South Africa


Gaslighters-in-Chief: The true meaning of the EFF’s big national fizzle

Gaslighters-in-Chief: The true meaning of the EFF’s big national fizzle
Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) supporters march through the streets of Sandton during the national shutdown on 20 March 2023 in Sandton, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Luba Lesolle)

Only a few thousand people countrywide came out to actively support the EFF in its national day of protest on the Monday of a long weekend. But that doesn’t mean the entire thing was a total washout for Julius Malema’s party. Additionally, it is important to understand that not supporting the EFF shutdown must not be mistaken as supporting the ANC.

It was, pronounced Julius Malema, “the most successful shutdown in the history of South Africa”.

(“The first successful EFF shutdown was of VBS Bank,” one wit responded on Twitter.)

Was it? It’s hard to know what to compare it to. It was bigger, certainly, than last August’s “national shutdown” organised by Cosatu and Saftu – but that was the dampest squib of damp squibs. It was smaller by several orders of magnitude, obviously, than the cessation of economic activity brought about by the government-sanctioned Covid lockdowns.

But a “shutdown” is a vague term, and outside the legal strikes of local unions is rarely used in South Africa’s protest lexicon. Perhaps that is because, by definition, those hit hardest by shutdowns are the working class: those who are paid per shift; those who run small-scale businesses. 

For the more economically comfortable classes, shutdowns mean little: they can continue to work in comfort from laptops at home; groceries can be ordered for delivery from major retailers.

The marches in major cities which formed the centrepiece of the EFF shutdown, of which the largest took place in Tshwane, were nothing special by the standards of other South African protest marches in recent memory. In particular, the EFF’s Monday picket was dwarfed by the “Zuma Must Fall” marches in 2017, despite the fact that the primary goal of both marches was the same: dethroning the sitting state president.

Of course, the EFF protest had other goals. Notably, the party wanted an immediate end to load shedding – and, hey presto, appeared to achieve it!

How else to explain the fact that most places had full electricity on the very day of the shutdown?

“One of the major successes of the national shutdown, before it even began, is that it has drastically decreased the stages of load shedding. It is because of the national shutdown that South Africa has moved from Stage 4 to Stage 1 over the past four days, and was even suspended yesterday,” the EFF proclaimed with customary humility.

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The real reasons for the welcome load shedding break were boring and had absolutely nothing to do with the EFF: improvements in generation capacity, a reduction in breakdowns at certain plants, sustained good performance at others. Who even knows what these explanations mean, any more? Little wonder that the EFF and its Gaslighter-in-Chief decided it could get away with claiming full credit.

But though the ultimate outcome of the EFF’s big day may have been secretly anti-climactic to its organisers, it would be wrong to say that nothing was achieved.

For one thing, it laid bare the alignment of forces coalescing around the single goal of the removal of President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Carl Niehaus during the national shutdown protest on 20 March 2023 in Pretoria, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Frennie Shivambu)

There, marching alongside Malema, were the ragged poster-children of the Radical Economic Transformation movement:

Carl Niehaus, who Malema had previously termed an “embarrassment” to any potential revolution.

Jacob Zuma’s daughter Dudu Zuma-Sambudla, who surfaces roughly once every six months in the hope of another exhilarating round of death and destruction a la the July 2021 riots.

Dear Duduzile Zuma, do you understand the horror that your call for ‘another unrest’ will wreak?

Mzwanele Manyi, former government spin doctor-turned-Zuma spokespuppet.

Only a few familiar figures were missing: Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane, presumably resting up before the next round in her never-ending parliamentary exit interview; and lawyer to the stars Dali Mpofu, who was taking a break from representing Mkhwebane to represent JZ himself in court on Monday.

Otherwise, there was evidence of a glorious synergy in action between these political figures: an axis of expedience, so to speak, which nobody is making any attempt to hide any more. This should make things simpler and cheaper for Ramaphosa’s state security agency.

What was not evident from the shutdown, sadly, was the triumphant recalibration of ‘left-wing forces’ which some on the ‘left’ have been fantasising about: the galvanising of the poor and working class under a combined banner amalgamating the unions, the EFF, and more militant elements of civil society.

Only Saftu could be persuaded to throw their lot in with the EFF on the day, and in a pretty lacklustre fashion at that – while civil society organisations ranging from Abahlali to the Helen Suzman Foundation fell over each other to release statements denouncing the shutdown.

The spectacle of the ‘left’ eating the ‘left’ was once again in the spotlight for the right-wing to savour, as the Organising Committee of the Mass Working Class Assembly dismissed the EFF’s antics as “bourgeois” posturing devoid of “working class demands” and “working class leadership”.

So polarising is the EFF at this stage that Monday’s so-called shutdown made national heroes of unlikely candidates: bloodthirsty private security goons, trigger-happy cops, vigilante taxi bosses, notorious xenophobe Nhlanhla Lux.

Supporters of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) protest in Sandton, Johannesburg, South Africa, 20 March 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Kim Ludbrook)

But though the EFF’s activities angered many, ANC crowing over the shutdown’s big fizzle also failed to capture the mood of the public. On social media, a common sentiment was the following: “Not supporting the EFF shutdown must not be mistaken as supporting the ANC.”

