Two anecdotes about how the Communist Party of China (CPC) runs the world’s second-largest economy recounted separately by EFF leader Julius Malema and outgoing secretary-general, Godrich Gardee, provide some insight into the party’s contemporary magpie socialist compass.
The first was a riff by Malema, in relation to a question about the party’s position on state-owned enterprises. Responding, Malema said that the EFF would, should it come to power, be in favour of increasing these in a state-driven economy. Gardee too later referenced China, explaining how a trip to an unnamed city had solidified his understanding that there was a 21st century socialist ideal.
In China, Malema told those gathered at a pre-assembly presser, officials appointed to positions by government were taken to see their corrupt predecessors in prison cells as a deterrent.
In essence this would be the local equivalent of Andre De Ruyter being escorted to Pretoria Central take in the sight of Brian Molefe (and others) in orange overalls behind bars. Not in our lifetime, many South Africans will sigh.
Malema’s particular anecdote could not be confirmed but it is indeed correct that since President Xi Jinping launched a concerted anti-corruption campaign in 2012, over 1.5 million officials, including top CPC leaders, have been disciplined and jailed, this according to political analyst, author and China specialist Yuen Yuen Ang.
In recounting how China dealt with corrupt officials, Malema expertly navigated the choppy political waters with regard to his, as well as Deputy President Floyd Shivambu’s own potential face-off with South African law enforcement agencies on charges of fraud and corruption.
The VBS scandal, dodgy fuel tenders, and whether Malema’s Ratanang trust benefitted from rigged Limpopo tenders are all accusations that haunt the EFF. But Malema astutely ushered the VBS elephant right out of the conference venue long before the assembly had even begun.
In interviews with the media where the question was asked, he held the line.
“I have not been arrested, I have not been charged,” Malema dog-whistled a reply to the NPA.
Simple as that. End of story. (For now)
Those who “hounded him” and the party and who sought to see him behind bars were agents of WMC, or Pravin Gordhan’s shock troops, members of cabals, or infiltrated intelligence agents in the media.
Haters gonna hate, in other words.
The very proof of this conspiracy was that Malema was there, at the conference, footloose and fancy. Any doubters had only to ask why he had not yet been arrested and charged, otherwise VBS was not to be mentioned again – got it?
Except Malema’s potential exit from the political stage and as leader of the EFF kept repeating over the weekend like a bad mass-produced WMC hamburger.
Speaking after his re-election as President, Malema admonished those members who had rushed to the stage afterwards to creepily kneel before him.
“Never kneel before anyone. Never personalise the revolution. The EFF is not my kitchen. I am going to leave this organisation this position one day. I must leave it intact and bigger than it is,” he warned.
The possibility that the EFF might wither and die, like the Pan Africanist Congress after the arrest of Robert Sobukwe in 1960, and as discussed and digested in reports to the assembly, should not be held up as a blueprint for the EFF without Malema at the helm, said the leader.
“This is giving them an idea they must arrest me,” he said half-jokingly turning to the new top six seated at the table.
“These people are going to arrest me because they want to kill the EFF”.
“These people” being either being the sinister forces of “Prime Minister” Pravin Gordhan, or perhaps just the good, old NPA after having gathered enough evidence to charge the EFF leadership.
Framing the socialist roots and the vision of the EFF reports incorporated a 19th and 20th century views of socialism with ample references to Marx, Lenin and Fanon, as well as quotes by Amilcar Cabral, Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde revolutionary, as well as Burkino Fasso’s legendary Thomas Sankara.
It might have been either Malema or Shivambu who read out Sankara’s quote that “a soldier without any political or ideological training is a potential criminal”.
We leave that there.
Unlike some CPC officials and their cronies who, as Ang has reported, made fortunes in contracts with the Chinese government in exchange for “lavish gifts, bribes and company shares”, Sankara chose to live his short, eventful and simple life “in the same conditions as the people he ruled.”
After the assassination of the iconic leader at the age of 37 on 15 October 1987 after only five years as President, all he left behind was “a car, four bikes, three guitars and a broken freezer.”
Jean-Claude Kongo and Leo Zelig, writing in “Thomas Sankara” (part of the HSRC Press 2017 Voices of Liberation Series) set out how he was “determined to become a model of incorruptibility.
“Refusing any trappings of power, accepting neither the ministerial limousines nor air conditioning, he was determined to live in the same conditions are the people he ruled.”
And herein lies the paradox for the EFF leadership who have proclaimed that they do not need to live in poverty to lead the poor.
Malema unashamedly reiterated that he would not be told what he could wear, which social events he could attend (the Durban July for example), what car he could drive or where he could live.
“Who says the revolution must live in squalor? Many leaders did not come from squalor and it does not mean when we are liberated we should be one with the people.
“We must not live in squalor. We must represent their cries with affection,” Malema said at some point.
In China, for political elites who receive low formal pay “cronyism not only finances lavish consumption but also helps advance their careers”:
“Wealthy cronies donate to public works, mobilize business networks to invest in state construction schemes, and help politicians complete their signature projects, which improve both a city’s physical image and the leader’s track record,” writes Yuen Yuen Ang.
It is a pattern that has emerged also in South Africa and it is one that is manifest in hyper-capitalist economies like the US. It’s a global scourge, official corruption. But we digress.
But while the Chinese state, in some form or another, has existed for thousands of years, the EFF was light years away from being able to drive and deliver a state-owned and controlled economy as it was “not yet fully formed.”
To this end, the party has mooted that in future, those seeking leadership should be suitably educated and capacitated, beyond matric. This would dovetail with the Chinese notion of the promotion of meritocratic leadership that can drive the state’s programmes.
