South Africa

ANALYSIS

Growing pain(s): Dear EFF, after 10 years of adding fuel to the fire, it’s now time for you to grow up

Growing pain(s): Dear EFF, after 10 years of adding fuel to the fire, it’s now time for you to grow up
Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema disrupts President Cyril Ramaphosa during the State of the Nation Address. (Photo: Shelley Christians) | Members of the metro police use teargas to disperse crowds during the EFF mass protest on 20 November 2020 in Brackenfell. (Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach)

In the decade since Julius Malema founded the EFF, the party has succeeded in building a brand, but it needs to leave the gimmicks behind and focus on becoming a formidable alternative to the ANC.

Since the EFF was founded 10 years ago, Julius Malema and his Red Berets have made citizens sit up and take note – for all the right and wrong reasons.

The party shook politics on its first outing when it won 6.35% of the vote in the general election of 2014. It contested its first local elections in 2016, getting 8.19%. 

In 2019, the Red Berets increased their support nationally, garnering 10.80% of the votes and, in the 2021 local elections, they received 10.31%. 

In 2014, the EFF was able to get seats in Parliament, a feat for any new party, but it was in 2016 that it became a real game-changer in politics. For the first time, the ANC failed to win more than 50% in the majority of metros. 

As kingmakers, the Red Berets decided to work with the DA, keeping the once high and mighty governing party out in the cold. 

The ANC lost Johannesburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay, retaining only Ekurhuleni, Buffalo City, Mangaung and eThekwini. 

However, Herman Mashaba’s resignation from the DA heralded the end of the arrangement with the EFF. The breakdown in the parties’ relationship ended the DA’s rule in Johannesburg, a big blow to the official opposition. After that, the DA vowed never to work with the EFF again. 

Despite the relationship between the parties ending on a sour note, the EFF continued trying to keep the ANC out of power and voted with the DA in most municipalities.

However, the latest coalition talks between the EFF and the governing party have facilitated a change – an agreement that could dethrone the DA in the councils where it, together with other smaller parties, has been able to have the majority of seats. 

This move has given the EFF the opportunity to have its members be mayoral committee members and speakers – and it has left the ANC at the mercy of the Red Berets. 

VBS chickens come home to roost: Pink-faced Floyd and not-so-Grand Azania couldn’t pay back the money to SARS

In the light of the earlier example of what happened with the DA and the recent collapse of an agreement between the EFF and the IFP in KwaZulu-Natal, it’s clear that Malema is always ready to play hardball. 

Political analyst Levy Ndou says that, although the EFF has made strides over the years, there is room for improvement. He points in particular to the party’s conduct in Parliament, which could be detrimental to its standing in society. 

“The EFF has achieved a lot. The party has been able to grow its support base throughout the country and overtake the DA as the main opposition in some areas,” he says. 

“Their numbers in the National Assembly have increased and their membership numbers stand at 1 million. They have all reason to celebrate.” 

However, at the same time, the EFF needs to evolve into a trusted alternative to the ANC, which Ndou believes will not be possible until it stops its antics in Parliament. 

“The EFF needs to look at strategies on how to approach issues in Parliament.

“They are known for disruptions and that has the potential to be a weak point for the party,” he says.

EFF marchers gather outside the Constitutional Court on 9 February 2016 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Beeld / Felix Dlangamandla)


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The EFF’s arrival in Parliament had South Africans intrigued by its shenanigans. The first was the party’s decision to swap formal wear for overalls, gumboots and aprons, symbolising the party’s support for the working class. 

The 2015 State of the Nation Address (Sona) by former president Jacob Zuma was the first for the Fighters. 

They ended up heckling Zuma, chanting “Pay back the money”, which led to their removal from Parliament. 

Every year, it continues to disrupt Sona. Malema founded the radical left-wing organisation in 2013. He was still bruised from being cast out of the ANC just a year earlier. In 2011, he was suspended from the ANC and later expelled for bringing the party into disrepute and sowing division. 

The first recorded meeting of the EFF was at Uncle Tom’s Hall in Soweto in July 2013. 

Before that, Malema worked on the ground. The first opportunity he saw to introduce the country to the EFF was with the work he did at Marikana in North West. 

Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema on 12 October 2013 in Marikana, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Foto24 / Felix Dlangamandla)

Former EFF MP and Black First Land First leader Andile Mngxitama. (Photo: Gallo Images / Sowetan / Masi Losi)

On 16 August 2012, the South African Police Service opened fire on a crowd of striking Lonmin mine workers at Marikana. The gunfire killed 34 mine workers and left 78 seriously injured. In addition, 250 mine workers were arrested. 

Former EFF MP Andile Mngxitama believes that Malema is a “political genius” to have launched the party in Marikana, establishing the organisation among those who were most affected by what had happened.

“He is a master of symbolism, and is able to gauge the political pulse of the nation and manipulate the situation. 

“There he met [EFF MP] Mam’ Sonti [Nokulunga Primrose Sonti], who was a leader in that community. The EFF was able to cement itself as being pro the family of the victims who died in the massacre,” he said.

Mngxitama joined the EFF in its early days. He was drawn to the party because of three elements: the EFF’s decision to ground itself in ideals different from those in the Freedom Charter; the party’s strong stance on land redistribution without compensation; and making its members take the Sankara Oath, inspired by Thomas Sankara, the revolutionary former leader of Burkina Faso.

“It was a time of great excitement for an alternative to the ANC and this was a radical organisation we wanted to build,” he said. 

But soon things turned sour between Malema and Mngxitama, who went on to form his own political party called Black First Land First. This was almost a clone of the EFF, but the difference was that it had a dismal showing at the polls.

As the EFF turns 10 years old, Mngxitama says he is saddened by the direction the party has taken.

“The EFF was the highest hope for an alternative but because of the neocolonial leadership that is why it is inconsistent with its political programme. They are not grounded in Marxism but vulgar pragmatism,” he said.

The EFF has managed to penetrate university politics over the years and has made many gains. This could be because of its fairly young leaders and how they have modelled education as fashionable. 

Malema was initially ridiculed for his poor matric results and for not having studied after high school, but he went on to obtain his BA in political leadership and citizenship from the University of South Africa in 2016.

The EFF Students Command leads in many institutions of higher education, including the University of Limpopo, the University of Venda and all five campuses of the University of ­KwaZulu-Natal. 

Though the SRC presidency at the University of Cape Town had been held by an EFF member since 2018, the position was taken by an independent, Hlengiwe Dube, in 2022.

According to data from the market research firm Ipsos, the EFF is still most popular among young people, polling highest in the 18-24 age group with 37%, followed by the 25-34 age group and then the 35-49 age group. The party gets the least support from citizens over 50. 

The data, collected in November last year, also show a decrease in support by people in the 35-49 age group, which stood at 32% in November 2017 but dropped to 22% in November 2022.

Malema himself has lamented the lack of an older support base as it affects the calibre of leadership that the party attracts. This is one of the elements that the party will look into correcting if it wants to compete with the likes of the ANC.

VBS Theft, Money Laundering & Life’s Little Luxuries: Julius Malema’s time of spending dangerously

Unlike its counterparts, the EFF often attracts community members who have little to no real knowledge of politics. Many are young and have no background in community work or activism. 

The Ipsos data show that the party’s strongest support is among South Africans whose highest qualification is secondary school, which has been a sore point for the party. This seems to spill over into its structures.

In recent times, the Red Berets have had the opportunity to hold governing positions in councils. However, Malema has made it clear that the party will not allow councillors without matric to take up those roles. This stance has caused tensions in the party. DM168

Government scrambles to ensure that EFF’s planned national shutdown does not turn violent

The National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (Natjoints), security cluster ministers and private security companies will be on high alert come Monday, 20 March, as they try to ensure that the EFF’s planned national shutdown does not turn violent. 

Since the EFF announced its intention of bringing the country to a complete standstill, there have been growing concerns about the nature of the protest as the government, business and civil society lament the possibility that it might turn violent. 

The shutdown was called to put pressure on President Cyril Ramaphosa to resign and demand the end to rolling blackouts, as well as to bring the issues that affect young people to the fore. 

The party’s leader, Julius Malema, has insisted that cries from various sectors of society are not valid as the EFF is a “nice” political party that has not incited any violence throughout its planning of the shutdown. 

