Not quite an Arab Spring – or a Liepzig or a Sri Lanka – so the EFF had to make do with Woolies

Not quite an Arab Spring – or a Liepzig or a Sri Lanka – so the EFF had to make do with Woolies
Duduzile Zuma shares a light moment with Julius Malema,with Carl Niehause next to him during their march to the the presidential compound in pretoria on 20 March 2023,next to him is Carl Niehausei.Photo:Felix Dlangamandla

Julius Malema called it the greatest national shutdown in the history of national shutdowns, which might have been an exaggeration. But the EFF’s theatrics did seem to have the ANC government worried for a moment.

So the Economic Freedom Fighters pulled off a great piece of theatre with its “national shutdown” the day before Human Rights Day … or not. Maybe it was the triumph of popular politics acclaimed by leader Julius “Forked Tongue” Malema, or it was a dismal failure – see, as we shall, comments made by the Presidency and others.

Malema would have us believe (or perhaps he would just have his followers believe) it was the greatest national shutdown in the history of national shutdowns – yes, he actually said that, in a moment all too reminiscent of Donald Trump. 

The then US prez hailed his own inauguration in 2016 as the greatest inauguration ever in the history of American presidential inaugurations, attended by tens of thousands who were, for reasons unexplained by Trump, not visible in any of the photographs taken on that day.

Malema no doubt had a successful march on President Cyril “Rama Soft” Ramaphosa’s official residence, although the President thoughtlessly neglected to actually be there on the day.

Ignoring the EFF’s tendency to make its protests personally threatening manoeuvres, Malema turned Ramaphosa’s absence to his advantage: You see, he cried, he doesn’t even live here in this palace, which is in fact “our home” – though it is unclear whether “our home” means the EFF’s entire body of 2,000 followers should now be accommodated there, or whether Malema is looking to replace the Sandton palace in which he lives with this other, taxpayer-funded palace in Pretoria. 

At least his water and lights would be covered by the state and he wouldn’t have to use up all those VBS millions on utilities, or go begging to a dodgy tobacco baron to pay his bottle store bills.

At any rate, as we contemplate whether the EFF shutdown was really a shutdown or just another traipse from A to B, we might wonder about other countries’ experiences in this regard, as speculated upon by a Presidency spokesperson.

That spokesperson said that the EFF was surely hoping for a “Sri Lanka moment”, referring to the occasion on which the people of Sri Lanka marched threateningly upon their president’s palace, at which the president in question, rather satisfyingly, fled the country. 

Malema et al may have got their hopes up here, thinking that Rama Soft would flee South Africa just as the EFF arrived on his official doorstep. 

Happy community paper mockup handcraft element.

Or they may in fact have been thinking of October 1917 and the Russian people’s attack on the tsar’s Winter Palace, but that idea was quashed by the presence of more police officers than anyone knew South Africa had, as well as some army personnel who were out and about doing armed army things in a way they surely haven’t for … well, decades. Or at least since they walked into that ambush in the Central African Republic.

But Sri Lanka sticks in the mind. I thought of when, back in the glory days of the transition out of apartheid and into democracy, Joe Slovo of the South African Communist Party spoke fondly of the “Leipzig option” – that is, the occasion on which the people of the German Democratic (which should be in inverted commas) Republic rose up against their leaders in Leipzig and ousted them without much fuss.

Slovo was surely hoping that South Africans could pull off a similarly only-slightly-violent insurrection, even as the ANC sat negotiating non-violently with the National Party at Codesa. It was but a fond dream. Ironically, it was a communist regime that was ousted at Leipzig – not a point upon which the lifelong communist Slovo saw fit to comment.

It’s confusing, though. Leipzig or Sri Lanka or neither, it was the “Arab Spring” that came to former president Thabo Mbeki’s mind as he thought upon South Africa’s present situation. In one of his recent speeches he mused gnomically on the idea that the government, if it didn’t pull up its socks, would face an uprising similar to the Arab Spring, which brought down governments in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere. 

Okay, those uprisings failed, as they often do; very soon the democratic forces were replaced by new authoritarians, but it’s clear that the ANC government most fears what it taught the old apartheid state to fear – a true people’s revolution.

Yes, our present government obviously feared the EFF could spark such an insurrection, or at least an orgy of looting like that of July 2021, so it brought out the cops and troops. 

Perhaps that fear was validated by the fact that, right beside Malema as he marched, was Duduzile Zuma-Sambudla, who did so much to encourage the looting and burning of 2021 – from the safety of her Twitter account, naturally. But she may be the face of a potential RET uprising, and perhaps the only woman the ANC government fears who isn’t, in fact, part of that ANC ­government.

And, indeed, Malema was able to crow that the state’s show of force on the “shutdown” day in fact indicated how much it feared the EFF. That may be true, but it also reminds one that the best coups de théâtre are often those that entail a great deal of audience participation.

That said, part of the EFF’s success on Shutdown Day was that 33 EFF members were arrested outside the Grayston Woolworths. They had barricaded this national key point, preventing Sandton shoppers from grabbing their usual microwave meals, but also violating the terms of the court order that insisted the EFF should not loot or prevent non-EFF citizens from going about their daily business.

This occurrence showed that the EFF does understand the best ways to irritate the bourgeoisie (don’t touch me on my Woolworths!), but does not understand the utterances of a court of law. 

The law be damned, anyway, I’m sure the EFF would say – unless a court is in fact ruling in that party’s favour. 

I didn’t follow the EFF’s shenanigans that day, being busy with other things like lying around having a national shutdown of my own. I did, though, have some thoughts about these Sri Lanka moments and Arab Springs that were so much in the air, and compared South Africa with other countries mentioned (usually by angry white people) in connection with this country’s future.

“We’re becoming like Zimbabwe” is a favoured moan, though in my view this hasn’t been thought through. Zimbabwe is a military dictatorship, and most of its population is still stuck in the rural areas. 

In that, South Africa does not resemble Zim at all. Our government is a mafia syndicate, and our population is largely wasting away in the cities. 

Contrarily, I think South Africa is becoming like Nigeria, and I’m not the only one thinking that.

Drive through the lower reaches of Joburg and you can’t help feeling you’re having an experience a bit like what it would be to try to get through Lagos during rush hour. Then again, it’s always rush hour in Lagos. The traffic is always jammed – and they don’t even have an EFF to help jam it up even further. DM168

Shaun de Waal is a writer and editor.


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  • jacki watts says:

    Great article… Through humor the reality is all the more stark…

  • betsy Kee says:

    Spot on Shaun. We need to laugh more and the EFF does provide us with lots to laugh at.

  • Gerhardt Strydom says:

    Very insightful, and some material to ponder. Enjoyed the three-way comparison: SA-Zim-Nigeria.
    With the 2024 elections coming closer, I am enticed to spend just a little mind-process on the following:
    (a) Will the potential voters, who abstained from voting, begin to realise the impact of non-voting;
    (b) Are the rural masses likely to become more aware of the mafia-government they have helped to keep in power;
    (c) Is there any reasonable prospect for an efficient or united or significant opposition, and lastly;
    (d) What will a coalition-government, which seems increasingly likely, look like, and be like?

  • William Dryden says:

    It’s nice to see the head clown holding hands with the other clown Niehause, and as for Duduzile Zuma, she should be prosecuted for inflammatory messages for people to shut down the country. She is nothing but a radical female that the country does not need.

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