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EFF’s national shutdown plan — another publicity stunt with near-zero chance of becoming reality

EFF’s national shutdown plan — another publicity stunt with near-zero chance of becoming reality
Julius Malema, leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), gestures as he speaks at a party rally in Soweto, Johannesburg. (Photo: Waldo Swiegers / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The Economic Freedom Fighters appear determined to carry out what they call a ‘National Shutdown’ on 20 March. This may well turn out to be an important test of strength for the party, but it could also strain its budding coalition relationship with the ANC.

It is not clear whether the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) will in the real world be able to achieve its stated aim of stopping economic activity in South Africa. To do this, it needs help from other organisations — and it is not clear that will happen. Additionally, should EFF members try to force other people to comply, this could well hold the seeds of the party being charged with public violence.

Over the weekend, EFF leader Julius Malema said that his party was prepared for its national shutdown and that the focus of the event was to remove President Cyril Ramaphosa from office.

On Sunday, the EFF in Gauteng released a statement formatted to look like a company memo, stating that “all schools, retail stores, businesses and public roads will be shut down” on 20 March. 

In many ways, this is a hugely ambitious, even outlandish plan. (Stephen, many would rather use terms like “insane, arrogant, fictional and once again untethered to reality”. — Ed)

Since the dawn of our democracy, virtually all large-scale shutdowns have involved union movements. Even the ANC itself has not been able to bring the entire nation to a halt through protest action since 1994. (They have been much more successful through load shedding. — Ed)

Every time there was a large-scale shutdown across many provinces, it had to involve Cosatu. These days, it is unlikely that even the once-mighty Cosatu would be able to muster enough strength for such a shutdown.

The only other grouping which has come close to having such an impact is the taxi industry — not because of its political power but because of its structural might. By simply not operating, it’s able to prevent people from getting to work.

For the EFF’s planned shutdown, Cosatu’s spokesperson, Sizwe Pamla, has confirmed the politically obvious, that it will not be participating in this action. Cosatu and the EFF have always had different agendas and different constituencies.

The other big labour federation that could potentially join is Saftu. Its general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, told Daily Maverick: “We are happy to discuss it with them [the EFF], and take a full report to our NEC”, and it will be the National Executive Committee of Saftu that will decide.

Support from Numsa

Meanwhile, Numsa’s spokesperson, Phakamile Hlubi-Majola, said that the union, “supports any public protest or demonstration over Eskom. We are encouraged by the fact that the working class is uniting around this issue. And we support all those, including Numsa members, who want to participate in the EFF march.”

The only other national march which could perhaps come close to a national shutdown in our democratic history was the series of protests against Jacob Zuma while he was president. But even those were far from successful.

Judging by this, the EFF has a huge mountain to climb to make this national shutdown a reality. It is much more possible that the seeds of violence will be sown through this action. The unions that do not want to take part in the national shutdown are likely to encourage their workers to work on that day, leading to possible violent hotspots.

Also, it is likely that business owners will want to remain open; considering the tightness of our economy it is unlikely that they will want to lose any hours of trading and more income. As a result, they will encourage their workers to come to work.

What will happen if a group of EFF members arrive at any particular shopping centre and demand that it close? It is unlikely that those who trade there will wish to comply.

Also, while the EFF may believe it can block certain roads, it may find that the taxi industry has other ideas. And more muscle.

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While the SA National Taxi Council could not be reached, the National Taxi Alliance’s Theo Malele did comment to Daily Maverick. He said the EFF, “have no right to stop the movement of people. We have a right and a duty to transport people around, and that is what we will be doing. They have other means of addressing their grievances — why would you disrupt the economy if you have the interests of this country at heart?”

Considering the fact that the taxi industry does not consist of shrinking violets, there is a massive potential here for incredibly difficult situations.

Stopping people from going to work may not be the only issue that leads to discord.

For example, the EFF says that schools will not be open on that day. But parents and teachers (who belong to Sadtu, a Cosatu union) may well oppose such action. How will the party enforce such an “edict”? And if it tried, could that lead to violent scenes outside schools?

At the same time, for those with office jobs, the nature of work has changed fundamentally in the past four years.

No longer is it possible to blockade roads going into Sandton and prevent people from working as a consequence. Many people are only going into an office twice or three times a week, if at all. And while the jury may still be out on whether working from home is as productive as working in an office, any shutdown will have less effect as a consequence of this shift.

The EFF is unlikely to attract much help from other political parties for obvious reasons — apart from enjoying support from its cousins in the RET and ATM groupings, the party attracted zero support from other parliamentary groups after it was booted out of the State of the Nation Address by the Speaker of the House, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula.

A risky undertaking

But even if other parties are foolish enough to join such a risky undertaking, in the event of success Malema and Co would take the entire credit, making the whole plan incentive-less for other political players.

There are other intriguing questions.

Currently, the EFF holds two seats on the mayoral committee in Joburg. Could those two councillors demand that Joburg offices close for the day? This will surely be resisted by the ANC, which has five members on that same mayoral committee.

So then, will Joburg offices be open or closed on the day? And if they are open, will the EFF try to close them?

