EFF’s programme of action in 2022 signals a year of living even more dangerously
What we can expect from the EFF this year: a move towards even more populist policies; accelerated attempts to destabilise governance and ensure the EFF’s proximity to state resources; and an intensifying attack on the legitimacy of the judiciary and the South African criminal justice cluster as a whole.
No other South African political party can match the energy, focus and malignance with which the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) has kicked off 2022. Barely six weeks into the year, the Fighters have repeatedly dominated the news cycle through actions of intimidation and sabotage: from their notorious “inspections” of Gauteng restaurants to violent disruptions of municipal council meetings and the hijacking of the interviews to select the new Chief Justice.
Amid the chaos the party evidently rejoices in fomenting, three themes have already emerged as likely to drive the EFF’s programme of action in 2022: a move towards even more populist policies; accelerated attempts to destabilise governance and ensure the EFF’s proximity to state resources; and an intensifying attack on the legitimacy of the judiciary and the South African criminal justice cluster as a whole.
Populism for the win
On 18 February, the EFF kicked off its 1 Million Membership campaign with a rally in Soweto. Party leader Julius Malema said in January that his key goal for the year is to have a million party members in good standing by December. It’s unclear how far off the target the party currently is. In 2014, the EFF claimed to have 400,000 paid-up members, but fact-checking platform Africa Check concluded that, in the absence of any proof, “the EFF’s stated membership figures have little value and cannot be regarded as credible”.
The EFF needs a major push to swell its numbers, because the November 2021 local government elections cemented the fact that the EFF is not growing fast enough either to ensure meaningful political control in the hands of its leaders, or the guaranteed access to the state coffers the party needs for kickbacks and favours. Although the EFF grew its local government vote share from 8% in 2016 to 10% in 2021, there is a sense among analysts that the party may be hitting its organic support ceiling of about 10% nationally, as things stand.
Beginning early in January this year, the party has taken steps to capitalise on its electoral wins and mitigate its losses. Its most significant growth was recorded in KwaZulu-Natal, which is in many ways a prime site for an EFF power base: the extent to which the July 2021 unrest exploded in the province demonstrated tinderbox conditions ripe for populist exploitation.
To thank the people of KwaZulu-Natal for their support, the EFF held a celebratory rally in eThekwini on 8 January, including a “pre-feast” the evening before for the poverty-stricken township of Inanda. In Limpopo, meanwhile, the party has dissolved all provincial EFF structures as a result of the poor election showing.
Malema told the 8 January rally that the intention for this year was to “professionalise” the EFF, reboot its communications strategy, and generally rebuild and strengthen the movement in advance of the 2024 national elections. The party has been advertising internal positions like that of a human resource manager, while its social media machinery has already visibly been upgraded, churning out slick viral content – video clips of provocative Malema utterances, for instance – on a daily basis.
One of the lessons of the 2021 municipal polls was that the EFF is in danger of losing ground to parties with unashamedly xenophobic policies, like the Patriotic Alliance. That lesson has clearly been absorbed.
Although the EFF’s 19 January Gauteng restaurant “inspections” were dressed up as an attempt to monitor labour conditions for foreign nationals, the real purpose was clearly to send a message of intimidation to the local hospitality industry to warn against employing other African nationals over South Africans.
Malema has indicated that the visits to restaurants will continue, and are likely to be expanded to “different institutions, especially where we get tip-offs, in the security industry, hospitality industry and farms”. Paying threatening visits to employers suspected of favouring foreigners is the definition of lowest common denominator politics. Regrettably, in a country with South Africa’s unemployment rates and existing anti-foreigner sentiment, there is every possibility the tactic may bear fruit for a party previously accused, on social media at least, of pandering too hard to its former Pan-Africanist principles.
This is not the only indicator since the elections that the EFF intends to embrace populism with an even greater fervour. On New Year’s Day, deputy leader Floyd Shivambu could be found handing out school shoes and groceries in Tshwane. There have also been ostentatious house handovers, and a focus on policies amounting to low-hanging fruit rather than the party’s more complex suggestions for transforming the economy. The clearest example has been the EFF’s ever-more vocal call for Die Stem to be stripped from the national anthem. Another is the EFF’s January protest calling for the immediate reopening of stadiums to big sports and music audiences: a guaranteed crowd-pleaser, particularly for younger supporters.
Disaffected youth are the EFF’s most obvious target in its membership push. Part of the party’s strategy to reach them, as became clear in Malema’s contribution to Parliament’s post-Sona debate, is a drive to paint the ANC and President Cyril Ramaphosa personally as being anti-youth. “You hate young people with a passion,” was Malema’s accusation against Ramaphosa.
Show us the money
Malema’s post-election decision to have EFF councillors lend their vote to help install DA mayors in municipalities including Johannesburg and Tshwane was never going to be no-strings-attached. Daily Maverick’s Ferial Haffajee pointed out at the time that this was likely part of a strategy to weaken Ramaphosa ahead of the ANC’s electoral conference in December 2022, with Ramaphosa’s enemies within the ANC able to point to the loss of control of key metros as evidence of the president’s failure.
It has since also become clear that the EFF expected to be rewarded in return with key posts in municipal councils. The EFF’s particular insistence in seeking the position of Municipal Public Accounts Committee chair in the City of Johannesburg is very revealing, as this would give the party access to influence over municipal spending.
