South Africa


Julius Malema and his Extraordinary, Fanatical Followers, a decade later

Julius Malema and his Extraordinary, Fanatical Followers, a decade later
Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema during the EFF's 10th anniversary at FNB Stadium on 29 July 2023 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Frennie Shivambu)

As the EFF emerges from a week of festivities marking its 10 years of existence, there can be no doubt that the party and its leader, Julius Malema, have dramatically changed our politics into a coarser, much more ugly personal affair that is often driven by issues of racial identity, along with greater tolerance of corruption. The pressing question is whether the EFF does in fact have momentum and whether it will grow further or shrink in next year’s polls. While Malema publicly named and shamed members he believes failed the party, he may well have sown the seeds that limit the party’s future growth.

There can be no doubt that our politics has been formidably changed by the Economic Freedom Fighters.

While it may be hard to remember in these tumultuous days, in the years before Malema formed his party in 2013, Parliament was a much quieter place. The National Executive Committee of the ANC was the real political centre of gravity. It was their meetings that really mattered, and Esselen Park seemed to be a more potent geographic political symbol than Parliament.

Within months of the EFF’s arrival in Parliament that changed.

In February 2015, soon after the 2014 elections, the State of the Nation Address saw all of the EFF MPs physically thrown out of Parliament.

SONA2015: When the rulers decided on the night that might is right

This event, and many others that followed, transformed Parliament into a gladiator arena of ever-increasing importance.

While some may have welcomed this, on the grounds that Parliament should indeed be the focus of political attention, it also ushered in the politics of — mostly ugly — spectacle.

This has now reached the point where many parents might prefer their children not to watch parliamentary proceedings live.

Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema during the party’s launch in Rustenburg, South Africa, 13 October 2013. (Photo: Gallo Images / Alet Pretorius)

Salty language

It has also led to the most incredible language becoming commonplace.

Several months ago, after the party’s attempt at a “national shutdown”, Malema said in the National Assembly: “I’m in charge, I’ve got you by the scrotum. There is nothing you can do, nothing, all of you combined. You can scream anyhow you want, once more I demonstrated to you; black opposition, white opposition with the ruling party combined, I’m in charge and I want that to sink [in].”  

Ultimately, the “shutdown” turned out to be a damp squib, regardless of Malema’s oddly sexualised fantasy. 

Other politicians have followed with salty language. Even President Cyril Ramaphosa told Parliament in response to Malema that “I fear fokkol”.

Worse than the words used in Parliament is the violence. It has become so commonplace that events where the President is due to speak are interrupted by default, almost solely due to Malema and the EFF’s expected performance.

The impact of these little and big eruptions of verbal abuse is felt far outside Parliament.

Before the formation of the EFF, it was unusual for politicians to refer to the gender or ethnic identity of other politicians or journalists. Now it is normal. And comments like, “It is not time to slaughter whites… yet” or, “We are cutting the throat of whiteness” are commonplace.

This is only bad for our politics, it prevents proper political discussions and makes it difficult to move beyond name-calling.

Security personnel remove Economic Freedom Fighters MPs from Parliament during the State of the Nation Address on 9 February 2017 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Beeld / Lulama Zenzile)

A toxic masculinity of violence

Perhaps the best way to sum up this part of the impact of the EFF is that it has brought a toxic masculinity of violence to our politics. It has made our politics more about ego, anger and brute violence. This has been accompanied by physical and verbal violence against women

The other negative impact on our politics has been the almost normalisation of corruption.

Two years before Malema launched the EFF it was becoming clear he was using his apparent control of tender processes in Limpopo to make money. Despite being criminally charged at one point for this, Malema has never faced a proper legal process.

Then there is the VBS bank scandal and the overwhelming evidence that money went from VBS to pay for Malema’s lifestyle, and to the brother of EFF deputy leader Floyd Shivambu, Brian Shivambu, who eventually paid it back after admitting he received the money for no valid reason.

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

Amid this, the EFF’s opponents suspect that the National Prosecuting Authority and other authorities are not investigating Malema in the way they would ordinary law-abiding citizens who do not have the benefit of enjoying the support of more than a million fanatical followers. That he is above the law. It is otherwise difficult to understand the paralysis to prosecute when the evidence unearthed against him by investigative journalists is clear and exceptionally damning.