While it seems unlikely that the EFF will get support from any formal union movement, or the taxi industry, it may get strong support from some community movements.

Around the country, and particularly in Gauteng, there are now daily protests against rolling blackouts. The political temperature on this issue is high. If the EFF is able to cooperate with local communities, and perhaps coordinate their efforts, that could have an impact.

It could well include local communities all protesting on the same day, in what would be a demonstration of the EFF’s ability to organise and coordinate.

One of the aims of the party in organising this national shutdown may be to prove that it is an organisation with national reach and could be tied to its plan to recruit one million members.

If it is able to achieve these goals of shutting down the country and dramatically increasing its membership, then the EFF would be able to say to voters that it is a powerful voice ahead of next year’s elections.

But it will not be easy. If the EFF fails to do this, it could be embarrassing for the party, no matter how they paint it.

It would be a clear demonstration that their bark is much worse than their bite, and of a writing talent that many a fiction writer would be envious of. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Paul Honig says:

    Ernest, (a construction worker), made it clear to me what EFF stands for:

    “Everything For Free!”


  • Graeme Keshwar says:

    The timing is interesting Tuesday 21st March is human rights day a National Public holiday. Most people will take the Monday off anyway. This will allow the EFF to claim some degree of success. LOL – it’s all about the optics.

    • Sue Malcomess says:

      To me it’s an act of cowardice to have on 20 March. It’s a day when a great deal of the economy will not be working so the EFF are relying on optics. If they want a show if force they neeed to pick day where SA is in full working mode.

  • James Turner says:

    20 March is an interesting choice: given that it is already a school holiday and part of a “long weekend”, the EFF may well seek to claim success for a slowdown that would have happened anyway?

  • Peter Slingsby says:

    If the ANC had any political acumen it would pop Julius’s balloon by declaring Monday 20th a public holiday …

  • D'Esprit Dan says:

    The letter is very revealing about more than just the planned shutdown: it is puerile, arrogant and detached from reality with it’s ‘revolutionary greetings’ and ‘revolutionary regards’ from the ‘Commissar’ himself. And the Gmail address! How tacky and amateurish is the EFF that they can’t even get a proper email system set up for their revolutionaries? And worst of all, surely Gmail, part of Google and ultimately Alphabet, is part of the western imperialist capitalist system so despised by the EFF and the rest of the lunatic left? But then we know they have a penchant for expensive Scotch, French champagne, Italian designer clothes and luggage, and over the top hotels. VBS is child’s play compared to their real ambitions if they get the levers of power.

    Probably the most sensible quote in the article is from the taxi representative who decried the loss of economic activity that the shutdown would cause. Phakamile Hlubi-Majola simply reinforces how out of touch from reality she is by encouraging yet more economic damage whilst tilting at windmills.

  • Eric Reurts says:

    Monday 20 March is in the middle of a”long’ weekend with Tuesday being a public holiday. Many workers will take leave. Companies where a one day opening makes no sense, will make alternative arrangements to give staff off and make it up later. All this will be claimed as “successfull stay away”by the EFF. So they make noise, sit on their arses,do nothing and claim success.

  • Richard Cowling says:

    Stephen, if you claim this EFF escapade as a publicity stunt, why then give it publicity in DM?

  • Peter Tuffin says:

    I think they are a contender for the Schroedinger prize: the economy will be both working and shut down at the same time. And they can take credit for whichever they want at the time!

  • Rory Macnamara says:

    rather shut down the EFF. that will solve most of the puerile statements by their commander in thief utters

  • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

    The author seems to be very oblivious to the debilitating blackouts in the townships and the length it takes. The blackouts are unlike in suburbs and they take days, weeks and months. These are people with very no resources to have the generators and solar panels and when power goes it affects them in many ways in terms of education and studies by children, food in refrigiraters, not to mention their small businesses and the complete darkness that descends as if we are back in the stone age. The author writes this article in the midst of a shutdown in KwaThema in Springs that is very effective because people are very tired of this and believe nothing will happen until they take to the streets. The author even if he has a negative view of the EFF the issue they are raising is very critical to communities and we must wait until the 20th to see if it would work. Having been part of the struggle, we had FOSATU the precursor to COSATU that was opposed to stayaways and they happened nevertheless. Mass struggles in the history of the struggle were not dependent to unions supporting them but the issues that were raised. It helped to have unions supporting these struggles by eliminating confrontation in the townships and communities.
    The struggles of our people have never depended on union support in the communities we lived in. The author has to look when did COSATU emerge and when did it begin to support these struggles. He must those who were in Pebco.

  • Alan Paterson says:

    Thee EFF will fail but trumpet it as a success, At the end of it all Julius has a long history of grandiose plans that subsequently disappear unnoticed. Some years ago he announced a new private school in Alexandra stocked with the best teachers. Have the foundations been laid yet? Then there was the establishment of EFF offices across Africa. And Swahili as the pan-African language of choice. I wait with bated breath. This wannabe Gucci demagogue is a one man band. Without him as their only spokesperson the party would rapidly shrink to the insignificant numbers of other irritating entities such as Al-Jama-ah or the ATM. Or, more likely, disappear completely.

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