protected by premium gold-rimmed Mall of Africa goodness, the crowd tried to rip the joint from its moorings. A colleague pointed up at the advertising smeared across the second deck: Lafarge Cement, it read. Was this bad PR, he seemed to be asking, or good PR? In 2016, was there a difference?
I couldn’t properly hear what he was saying, but it sounded like, “Nationalise the cement.”
* * *
When the EFF launched in October of 2013, the party’s ideological foundation were the “seven cardinal pillars” – the core of a basic guiding manifesto, all of which were billed as non-negotiable. The pillars were basically a Kenneth Kaunda speech yanked from the vaults, and yet they resonated because no system has yet been proven workable in Africa. The EFF had the benefit of being run by a master showman who understood the following: neither of the two main parties provided a measurable alternative to Mbeki’s 1998 version of Buy-A-BMW neoliberalism. By promising expropriation without compensation and other goodies from the socialist lucky packet, and by discarding Rainbowism and all associated reconciliation fairytales, the EFF never bothered to enter the fake social democratic echo chamber.
Just like that, there was a Black First Alternative, which – shock! – resonated with a sizeable number of black people in this majority black country.
Problem being: the whole caper was a little thin on details. Over the course of the past two years, Malema and his advisers have made countless tiny micro-adjustments to their platform – most notably assuring a bunch of white farmers that productive land would not be expropriated – all of which implied an ad-hoc, 21st century, click-bait version of Marxist-Leninist Fanonism (itself a very 21st century piece of superhero fan fiction). The pillars, however, have remained unsullied and unbesmirched, largely because the EFF doesn’t govern a thing, and therefore hasn’t been forced by the barrel of a treasurer-general’s calculator into compromise.
So, enter their very first municipal manifesto, which was baking in cardboard boxes placed around the media bullring as the first dignitaries took the stage.
As is often the case at these rallies, the EFF was pitched to us as an African-based liberation movement that was using South Africa as a gateway. Blasting out a fugue of dog-whistle homophobia, Botswana’s EFF hopeful said that, “The only difference between us is that [Zuma] has many wives. And [Botswana President Ian Khama] has no wives.” Khama is believed by some to be gay, and the fact that this statement brought knowing chuckles from the stage suggests that “progressiveness” remains a subjective term in the EFF Internationale.
And then, after some more of National Chairman Dali Mpofu’s throat-clearing, Julius Malema took to the stage. Leaner even than he was a week or so ago, he wore standard issue red overalls.
He was on fire.
“Revolutionaries do not dish out promises,” he said, “we dish out commitments.” He big-upped his aunt, Nurse Malema, who had passed away only a few days ago. “In our family we lost a committed fighter and combatant. When I went through troubles, she was with me through the courts.”
He told us that “the umbilical cord of the EFF is buried in Soweto” and he linked the party to the June 16 generation. “We have picked up the baton. Out of 400 Members of Parliament, we have 25 members. Yet they sound like 250. We have converted that parliament into the People’s Parliament. It is no longer a parliament of apartheid agents.”
To hell with what the white folks wanted, said Juju – Parliament was no longer a paler (or, rather, a darker) reflection of Britain. “This is the Parliament of Marikana,” he yelled. “When [the ANC] opens Parliament, they shoot guns” – a reference to the booming 21-gun salute that ushers Zuma through the streets of Cape Town every February. “What is African about shooting guns outside Parliament? We don’t want anything that reflects Verwoerd. We don’t want anything that reflects De Klerk. They were murderers and we will never respect them.”
This did not, however, mean that the EFF never wore suits. Fighters are all-rounders, and not only did they wear suits, but they wore them better than white people.
But what about the manifesto thing?
Malema claimed that the EFF had held more than 200 meetings in order to draft the document. “We don’t just put ideas that are from our wives and our husbands. They are ideas from the poor of the poorest,” he thundered.
As Malema ripped through his speech, I perused a copy of the document. It could loosely be described as a bottom-up micro-democratic constituent-driven poor-first programme, with the details up for grabs. The loudest cheers on the stadium were reserved for Malema’s declaration that cadre deployment would be brought to an end. No more tenders, no more corruption, no more apartheid street names and statues. The EFF would introduce the novel concept of councillors that lived where they governed, and the equally radical idea of councillors who were forbidden from demanding sex from their constituents in exchange for services.
Oh, and the land – that shit was going back to the people.
Planning on opening a Pick n Pay in an EFF municipality? Forty percent of revenue must go to the local community. How would that work? So long as 40 percent is spent locally, it doesn’t matter. Local business by local people, Fighters. Insourcing not Outsourcing, Fighters. Two bedrooms in every house, Fighters. “I want the parents to touch each other, without the presence of the children,” he said. “We want you to have your dignity back, we want you to be a proper family.”