The attendance of the deputy head of SAPS Crime Intelligence, Major-General Feroz Khan, at the EFF’s gala dinner last week suggests some kind of relationship between the party and high-level police officials. 

And the fact that the self-confessed cigarette smuggler Adriano Mazzotti was also there (and paid the EFF’s first elections deposit) cements the claim that Malema is involved with criminals and possibly criminality.

However, Malema does not see it that way.

He told the EFF’s birthday rally at the FNB Stadium on Saturday that the SA Revenue Service (SARS) was hounding him, and as City Press reported, said, “Just three weeks ago, SARS officials visited my aunt’s home because her son’s associated with me and they wanted to inflict pain on me, but they couldn’t find anything.” 

He clearly believes authorities are investigating him with a political motive.

The Economic Freedom Fighters’ 10th anniversary at FNB Stadium on 29 July 2023 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Papi Morake)

EFF interventions in local government

While the EFF had a dramatic and quick impact in Parliament, perhaps its interventions in local government have been more important.

In 2016, Malema was able to hold the balance of power in Joburg and Tshwane. Without the EFF, it is unlikely that the DA would ever have been able to govern those cities through coalitions.

Because of its size, often as the third-biggest party in a council, the EFF ended up being in this position fairly often, claiming it was the “kingmaker” of our politics.

This has resulted in the party holding several important mayoral committee positions in big metros, which is perhaps the first time the party has had important political power in government.

However, despite agreements with the ANC in some places, it has still not been able to hold the position of mayor in a metro, which makes it difficult to assess how it would actually govern.

Certainly, there is some evidence it has been a very difficult coalition partner for the ANC, which may make the governing party look for better options after next year’s national elections.

Floyd Shivambu and Julius Malema at the Economic Freedom Fighters’ 10th Anniversary at FNB Stadium on 29 July 2023 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Papi Morake)

EFF’s share of the vote

Of course, perhaps the most important way to examine the EFF is to see how its share of the vote has changed since it was formed.

In national elections, in 2014, it won 6.35% of the vote; five years later, it won 10.8%.

In local elections (not a direct comparison), in 2016 it won 8.19%; in 2021 that figure rose to 10.31%.

While the party’s share of the vote has risen, it didn’t shoot the lights out. Still, the EFF’s importance may be much greater than that.  

Perhaps one of the biggest impacts the party had during the period leading up to December 2017 was that it deracialised opposition to the then president, Jacob Zuma.

Zuma often used race to try to delegitimise his opponents, and even in his final resignation address to the nation he claimed to be the political victim of white privilege.

If there had been no EFF, and no political leader with the sheer nous and strength of Malema, Zuma would have tried to pit the battle as solely between himself and white people, despite where the truth lay.

Malema’s siding with Zuma’s opposition stopped this from happening.

And the sight of him, along with other political leaders with very different constituencies, linking arms to oppose Zuma together was incredibly powerful. Without it, Zuma may have been much stronger.

Also, there can be no doubt that the tactics of the EFF, driven as they are by spectacle and the threat of violence, have led to more accountability.

It is likely that many corporates making decisions have thought more carefully about their actions, and worked harder to ensure they are not racist (or seen as racist) for fear of the possible actions of the EFF. Even the timeshare industry may have reason to behave better

The biggest question

Of course, the biggest question is: What will happen in next year’s elections? Will the EFF grow in votes and power, or has it lost momentum?

This is difficult to judge; certainly, the conditions on the ground, with incredibly high youth unemployment and the persistence of racialised inequality, suggest the party can still grow.

However, several people in the ANC have suggested that it has lost momentum. At the same time, the DA is using the EFF and its spectre of an “ANC-EFF doomsday coalition” to inspire more votes from their constituency.

If it is the case that Malema believes the EFF will not grow its share of the vote, then the negotiations around coalitions will be key to the party’s future success. If he is able to stay in coalitions with the ANC, he will continue to have great political power.

