Courts, cops, private security and civil society put a halt to the EFF’s politics of violent insurrection
South Africa’s party of violence was on Monday stopped in its tracks as mostly peaceful protests were held across South Africa.
The five-year trajectory of the EFF’s politics of violence has been turned around for the first time as the attempted start of its “revolution” on March 20 ended in a day of mostly peaceful protests.
The police, army, courts and civil society banded together to form a strong lobby against violence.
By the end of the party’s attempted “national shutdown”, the EFF proclaimed instead that it was protecting the Constitution by peacefully marching against poor governance by President Cyril Ramaphosa (whom it wants to step down) and load shedding, which it said must end.
The country enjoyed a weekend reprieve from advanced-stage power cuts, but the utility warned on Monday that the grid was again under severe pressure.
Two court interdicts at the weekend set the ball rolling. The Western Cape and Johannesburg high courts affirmed the right to protest and refused blanket interdicts to the Democratic Alliance, but both courts interdicted violence and intimidation. The Johannesburg High Court added that the EFF had to inform all parties it had warned to close shop about the interdict and that it had to commit to peaceful protest on its powerful social media and, in general releases to the mass media.
The interdicts against violence put the EFF on the back foot, as did social opprobrium.
Defend our Democracy warned that a violent shutdown would deepen South Africa’s poly-crises, and its voice was influential across the robust civil society sector. Businesses spoke up too. Cabinet adopted a zero-tolerance, boots-on-the-ground position, and NatJoints (a security structure of police, intelligence and other government departments) was activated. The SA National Defence Force was also deployed.
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A timeline of violence
Was it overkill? Not if you look at this graphic that Daily Maverick developed over five years to document the 10-year-old EFF’s descent into political violence.
News24 reported that 33 EFF protesters were arrested at a Woolworths store in Sandton — marking a first in its long history of retail disruptions. In the past five years, the EFF vandalised H&M, Vodacom and Clicks stores with impunity; CEOs then met with party leaders, including Julius Malema, to smoke peace pipes. In September 2022, the EFF threatened to close Pick n Pay stores and got a meeting with CEO Pieter Boone.
In January 2022, Malema and other EFF leaders “inspected” restaurants and checked staff registers to smoke out foreign nationals who worked there. It ignored three interdicts by small and medium-sized businesses to stop workplace interference. The EFF’s so-called Labour Desk acts like a trade union federation but is not registered.
The EFF seemed shell-shocked as it faced a groundswell of resistance to what it planned as the start of a “revolution” on March 20. Malema is gearing up for power in 2024: the EFF has entered government in the Johannesburg and Tshwane metros and wants to run Ekurhuleni.
More than one well-informed analyst has said the EFF leader wants to be deputy president in 2024 as an alliance with the ANC shapes up. But the resistance to violence by the state and the broader civil society sends a message about how far South Africans will tolerate force over persuasion. The party’s methodology of threat and its rhetoric of brutality and war may have reached the end of its natural life.
Until now, this ideology has been pursued with impunity by the EFF. At Parliament, it has advanced on podiums twice: most recently on Ramaphosa at the State of the Nation Address in February; before that on Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan in July 2019. The party is facing charges for attacks on DA councillors in Johannesburg and Tshwane, the most recent in March 2023.
It regularly attacks journalists, the most recent on eNCA reporter Silindelo Masikane on February 25. (See graphic for the rest.) Since it announced the national shutdown in January, EFF members have used social media to threaten violence, showing stacks of tyres and boxes of matches and going into shops to demand that owners agree to shut down. In Lenasia, an EFF-branded bakkie warned businesses to close or face looting.
With the July 2021 deadly insurrection attempt in sharp focus, South Africans were on tenterhooks with anxiety ahead of March 20. Many businesses closed as a precaution.
The party has a market among radical and unemployed young people, many of whom participated in the largely peaceful protests. But as a party of government now, the day has shown the EFF will have to do more for its constituents than engage in shutdown methods and violence. DM