A crèche in every ward. Free electricity for the poor. “We want black communities to be like white communities. We want municipality that will prioritise black people.”
And yet, he did not want to kick whites out of the country. “Give us 80 percent of the land,” he said, “and we’ll show you how to use it. You’ll learn from us, we’ll learn from you.’
Christmas in April.
Then, after owning the stadium for 45 minutes, he kicked the speech up a notch. In his hand he wielded the manifesto. “This is not for me,” he bellowed. “This is not for us. This is for the Black Nation. This is for you, black man. This is for you, the poor in the shacks. This is for you, Africa. This is a socialist programme that cannot be stopped.
“We are not scared of war,” he continued. “Neither are we afraid of violence. We are ready to take [the ANC] on any time. The ANC is run by clowns. That is why they confuse truth with treason.”
He warned Zuma to leave office before the army turned their guns on him. “All the army is EFF people. So why threaten us with our own people?”
It was rousing stuff, and the crowd was roused. But he had one last word for them.
“You arrived here empty-handed, let me tell you that you will leave here empty-handed. But you will leave here with soul food. You will leave here with a message of hope.”
He held aloft the election manifesto, and behind him stood the Central Command Team, holding high the same paperwork. The stage spewed smoke and red confetti while images of post-apartheid violence intercut with EFF rallies played on the huge flat screens. This was a Scorpion concert film directed by Bunuel, as described to an audience of LSD-deranged Tibetan monks by a slam poet with a lisp.
Theodor Adorno’s brain would’ve exploded. Marx would’ve been – confused. Fanon would’ve started to say, “I told you so”, and halfway through the sentence would’ve opened a bottle of Merlot and slapped a Miles record on the turntable.
* * *
Sadly, none of what I’ve written in any way prepares the reader for the mind fuck that followed the launch itself. At 7pm, I wound my way through Montecasino – Johannesburg’s money-inhaling large intestine – into a room that looked like an outtake from a Lemba bar mitzvah gone awry: slender model types guarding oversized doors while bottles of JC le Roux were popped for an assemblage of media and assorted hangers-on.
This was billed as an EFF Media Gala Dinner, and it’s the kind of thing that the ANC used to do in order to engender a spirit of bonhomie. It didn’t quite work, which is why the ANC and their pals had to buy media outlets or, worse, create them from scratch.
I had a quick drink with National Spokesperson Mbuyeseni Ndlozi, and he brushed off the insane toggle from Orlando Stadium to this, the faux-Tuscan Hellscape 30km away from the site of what will arguably be remembered as one of his party’s greatest triumphs.
“We have to show our diversity,” said Ndlozi. “This was the only venue we could secure.”
Yeah sure, but Jesus.
He said that the EFF high command were happy with how the day had transpired, but not that happy – according to him, they didn’t have the budget to pull off what they had hoped to. (The mind melts at the thought.) The party thinks of itself as a governing party, and therefore must warp-jump between South African universes. And yet, the Montecasino sub-launch was some super boring shit – the teenagers were dressed like hookers, the hookers dressed like teenagers, the servers hardly dressed at all, and too many patrons had spider tattoos on their necks.
Still, politics is the art of selling, and this event was about the Ask. Malema got up on stage, all svelte in a tux, and the exceptional thing was the difference in the pitch of his voice – this was another person, a different politician, a shape-shifter. A salesman.
Photo: EFF leader Julius Malema and party spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi at the EFF’s gala dinner after the party’s manifesto launch. (Greg Nicolson)
“We are trying to reach out to a different constituency,” he said. “We need these doctors, we need these lawyers, we need these people in our constituency. Ours is not to hate white people. There has to be a deliberate programme to liberate black people.”
His voice understood the size of the room. It also understood the audience. “Why can’t white people say: We will contribute to uplift the people that we helped to oppress.”
As far as Malema was concerned, he and the EFF were doing exactly that. “[Secretary-General Gardee] Godrich’s wife will tell you: we take their bond money, use it, and wait for the money to come from Parliament.” Malema claimed to give R7,000 a month from his parliamentary salary to the party. “We are about black excellence,” insisted the CiC. “Give money,” he told the rich-ish nonjournos, “or white supremacists will capture the party. Just R1,000 a month, we don’t want too much, or it will corrupt us.”
At this, everyone laughed.
A slimmed-down Malema was now punishing people with hunger. The man never stops. He was offering the footnotes to an immensely successful, perhaps watershed day for his party, and he was still going.
I listened and waited for both the soup and the spaceship – here, anything was possible. DM
Photo: “This is your weapon,” said Julius Malema ending his speech and holding up the EFF’s election manifesto. “This is the gun I’m talking about.” The manifesto emphasised ideas to improve government services, boost employment, and provide a better standard of living for the poor. (Greg Nicolson)
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