However, it is also possible that, as some in the ANC would prefer, these coalition agreements come to an end. Malema may find himself entirely cut off from power. If he loses votes at the same time, he may well be over the peak of his political career.

For the EFF to really take power one day, it has to be able to build a durable organisation that can survive changes of leadership. It also has to encourage people to work for the party, to make it greater than themselves.

Here the party and Malema himself are almost certainly failing.

There has never been a hint of a possibility of someone else leading the party. And Malema himself said at the EFF gala dinner, “The problem starts when you start organising against me and I hear it in the corners. I am very ruthless.”

This suggests that he will not tolerate anyone ever campaigning against him for the position of leader.

In his own view, Malema equals EFF and EFF equals Malema.

But no political party can survive in the longer term in this way. It needs many more people who are dedicated to its ideals and believe it will improve their lives.

One-way loyalty

Here Malema’s treatment of party members may be sowing the seeds of its own destruction.

Last week, he published the names of people he said had failed to provide transport for fellow members to the party’s rally.

Four of those names were EFF MPs.

While the leaders of political parties must often be disappointed in the behaviour of those below them, there is a reason they do not publish this: It will only end up damaging their party.

Malema has sent a signal to all EFF members that he will not back them in public should they commit mistakes.

It suggests that, while demanding absolute loyalty from them, he will not give loyalty in return. Those who have the potential to make a significant contribution to the party may well decide to either leave it or not join it in the first place.

The fact that four of those named and shamed are MPs shines another spotlight on how difficult Malema has found it to manage the EFF’s caucus. Even in the party’s first five years in Parliament, it changed more than half of its MPs. Malema may now do the same thing again.

This suggests that the EFF will never have the full benefit of people rising through the ranks to provide leadership of their own — it will remain a Julius and Floyd shop with 1-million fans.

In the end, while this private autocracy provided a great boost to the then nascent party, its lack of coherent succession planning could turn out to be the party’s biggest limitation. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Errol Price says:

    Unfortunately the writer has missed the main relevance of the EFF. Unlike the D.A. which is no real threat to the ANC, the EFF is different.
    When the ANC eventually falls it will be to a organisation like the EFF. Moreover the EFF does not need to behave like an ordinary political party since it has many characteristics of a cult.
    Note that Malema has said that when he comes to power he will put Ramaphosa in jail. He does not say that Ramaphosa will be charged in a court of law.
    I wonder if Ramaphosa and his crew are not looking north to Niger with a sense of queasiness.

  • Heinrich Holt says:

    At least Floyd has second career options. He may become the Michelin Man one day. Life is good at the Economic Freedom Festival.

  • Sydney Kaye says:

    What is remarkable is that he doesn’t have more votes. He promises the black voter land and jobs. What’s not to like.

  • Ukraak17 says:

    Unfortunately the EFF is made relevant by the media. His cheap stunts and racial comments attract the news channels and give him what he wants most – prime time news time!

    If he was to be sidelined by the media for the devisive character that he is, and treated be like any other citizen that is falling foul of the law, the EFF would become quite irrelevant quite quickly. As has been said before, the EFF is Julius and Julius is the EFF.

    It is however a worrying sign that he seems to be above the law, and his party funded by known criminal(s), and that he lives a life far above his legal means.

    And yet he is left to carry on…..

  • Robert Dempster Dempster says:

    A party of anarchists that attracts around 10% of the vote does not seriously threaten the ANC. The splintered opposition is more concerning – not one can muster enough votes to govern the country. Which party offers the best possibility of governing together with the ANC? Heaven forbid the EFF! Although the DA is governing the Western Cape markedly better than any other province, its policies are fundamentally unlike the ANC, making a coalition impossible. Any other contenders?

    • Glyn Morgan says:

      I disagree with your statement – “Although the DA is governing the Western Cape markedly better than any other province, its policies are fundamentally unlike the ANC, making a coalition impossible.”

      A party with policies fundamentally different from the ANC’s has a better chance of successfully running SA than the ANC. The DA has been in some very successful coalitions. The MoonShot members are seriously going for a successful SA. Give them a chance, it is all we have.