And while much of the successes and victories of the EFF, during its only six years in existence, have taken place on a national platform, on the ground, it is clear the party is finding it difficult to motivate and mobilise rank and file members and officials to spread its manifestos, pillars, vision and put in the hard hours to achieve the party’s long-term socialist goals.
Malema admonished members, including students, for relying too much on the “mother body” and leadership to intervene in matters.
“I am not your father. This is not Papa’s position. It is a position of the revolution” he said adding “you must each one become the Malema of your branch.”
Shivambu, addressing delegates, said each member needed to embark on “political and ideological reproduction.”
“Give birth to yourself. If you have never convinced someone else [to join or vote for the EFF] then you are part of the counter-revolution, part of the problem.”
Being a member of the EFF, said Shivambu, echoing John F Kennedy, was “a full-time job. Every day you must ask ‘today what will I do for the EFF? What good deeds can I engage in that benefit the EFF?’.”
Malema at some point delivered a stinging tongue-lashing aimed at delegates who had attended “this conference of R32 million just to sit outside to play spin the bottle…We are not here for a kiss party. We are here to work, no one should be outside.”
And then calling on the controversial Defenders of the Revolution (DOR) – an “integral strategic arm of the Security Department”, Malema ordered “there should be no-one outside during the plenary and commissions.”
Around midnight on Saturday 14 December, the DOR – or a wing of it, or rogue elements within it – it is not easy to determine – were involved in a scuffle with delegates during which pepper spray was used. Four female members ended up hospitalised. Reports were that a hooded member of the DOR – known as “The General” – had led the attack.
Asked later about the assault Malema, visibly angry, admonished the questioner for raising the question about the DOR while the media was present and for discussing issues of security in public.
“Don’t get over-excited when we are dealing with issues of the DOR. The DOR has put their lives at risk and that is how you thank them?,” he snapped.
“Some anarchist found themselves in here and they started beating you up. I have apologised for it. The leaders you have elected here went to the hospital with the delegates
“We have not abandoned you and we have not instructed anyone to treat you like that. We will look after you until we deliver you home. We do not want you to be arrested. This General is the head of the DOR and if the head is sick the whole body will be sick. We are very angry. Last night when I got the news I was very angry,” said Malema.
Newly-elected EFF Secretary-general, Marshall Dlamini, is the head of security for the EFF and oversees the DOR. It was reported that Dlamini immediately fired the still-unidentified “General” immediately. (We only have spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi’s word for it)
Later, Shivambu, in his overview of the organisation reiterated that decisions taken by the upper structures of the party were binding on lower structures.
“Once a decision has been taken, your right to disagree dwindles into insignificance,” he told delegates.
“It does not matter what you think about what should happen, once decisions are taken, it does not matter what your position is personally. The organisation is driven by democratic centralism. It is one unitary organisation led by the CCT and the PCT and the RCT,” said Shivambu.
The most important document for members, said Shivambu, was the EFF’s founding manifesto, the understanding that the party was a radical, leftist, anti-capitalist, anti-imperial movement with an international outlook.
The “spectacles” through which it viewed the world and the future were Marxist, Leninist and Fanonian and Shivambu encouraged weary delegates to read Marx’s “State and Revolution” as it was free to download.
Members and delegates, and particularly student members should study also immerse themselves in the history, birth and trajectory of The South African Student’s Organisation founded by Steve Biko in 1968 and how it existed “not just at universities, but within the community.”
This hard work, said Shivambu, should be conducted on the ground, out in the real world and not in some millennial online universe from behind a computer.
“Without discipline we will have no direction, no order, and we will become a thing of the past. Discipline will protect us from chance-takers who seek to join the party to gain prominence,” said Malema.
Malema was at pains to point out that the EFF’s socialist project would not result in the banning of the media (ahem), the forcing of everyone to wear the same clothes or the creation of a powerful bureaucracy that “disrespects human rights.”
Its key aim was the control and ownership “of our own economy”.
He was scathing of “commissars” who, he claimed, “did not do anything in relation to CCT portfolios”.
“EFF leaders, those deployed in a post of responsibility are not loyal to the EFF but to their positions of deployment. You must note this one. You will see after this conference is finished, some will not be elected and will start insulting.”
The party was not building adequate internal capacity to win municipal elections and Malema said he hoped the conference would not use “CCT as a dumping area for the mediocre while establishing a lot of branches that do not meet and do not lead community struggles.”
Regional structures too, said Malema, were “directionless and did not have an impact.”
“We must be honest when assessing capacity. The whole of South Africa is engaged in the land discussion because of the EFF.”
Capacity or the lack of it as well as the lack of funding was indeed an issue which arose from the limited amount of questions and comments allowed later from the floor.
In this session delegates complained of not being given instructions after being urged to grab land and that there was no legal support when members were subsequently evicted or arrested.
The EFF, the third largest and by far the youngest political party in the South African landscape is attractive to the large numbers of young people who have been left behind after more than 25 years of democratic rule. Looking at the median age of the around 3,800 delegates who attended the Second National People’s assembly this was evident.
The take-out from the EFF’s NPA is not only the newly-elected top leadership but a clear call for membership to get off their butts and do the work. The conference was about the shedding of baggage, the sloughing off of freeloaders and those who were drawn to party for the optics and the drama without putting in the sweat equity.
Time will tell whether party leadership will be able to enforce this discipline in order to ensure the survival of the party.
Malema praised conference organisers and the DOR for delivering a smooth conference the likes of which had never been seen before, at least according to him.
The iron grip of the upper command of the EFF and the DOR, however, was palpable. DM
Daily Maverick was denied accreditation to the EFF’s National People’s Assembly. See Daily Maverick’s statement here.
The 2016 Rio Olympic medals are already showing defects including rusting and chipping.