Read more in Daily Maverick:How the EFF’s planned shutdown might play out

Natjoints, which includes the police, the military and civilian government departments, said it would ensure that the protest did not ­disrupt normal life.

“Natjoints reaffirms and assures the nation that measures are in place to prevent and combat any acts of criminality, and that Monday is a normal working and business day,” according to the liaison body. 

Security companies Thorburn and Fidelity seem to be on high alert for any trouble that might occur. 

In a report based on intelligence that Thorburn received on 13 March, risk areas include the Union Buildings, Eskom head office and the presidential residence in Pretoria.

Read more in Daily Maverick:Concern and apprehension in KZN ahead of Monday’s ‘national shutdown’ attempt by the EFF

The Durban and Richards Bay ports are also listed, along with major routes, airports, shops, schools, universities and businesses. 

The company’s report says there is a “plausible risk” that the protest may spill over to the following day. 

Although Malema said on 15 March that it would be business unusual on the day of the protest, ministers in the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security (JCPS) cluster begged to differ. 

Speaking at a briefing in Pretoria on 16 March, Police Minister Bheki Cele said steps had been taken to ensure that no one was affected.

“Measures have been put in place to ensure that everyone who wants to go to work, travel for leisure and conduct business on this day does so in a safe and secure environment,” he said.

“Law enforcement officers will be out in their numbers to protect them, whilst enforcing the law. Anyone who intimidates, stops anyone from going to work, barricades the roads and highways, and uses any form of violence to try to stop our people from going on with their lives will face the full might of the law.” 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Security ministers vow zero tolerance, as civics warn EFF against ‘unconstitutional’ attempts to enforce a shutdown

Transnet said it was working with stakeholders to implement contingency plans where necessary to ensure business continuity.

“The plans will take into consideration operational demands and available capacity,” the state-owned enterprise said in a statement. 

“Transnet’s priority remains to ensure the safety of its operations and employees, as well as customers and stakeholders accessing Transnet facilities. 

“Transnet will continuously monitor the situation and adjust its contingency plans accordingly.”

The civil society group Defend Our Democracy issued a statement calling on law enforcement to act against any form of intimidation and violence that might unfold before, during and after the shutdown.

The organisation said it believed that South Africa was already in crisis and that the protests, which it said only sought to deepen the crisis for narrow party-political gains, could not be the solution. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Johan Buys says:

    Malema is a lot smarter than his utterances would make him appear. Probably smarter than 90% of the cabinet and members of parliament. Definitely smarter than most opposition leadership – going by how the opposition alliances are failing.

    • D'Esprit Dan says:

      I would say more cunning, rather than smarter: if he was smart, he wouldn’t advocate for policies that will 100% ensure the destruction of South Africa as a country. Political cunning and intelligence, or common sense even, are completely different things.

  • Hermann Funk says:

    “After that, the DA vowed never to work with the EFF again.” They shouldn’t have worked with them in the first place. How can a party that claim believing in democracy work with a group of fascist rabble rousers?

    • D'Esprit Dan says:

      Spot on! I wrote to Helen Zille years ago when she was party leader and urged her to form a proper working alliance, or umbrella opposition movement to the ANC in order to unite the various factions of the (credible) opposition. The response from her office was condescending and dismissive. I really fear that the DA, for all the good work they do where they are in power, are politically naïve and arrogant, when it comes to hammering out working coalitions and creating more united opposition to the rabble to the left of them.

      • Ivan van Heerden says:

        This will be the legacy of the DA as they fade to a 10% party. Arrogance and condescension, They had one job to do after 2019 and that was to cement a coalition of opposition parties that would remove the ANC from the levers of power entirely. AS the saying goes keep your friends closer and your enemies closer. This became even more important after the formation of ActionSA, however again and again the arrogance of the DA as well as factional politics have led to coalition collapses, most recently that of JHB where the race for the leadership saw the mayor sacrificed so that Helens Poodle John Boy could retain the leadership.
        There is only one credible party in this country and it is not the DA

  • John Whitehead says:

    I am intrigued and encouraged by Wayne Sussman’s analyses of the more recent bye-election results. My impression is that the EFF has generally done poorly – usually in a single digit percentage and often around 1 %. Could he or someone else do an analysis of what the EFF’s bye-election electoral results establish on a local, provincial and national basis and what those trends suggest for its share of the 2024 general election?