    • A Concerned Citizen says:

      The DA offers the only alternative, but it will require some significant growth in the ‘Moonshot Pact’ coalition in order to gain overall majority. There are several smaller but value-aligned parties grouping together with the DA who can all work together to unseat the ANC. If not in these elections, then in the next.

    • Tracy Smith says:

      Only the ANC seems to seriously threaten the ANC. It just needs to play itself out and the sooner, the better.

  • Bill Gild says:

    The rise of a Malema in a rudderless, thoroughly corrupt, and failing country was inevitable.
    Where it goes from here is anyone’s guess, but mine is that the constitutional democracy that emerged in 1994 is in great peril.
    Will we devolve into another fascistic state, ala Mussolini’s Italy in the 1920’s, or a region beset by a variety of African strongmen, leaving the population in a dire straits.
    Regardless, SA will continue to suffer from an escalating exodus of skilled individuals.
    It’s really too bad….

  • William Kelly says:

    Remind me again. In ten years, what exactly has the EFF built? Achieved, for it’s voters? What can it point to to say, ‘we did that and you are better off now’? Other than some hot air rhetoric, and a coupla T shirts and a ‘party’ at FNB, the EFF have done nothing, achieved nothing, governed nowhere and about the only beneficiaries have been Kiddie Amin’s lifetstyle which he plundered from poor grannies incapable of defending themselves against him. Just how are the gogo’s from VBS faring these days I wonder?

  • Bonzo Gibbon says:

    In next year’s election the ANC will win 42%, the DA 20% and the EFF 10%. The ANC will form a coalition government with the EFF. Ramaphosa will step down and Malema will be vice president. Why would the ANC choose EFF and not DA? Because with the EFF they know they can continue to “eat”. It seems depressingly obvious.

  • Steve Stevens says:

    Now isn’t that first image the perfect picture of a dictator?

  • Confucious Says says:

    No good can come from this tellytubby and its party. It has no morals and no intentions of adding any value to anyone.

  • William Dryden says:

    Seeing as how Malema has banned Daily Maverick from covering any of their events, why don’t all the media black list the EFF and not report his ramblings.
    Also how did he manage to cook/braai 100 cows to feed the gullible followers. Each cow would take at least 8 hrs to cook and you would need 100 very large Braai’s???

  • Stanley Meares says:

    We under estimate the EFF at our peril. To fill the FNB stadium to absolute capacity is testimony to Malema’s popularity as well as his organizational excellence. Other parties better take note and starting getting their act together or they’re going to be swept aside. Personally I’m very worried. For SA this does not look good.

    • lottinoleonardo says:

      Stanley, I could fill up any stadium twice that size if I offered free transport, braai and entertainment, especially in SA

  • johanw773 says:

    A country deserves the leaders it gets. The ANC is clear evidence of that. Mindless, greedy politicians result in a rudderless, ruined economy and society.
    South Africa is only a constitutional democracy in name. Minority groups are excluded from many aspects of society they would have been entitled to in a true constitutional democracy, maybe not necessarily by legislation but certainly in practice.
    Malema is only relevant because MSM makes him so. He does not have a goat’s fart to offer this country, only chaos and poverty. The fact that even 10% (of those who voted, this number is probably higher) of voters subscribe to his infantile rhetoric is indicative of an ignorant electorate (to put it politely).

  • patersonbridget says:

    So South Africa has bred its very own nazi………………….. complete with its own copy-cat salute. Lord have mercy on us all.

  • Gazeley Walker says:

    The EFF, a party that cannot exist without racial disharmony and hate, one of the pillars it relies on for support, and a party with a dubious funding pipeline, starting with On Point contracts through to the acknowledged tobacco smuggler / financier to the EFF, Massoni, and Malema and Shivambu’s involvement, and self enrichment, from the very sad VBS collapse, means the party has no solid foundation. Their members will eventually see the self self gratification practised by it’s dictator leaders, and how little the well-being of it’s members means to Malema and Shivambu, and how lacking the party is in genuine policies and ideas to improve the country. In fact they have never, to my knowledge, produced any real document outlining how their policies will benefit SA in the future, and backed up their ideas with any genuine fact or survey. I am also not aware of any international relationship or backing for Malema and his EFF buddies, in fact international sentiment is extremely negative towards the EFF. Buildings with shallow unstable foundations will ultimately collapse under their own stress and weight, political parties built on similar foundations will, like these buildings, implode and collapse as will the EFF. Malema may be the strength of the EFF at present, but his ego and desire for dictatorial power, make him their biggest weakness as well. Just hope it happens sooner than later, for the benefit of everyone in this beautiful country.

