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