This is in line with the EFF’s history of offering political support in exchange for access to the dispensation of tenders and jobs. In 2017, EFF councillors saved erstwhile Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba from a vote of no confidence. There is evidence to suggest that Mashaba would go on to effectively cede control of certain departments and tenders to the EFF. amaBhungane showed in November 2018 how the R1.26-billion contract for Johannesburg’s vehicle fleet was awarded to a company that had previously paid kickbacks to an EFF-linked account.
In terms of this key EFF strategy, the number of municipal seats held is less important than which municipal seats. The fact that both the IFP and the DA have thus far proved unyielding on issues such as the Municipal Public Accounts Committee chair post almost guarantees further disruption of council meetings – as already witnessed in January when City of Johannesburg council meetings descended into violent chaos.
A sense of instability in governance suits the EFF regardless, as it plays into a longer-term strategy to force a populist realignment of South African politics. The EFF and the Radical Economic Transformation (RET) faction of the ANC are natural bedfellows. Although the EFF campaigned vociferously for former president Jacob Zuma’s removal, recent years have seen evidence of a renewed intimacy between Zuma and the Fighters, culminating in a high-profile Nkandla tea party in late 2021 – the purpose of which Malema revealed in a recent Mail & Guardian interview was to try convince Zuma to abide by the Constitutional Court order compelling him to testify at the Zondo Commission. Malema described Zuma at the recent Judicial Service Commission (JSC) hearings as “the Mandela of KZN”.
Attacks on the criminal justice system
In May 2021, legal academic Pierre de Vos wrote: “If Zuma could somehow persuade the EFF to join his all-out war on the judiciary and the criminal justice system, they could have a devastating impact on the legitimacy of the judiciary.”
The events since then have effectively seen that prophecy realised. Both Malema and Shivambu railed against the jailing of Zuma in July 2021 as an opportunity to cast aspersions on South Africa’s judges. The EFF was vocal in its approval of Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu’s January attacks on the judiciary, and the widely criticised recent performance of Malema and former EFF chairperson Dali Mpofu during the JSC hearings provided a further public platform from which to launch attacks on Gauteng Judge President Dunstan Mlambo and acting Chief Justice Raymond Zondo.
The reason for the EFF’s clear desire to delegitimise the judiciary is obvious. It is because it is plausible that EFF leaders will sooner or later end up in the dock themselves, charged with corruption relating to the VBS bank heist. Hand in hand with attacks on judges have gone insults aimed at the head of the National Prosecuting Authority, Shamila Batohi, whom Malema has accused of being a puppet of Minister Pravin Gordhan and Ramaphosa.
When head of the corruption-busting Investigating Directorate Hermione Cronje resigned in December 2021, Malema claimed without evidence that it was because Cronje had been given orders to charge “Malema [and] Shivambu before March” 2022. In Malema’s contribution to the post-Sona debate this week, he made claims about widespread police corruption and described the entire security cluster as “rotten”.
All this is evidently intended to lay the ground for a situation where the EFF claims its leaders are victims of a political plot should their arrests come to pass.
An attention-grabbing year ahead
Although the EFF’s recent actions might seem just confusing and chaotic in isolation, the bigger picture that emerges is one of deeply strategic behaviour. A key element of the drive to sign up a million EFF members over the next 11 months will rely on the Fighters maintaining a high public profile. The EFF’s current court battle against AfriForum over the “Kill the Boer” song has given Malema a perfect platform to lay out his political philosophy and rail against white supremacy. It has been clear that his intended audience is outside the courtroom walls.
When conventional publicity routes prove unavailable, expect more attention-grabbing displays of violence. For evidence of this, consider the fact that the EFF was hobbled last week in any plan to cause disruption to President Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation Address by the fact that the replacement venue – Cape Town’s City Hall – does not have microphones available for its audience.
To compensate, the EFF did their level best – as video footage clearly showed – to provoke a confrontation with police before the event. A movement like Malema’s relies heavily on the oxygen of publicity, however negative, for survival – and media outlets including this one will have to grapple with an overdue reckoning of how much of that oxygen it is responsible for giving. DM168
THE EFF’s DOUBLESPEAK
EFF quote: “Factional battles in the African National Congress have become a serious source of instability in the country.” (8 February 2022 statement)
Fact check: The EFF’s renewed intimacy with Jacob Zuma suggests the party is invested in stoking ANC factionalism.
EFF quote: “The [JSC] refused to bow to the pressure of apartheid judges and elements in the media who have exhibited a disturbing investment in the emergence of certain candidates.” (5 February 2022 statement)
Fact check: EFF commissioners on the JSC showed a clear bias themselves in favour of Judge Mandisa Maya.
EFF quote: “There will not be any EFF member who will engage in GBV and still remain a member of the organisation.” (Julius Malema, 27 January 2022)
Fact check: The EFF has taken no action on certain occasions against men in their own leadership ranks repeatedly accused of gender-based violence, such as Patrick Sindane and Jossey Buthane.
EFF quote: Tech giant Huawei should be condemned for employing 90% foreign nationals in South Africa, as this “can only be regarded as a measure to super-exploit foreign nationals”. (12 February 2022 statement)
Fact check: The EFF is attempting to intimidate businesses against hiring foreign workers, while dressing this up as concern for foreign workers.
EFF quote: “The EFF is not an anti-Indian organisation, it’s a non-racial organisation. [The EFF] exists everywhere and it has no problems with Indians.” (Julius Malema campaigning in Phoenix ahead of the local government elections, September 2021)
Fact check: Two months earlier, in the aftermath of the July unrest, Malema said: “What those Indians did there in Phoenix is unforgettable. We will never forgive them for what they did to our people.” DM168
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