  • Rae Earl says:

    South African politicians have about 10 months in which to prepare the electorate for its choice of government next year. How many of the political parties are cognisant of the very real danger of Julius Malema as a ruler? The party leaders,, the media, and all citizens of this country who are capable of recognising the potential dictatorship as evidenced by Malema in his aggresive rhetoric and actions, should be actively drawing their voters attention to these personal traits in the man. This is critical if SA is to avoid the same dire collapse of normal civilian life we have all witnessed occurring in in Zimbabwe under the rule of Robert Mugabe and, currently, under Emmerson Mningagwa. What started there as a racial confiscation of white farms, escalated into genocide against a black ethic group (the Ndebele) because they did not support Mugabe. Malema in the past week, has threatened that he will be ruthless in crushing members of his own party should they not show absolute subservience and loyalty to him. In other words, his own people. What hope for the rest of us if he succeeds a limp rag like Ramaphosa. If the ANC sinks into a coalition government with the EFF, it will be crushed and rendered useless in very short shrift.

  • Brian Doyle says:

    One thing you can see is that Julius and Floyd have become fat on the proceeds of various “enterprises” such as the VBS bank, which they should be prosecuted for their involvement. However saying this they are a blight on our political scene and their blatant racism and thuggery do our country no favours.

  • Peter Doble says:

    This guy and his band of thugs are straight out of the tinpot dictator playbook. He will blow with the wind, whip up mass hysteria, operate hypocritically, pump up his self-righteous importance, wait for the power vacuum then make his grab for power. The jackboot mentality of the EFF has the dreaded word NAZI written all over it.

  • Denise Smit says:

    Mr Groottes, you must go into history further, show us the SABC news clip of how when Jacob Zuma was President, in Khayalitsha, he made sexist and racists remarks to Helen Zille while she was addressing the crowd, and Khalema Mothlante was deeply embarrassed. Refresh our minds on the destructive party that the ANC Youth league had with JM as their leader in Bloemfontein, if my memory serves me right serious damage was caused to the infrastructure and complaints of violence and sexual violence against female members were made. Denise Smit

  • Robert K says:

    Pure evil. A mindless mob howling in religious ecstasy when their portly messiah rises like a god on his pedestal to whip them into a frenzy of murderous hatred. Adolf Hitler used the same spectacular shows and oratory to mesmerise his people – and eventually to take them into the abyss. The moonshot pact looks very pale and flimsy in comparison to this extravaganza. The DA should forget about this moonshot deal with a bunch of yapping self-centred little Mickey Mouse parties and start talking to the ANC – who, contrary to popular belief, still comprises and represents a large number of decent people – with a view to forming a government of national unity – which can include those smaller parties. The EFF is the greatest clear and present danger this country has ever faced since 1994, despite what the so-called experts say.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted


This article is free to read.

Sign up for free or sign in to continue reading.

Unlike our competitors, we don’t force you to pay to read the news but we do need your email address to make your experience better.

Nearly there! Create a password to finish signing up with us:

Please enter your password or get a sign in link if you’ve forgotten

Open Sesame! Thanks for signing up.

We would like our readers to start paying for Daily Maverick...

…but we are not going to force you to. Over 10 million users come to us each month for the news. We have not put it behind a paywall because the truth should not be a luxury.

Instead we ask our readers who can afford to contribute, even a small amount each month, to do so.

If you appreciate it and want to see us keep going then please consider contributing whatever you can.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options

Daily Maverick Elections Toolbox

Feeling powerless in politics?

Equip yourself with the tools you need for an informed decision this election. Get the Elections Toolbox with shareable party manifesto guide.