South Africa

Op-Ed: Van Onselen’s false revolution cannot go unchallenged

By Hlengiwe Mkhaliphi 18 February 2018

Gareth Van Onselen is again sucking thumbs. He does not tell us what skills are lacking in the EFF or even give an example of one single skill required to serve in Parliament. By HLENGIWE MKHALIPHI.

This column has been edited since it was first published.

Nothing is more frustrating than analysts and journalists whose hatred and dislike of the EFF blinds their ability to not only see the truth and report about it. Gareth Van Onselen is one such journalist. He has a sworn dislike of the EFF and its internal workings which he describes using official documents like the EFF constitution. Yet in all the five years of our existence, Van Onselen has really never been in an EFF press conference anywhere in the country, or attended any of the EFF assemblies, rallies, community meetings at which journalists are welcome, in particular when election of leadership is conducted or when there are debates about any policies.

Yet, Van Onselen, in a report published by the South African Institute for Race Relations, concludes that because 60% of the EFF MPs who started with the caucus in 2014 are no longer in Parliament, this is an internal revolution. Mind you, there are only 25 EFF seats in Parliament – still, Van Onselen is using “revolution” not as a figure of speech, but to mean a real internal implosion.

I have been a member of the EFF from 26 July 2013 when the National People’s Assembly in Uncle Tom’s Hall took a decision that we are a political party. I have served in the leadership collective till the first elective National People’s Assembly of 2014 December, wherein I was elected as Deputy Secretary-General. I have been a party whip since 2014. As a whip and as a DSG, I am responsible for the general attendance of Members of Parliament to organisational work and the monitoring of their implementation of organisational resolutions both in Parliament and outside.

It should therefore not come as a surprise that I would know how each and every EFF MP, both in the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces, has performed in Parliament and in the organisation. Needless to say that in the EFF, because of what needs to be done in formative stages, grassroots building of the organisation over the past five years has been the highest priority.

Any observer looking at a restructuring of the EFF caucus in the way Van Onselen describes it should wonder how it is that 60% was changed, yet there is no implosion in the EFF. Without giving the leadership an opportunity to offer the other side of the story, you are unable, purely on the bias of numbers and half-baked media quotations, to come to an intelligible conclusion. In a sense, Van Onselen uses quantitative means to make a qualitative claim and has only succeeded in showing off his dislike of the EFF and not the truth about the EFF.

In the entire time we have been in Parliament, there have only been three expulsions of EFF MPs and this was due to the three individuals’ inability to accept losing in conference. All other MPs either resigned to be redeployed to a local or provincial legislature. In addition, only three ever resigned to pursue other careers outside formal politics, and only two have ever been removed due to inadequacy and providing results in grassroots work.

In Van Onselen’s view our democratic centralism model of decision-making is the reason many MPs have left and the majority of them are unhappy. Yet he only has quotes of unhappiness from six people out 42 who have been EFF MPs; this accounts for 14%. Van Onselen never spoke to any of these members personally, in particular about their views on democratic centralism, which he ascribes as the sole reason there is an internal revolution.

What is key for the public to understand is that although the majority of the MPs were redeployed based on their rank in the organisation, it is actually a positive thing that so many changes have occurred and there is no internal revolt or implosion. This is a sign of how formidable the EFF has been over the past five years, and not of internal problems.

In a true statistical sense, it may very well be that when your caucus has over 200 members, 60% change may be a sign of internal revolt. However, even in that case you still need evidence to show unhappiness and it resulting in a revolt. A mere change is not in itself a reflection of revolt, neither is unhappiness in and of itself a revolt; people may be unhappy with a decision, not because they did not get a chance to influence it, but simply because it is not what they wanted. Also, simply because they are unhappy does not mean they are or will revolt.

Therefore, one can only suppose that Van Onselen, who has been an active member of the DA, really hates the EFF, because only hatred could make a self-respecting analyst source negativity where it does not exist.

The EFF’s caucus changes coincide with the opening up of deployments in local government. In addition, it demonstrates that we do not reward incompetence with positions in the highest political body in the land. Some political parties, big or small, get stuck with incompetent people who occupy public representative positions till end of term.

The last of Van Onselen’s claim that needs to be challenged is lack of skills in the EFF caucus. Here Van Onselen is again sucking thumbs. First he does not tell us what skills are lacking in the EFF or even give an example of one single skill required to serve in Parliament. The EFF MPs are well known to provide substantial contributions in committees. They are fearless in asking difficult questions to Cabinet members and they are the only alternative perspective in Parliament, since other parties agree on ideological lines signified by their collective adoption of the National Development Plan. It is indisputable that since the EFF arrived in Parliament, the institution has gained a great reputation among executives in both government and the private sector.

The EFF introduced the complex subject of illicit financial flows as a key discussion point in Parliament, including leading substantial discussions on land, the minimum wage and the nationalisation of banks. The kind of MP the EFF builds is one that manages to exert great competence in the air-conditioned offices of Parliament as well as at the level of grassroots activities, building the organisation in both urban and rural South Africa. In five years, the EFF has become a leading voice for the working class and poor in Parliament, legislatures and municipal councils.

The decision to vote with opposition parties across South Africa still stands as the most selfless move on the part of the EFF in protection of the public purse from the kleptomaniacs of the ANC. Even amid taking this difficult decision, which held a big potential for implosion, the EFF has weathered the storm.

I would say Van Onselen must interview the EFF before be makes qualitative conclusions using quantitative data, but that would mean he too, like many desktop researchers, must leave his air-conditioned room to find the EFF leadership on the streets and neighbourhoods of both urban and rural South Africa; and this would be disastrous for a privileged kid like him. DM

Hlengiwe Mkhaliphi is the EFF Deputy Secretary-General and party Whip in the National Assembly


In other news...

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