Indeed, widespread irritation towards the EFF appeared to be accompanied by deep resentment at the state’s sudden discovery of advanced security and surveillance techniques, nowhere usually in evidence when ordinary people are at the mercy of crime.

And if Malema and co want to take one upbeat message to tuck away in their arsenal, it would be this: the EFF has gratifyingly confirmed the scale of the threat the government considers them to be. DM   


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Dee Bee says:

    Drove to work from the west of Joburg to Rosebank, got coffee and croissants at my usual coffee shop, along with other regulars (not as many, but lots took a long weekend), got a new phone delivered, had a couple of meetings with other people who went to work, drive home and stopped to get pasta and wine, and had a lovely evening. Didn’t see a single EFF supporter all day. Not one. I suppose the bulk of the ‘shutdown’ was in townships where people can least afford to lose a day’s wages. Very revealing that the EFF actively prevents the working class from, um, working!

  • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

    What constitutes civil society is a mind boggling question that political scientists, ideologues and analysts have been grappling with for decades. Is a three person foundation with phones, emails and twitter handles a civil society like the Helen Suzman foundation? If they are indeed civil society, we can have millions of these without difficulty as long as there is a sponsor to pay for rent and other bills. Some analysts have categorised these so – called civil society organisations according to their sources of funding from foreign owned non governmental organisation or FONGOs, government owned NGOs or GONGOs or business owned NGOs or BONGOs. This is in particular when they enter the politically charged spaces. There are many of these categories in South Africa in addition to membership based civil society organisations from youth to women and most importantly trade unions. The above category of organisations with a fax and telephone one does not categorise as civil society but only membership based organisations. This categorisation is important because intelligence agencies have used civil society fronts to disrupt political opposition as the ANC government had done with unions in Rustenburg with David Mahlobo still to account in courts. COSATU is part of the ANC government amd has never marched except for wages against the ANC government and its absence was expected as they are part of the ANC government mess. The mass protest was very successful despite sabotage.

    • Paul T says:

      The fact is very few people came out in support, because true believers in the EFF, their ideology and methods are waning. Ordinary citizens want solutions, not tin-bangers, tyre-lighters and sushi and champagne imbibing SONA disrupters funded by pension money stolen from the poor they profess to protect.

    • Johan Buys says:

      Cunningham: The mass protest was very successful? You must be talking about the riots in Paris!

      I saw a crowd of four in my town. I presume they were EFF because one had a red beret, two had red scarves and one had red socks. For the rest factories and shops and buses and taxis went about business as usual.

      As to funding, would the EFF open its books to a forensic review – something I am sure Helen Suzman Foundation would do, as would Gift of the Givers, etc?

      Time for the EFF leaders to “pay back the money” stolen from VBS – as per the court rulings. But first pay SARS. Time to sell some property and Rolex watches?

    • Kanu Sukha says:

      And your proof of ‘sabotage’ … and “very successful” … mr know all ? Give up on your grand delusions of having all the ‘answers’ please. There are different perspectives other than yours and your insistence on showing these the middle finger is quite fascistic … but quite consistent with your EFF idolatry … which the current ANC has proven to be misguided.

  • Libby De Villiers says:

    So what shut down, Julius?
    What a waste of time. At least some people got new made-in-China t-shirts although food parcels for hungry children might have been a better plan.
    And it old Carl something to do. He is so good at walking around looking confused. What a misguided, silly old fool.
    Why did he not get a t-shirt? It is just not fair!

  • Johan Buys says:

    There were larger and more disruptive riots in Paris yesterday than Parys.

    Epic EFFailure!

  • Theart Korsten says:

    I am amazed at the bravado of tue EFF cadres. I mean, some places had 20 people running along a road in a group. Silly silly!
    Aside from their differing ideology,
    JM and DJT are the same delusional person.
    The “shutdown” was as impactful as DJT’s inauguration.
    One would think that the EFF would actually realise their mantras are getting stayed.
    I mean guys: Communism has not worked anywhere on earth.
    Handing people free land and hoping they would work it and earn and income from it is a moot point.
    Not gonna work.
    Farming and mining and generating power and serving the public for real, who voted for you into power is hard tedious work.
    But hey. South Africa, don’t worry,
    One day when the EFF running things things (ha ha ha) everything will work, all people will be equals and the EFF leaders will live in the lap of luxury and opulence just like the ANC and NP politicians. Because that is all they really REALLY care about in the end. O, and they deserve os as well. What a joke!

  • Ian Gwilt says:

    Their trajectory (EFF) has been downwards in the latest by elections
    scaping the barrel with cuddly Carl , that should scare off a few more voters.
    If only someone had the balls to push out the VBS claims you would see the pack of cards collapse.

  • Kim Webster says:

    Ebrahim Rasool encapsulated it beautifully saying ” People are unlikely to follow firefighters who fight fire with petrol”. Its isn’t that the issues don’t have support. It’s the “fighters” who do not.

  • William Dryden says:

    The only successful shutdown by the Malema and co, was the VBS bank, and as for Carl Neihouse being next to Malema, he’ll do anything to get his face on the TV.
    Also a video is circulating showing Malema getting a good hiding from somebody in a crowd, but no mention on the news about that incident. Bye the way Malema was seen to be running away from the person giving him a hiding, so much for his statement that he would kill anyone that tried to harm him.

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