As ANC and DA face obstacles, it’s the EFF’s elections to lose
While it is difficult to make predictions about the outcome of this year’s local elections, it is already clear that one of the key questions will be the performance of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).
This will be the first time since the start of the pandemic that voters will be asked how they feel. The signs of frustration are everywhere. This could benefit the EFF, and in some ways it could be a game-changer for them.
But there are also important limitations, which could mean that while the EFF does gain more votes, it is not able to translate that into more political power on the national stage.
In some ways, these elections should be the ultimate opportunity for the EFF. Almost everyone is poorer than before the pandemic. Two million jobs have been lost. Like many times before, it is the poor that have borne the brunt, while richer, and mostly white, people have suffered far less. The pandemic has also weakened social integration as communities have been kept apart from their usual daily interaction in workplaces.
It is the perfect environment for an aspirant, and populist, political party to declare that the “system”, the “establishment” and elites are working against the poor.
There are other advantages for the EFF at this moment.
While Julius Malema’s promise to disregard State of National Disaster regulations may lead to illegality, it could also help his party hold more traditional campaigning events. And if they are the only party holding such events, that too will have an effect.
There is also evidence that the EFF has money to burn. Adverts in newspapers cost money. And despite its failure to register any donations above R100,000 to the IEC, it clearly has funds.
Then there is the message.
The EFF is promising jobs, better services and proper change, all of the things the ANC has been promising since 1994 and has failed to deliver.
While this is part of a longer trend of Malema moving away from the land issue as the EFF’s main reason for being, it is perfectly timed. Jobs and income are what most people need. And there are at least 12 million people who do not have jobs.
Then there is the situation around the other parties.
Last week ANC Chair Gwede Mantashe said the party was going into this election “divided”. The ANC has no money and it cannot even pay its workers on time. President Cyril Ramaphosa has said in a political report to the National Executive Committee that there is a “palpable sense of anger” within the ANC.
The DA has given the impression that it is not interested in the votes of black people and its policy of opposing race-based redress may well cost it votes in this election.
In the meantime there is some evidence, limited at this stage, that it is the EFF which is gaining.
An Ipsos poll has suggested the EFF is sitting on 14.5% of the vote. That is close to the DA’s 17.9%, while the ANC is on 49%.
Of course this is just one poll, and it is unlikely in the extreme that the turnout for this poll will be the 70% assumed by Ipsos.
That said, it does appear that the EFF stands to gain the most from the election it wanted to postpone.
This then leads to what the consequences would be if the EFF does increase its share of support.
In some councils it could mean that the EFF gets the second-highest share of the vote and replaces the DA as the main opposition.
Even if that does not happen in many places, an increased share of the vote would certainly give Malema more power in local government, through coalitions.
While this could be a golden opportunity for the EFF, it still faces significant problems or limitations.
It has always battled to get its potential voters to turn out to vote. Those without incomes are often those who do not vote. This has been Malema’s biggest problem. In a low turnout election, any gains by the EFF could be limited.
There is also the way in which the EFF is handling the media.
While it is easy to overestimate the impact of the media, there is some evidence that during the pandemic the media, and particularly the broadcasters, have grown in influence. A recent Afrobarometer survey found that broadcasters have an approval rating of over 60%. That’s compared to below 50% for most other institutions.
The EFF has a long-standing dispute with the news channel eNCA It refuses to allow eNCA to attend its press conferences. In at least one case EFF members physically threatened one of its reporters.
Last week the EFF issued a statement claiming that the SABC had been deliberately ignoring its campaigning events. It went so far as to say that there was a “factional political editor” at the broadcaster
This kind of approach is unlikely to result in positive media coverage.
Of course, the EFF does have a large following on social media. But even there that following may not be as useful as it once was. Tweets by EFF leaders often result in responses related to the VBS scandal that saw millions of rands going to credit cards used by Malema, and Floyd Shivambu’s brother receiving millions for no valid reason.
If the EFF does make headway in these elections, it is still unlikely that the party will win enough votes to govern in any council, but it could well achieve the status of king-maker in many places. Other parties may need the EFF’s support desperately.
This could put the EFF in a very strong position. One only needs to remember how Malema relished the power he had when he was deciding whether the DA or the ANC would run Joburg in 2016.
It is entirely possible that four or more metros conclude the election without a clear winner, where both the DA and the ANC could potentially form a government, and where the EFF would hold the balance of power. For the leaders of those parties, the appearance of winning or losing those four metros could also be the difference between “winning” or “losing” the 2021 local elections. The future of their leadership could rest on how this election result is perceived.
This would surely give Malema massive power. It could also strengthen the perception of his hold on national politics.
But again, there might be some important limitations to this.
The DA may feel that it is not going to get involved in any agreement with the EFF under any circumstances. One of the reasons put forward for the DA’s loss of votes in 2019 was the fact it was seen to be in an informal coalition with the EFF in Joburg.
Meanwhile, the ANC may be tempted to join with the EFF, but it would not want to be held to ransom. The EFF is a dangerous mistress to court and could threaten to remove it from power in a metro unless there was an important policy change at the national level. A Cyril Ramaphosa-led party would want to avoid being held to ransom by a politician as capricious and self-centred as Malema. Thus, it too may not want to deal with Malema.
The 2021 local elections could be a defining moment for the EFF. If it increases its support it could build momentum into the national and provincial elections in 2024, particularly if it uses its coalition-creating power effectively. But it could also be seen as too toxic to deal with and be blamed by voters for abusing its power. DM