    • Paddy Ross says:

      I have made the same observation with regard to municipal elections over the last few months. I believe that the electorate are waking up to the fact that the only constant the EFF hold is to do whatever is necessary to obtain MEC positions that provide the opportunity to access financial resources. The fact that the Shivambo family has now been punished by SARS sugggests that Malema is not far behind in the VBS corruption justice pursuit. I would suggest in five years time we will be saying “Do you remember the EFF”. Icarus has flown too near the sun.

  • Helen Douglas Douglas says:

    A helpful overview, good to pull back the focus for a change.

  • Patrick O'Shea says:

    I wonder what effect the VBS and other corrupt shenanigans has had on the EFF support base. Stealing pensioners money to buy bling cars is hardly the way to attract over 50’s support.

  • Glyn Morgan says:

    Look at the EFF results in Northern Natal/KZN. They are being creamed by the IFP and Sugar! That will also happen with bye elections in the rest of KZN.

    The EFF is kept alive by the media.

    • Nico Brandt says:

      You have it so right! They are hardline communists and that is a real threat to SA so this article fails to highlight that fact

  • Len Gronemann says:

    Hopefully they will not do well.
    The EFF in a national government coalition will spell disaster for this country.

  • Christopher John Wiseman says:

    It is my considered opinion that the EFF leaders are sailing close to commiting sedicious statements and actions.

  • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

    Political analysis has to be left to political scientists with objectivity and clarity regarding facts. The author lacks the qualifications to make the analysis she makes. Firstly quoting one of the most reprehensible racists and political thug. called Andile Mngxitama is to scrape the bottom of the barrel. She says that the EFF attracts the most political illiterate but she does not back this by facts because she has an inner hatred against the EFF. If the ANC had politically literate members the country would have not have the most corrupt leadership that has destroyed everything in this country and taken the country virtually to a stone age. She is apparently ignorant of the quality they bring into parliamentary
    committees far superior to that of the ANC cheque collectors. She wants the EFF to conform to her norms and standards nobody understands what they actually represent. She quotes a political thug by the name of Bheki Cele who is a very spectacular failure in dealing with crime and criminality in this country including that of the ANC and its leadership that has brought all the SOEs to their knees from Eskom to Transnet. This includes a crumbling transport infrastructure from road, rail and air. The ANC aligned Defend Our Democracy that has no strategy on how to defend the democracy was expected to support the ANC because they will never accept anything than the ANC. The shutdown was long overdue to bring people to the streets to end the abuse by the ANC.

    • D'Esprit Dan says:

      Agree 100% on everything you say about the ANC. However, the EFF has demonstrated time and again that they have no intellectual capital that is required to manage and grow a sophisticated modern state and economy: their mindless bombast on almost any subject is clear evidence that the EFF is nothing more than a crude, fascist and populist party trying to bulldozer its way to power (not governance) through any means possible (short of actual insurrection, at this stage).

      The EFF’s puerile adherence to ideologies that have a long, global, demonstrated track record of abject failure, with the social and societal consequences they visit on the victims of those policies demonstrates that the EFF can never be trusted with the custodianship of our country. If you add to that the criminal involvement of EFF leaders in the plundering of VBS, their Gucci-lifestyles (Gucci is probably not expensive enough, but I’m not a fashionista, so can’t go much further on that), and the fact despite claiming to represent the working class, every action they take in public directly affects the working class negatively: it creates nothing, they don’t sustain or create jobs, but destroy whatever little we have left. The EFF is as evil as the ANC, but hasn’t yet been able to demonstrate this fully, because they haven’t had access to the full machinery of state to be able to plunder, as they did with VBS and (allegedly) as part of the DA-led coalition in Joburg, where they had access to patronage.

  • Hari Seldon says:

    A narcissist is impossible to rehabilitate – Malema will never change his behaviour and will remain a destructive populist WITHOUT any deep personal compassion for other people.

  • Mary Hammond-Tooke says:

    EFF have always relied on drama and what really dampened the promised disruptions of 20th March was the national confiscation of 55 000.00 old tires!!

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