EFF’s national shutdown plan — another publicity stunt with near-zero chance of becoming reality
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.
Visit Daily Maverick’s home page for more news, analysis and investigations
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