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After all the noise, Malema/EFF’s future success still depends on ANC’s electoral fortunes

After all the noise, Malema/EFF’s future success still depends on ANC’s electoral fortunes
Leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters Julius Malema. (Photo: Waldo Swiegers / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

While EFF leader Julius Malema tries to give the impression he is preparing to enter the Union Buildings, there are important questions to ask about how his party can achieve that goal in next year’s elections. The EFF’s future is likely to be more dependent on the actions of other parties, and in particular, the ANC, than its performance in those polls.

All political parties have to deal with the political landscape they find in a country. Sometimes it’s to their benefit, sometimes it is not.

It is unlikely that Boris Johnson could have been the British prime minister for so long without a historically weak Labour Party. Bill Clinton may not have won two terms as president of the US if George HW Bush had not been hit by a massive recession that forced him to raise taxes, and had been helped in 1996 by the GOP fielding Bob Dole, who was already well past his political prime. (NB Ross Perot had a massive run as an independent in 1992 and as a third-party candidate in 1996, but ended up not upsetting the scale enough, tipping both elections to Clinton. — Ed)

The same, of course, applies to Julius Malema.

While he tries to give the impression of, sometimes quite literally, being above everyone else, he must still deal with political reality. In real terms, the biggest variable that will determine the future of the EFF is not in fact in their hands.

No one (aside from Malema in his fantasies) has suggested that the EFF will be the biggest party in next year’s elections. Rather, almost every poll predicts that the ANC will still be the largest party after the elections close.

The big question remains on whether the ANC itself will want to collaborate with the EFF — this question has dominated much airspace from the commentariat.

If the ANC were to get above 50% in next year’s national elections, it is nearly certain that the EFF would have no rental space in the national government. It would continue to wield virtually no formal power.

If the ANC were to suddenly announce it was ending its working agreements with the EFF, and would never work with them in any form again, Malema’s dreams of running South Africa would be dealt a massive blow.

As the DA has already said it will not work with the EFF, this would signal to voters that the EFF was cut off from virtually every aspect of power in national, provincial and local governments.

Equally importantly, it would have no prospect of attaining such power in the short run.

This would reduce the EFF to the regular opposition benches with only the courts to turn to in the hope of changing the course of events.

The internal debates within the ANC on working with the EFF matter to the EFF — and these debates themselves are complicated.

It is a symptom of the ANC’s internal fractures that the Gauteng leadership has been able to continue working with the EFF despite the disapproval of senior leaders such as its secretary-general.

The fact that the ANC councillors in two Gauteng metros have elected mayors from minority parties despite a publicly stated policy position that the ANC will not support people from smaller parties is a striking display of this inconsistency.

But it also shows how difficult it is to make predictions about whether the ANC will in fact agree to work with the EFF in 2024.

The EFF is also affected by the actions of other parties.

Stoking divisions and hatred

Last Saturday, at the EFF’s tenth-anniversary celebrations, Malema sang the song translated as “Kill the Boer, Kill the Farmer”.

While there is nothing illegal in this, it was a deliberate attempt to divide people. It was also an indication, perhaps, that Malema is unable to propose a vision of a united country and seeks political power by stoking divisions and hatred.

But he is not the only one using the old dog-whistle trick.

The DA leader, John Steenhuisen, said he would complain to the United Nations Human Rights Committee about Malema’s actions.

While it is unlikely that he will have any success at reaching this forum, the real aim was to portray Steenhuisen as the protector of white people.

This is the consequence of speaking only to a particular constituency and pitting that constituency against the others.

It is also a consequence of the weakening of the middle. In our politics, the ANC has usually been the “middle”. The fact that it is unable to dominate the national debate on issues like this is an indication of its weakness.

It is this weakness which is probably the biggest benefit to the EFF, and the fact that there appears to be no prospect of the ANC growing its share of the vote, which gives the EFF some strength.

But it is also a consequence of the weakness of other parties.

If the DA were able to provide an alternative message that resonated across diverse constituencies, and, as the most diverse party in the country, was growing strongly, it would be better able to counter the EFF.

The fact it is resorting to legal and technical means to simply fight the EFF may well be a sign that it has no other means to get votes than to campaign against Malema & Co. It also suggests that it is worried about losing votes to the Freedom Front Plus on the right, so much so that it impairs its ability to build a diverse coalition in the centre.

Of course, some factors are well within Malema’s control.

It is obvious that one of the bigger variables in next year’s election will be how people who used to vote for the ANC now vote. There are many voters in this position for Malema to attempt to win over.

Should the EFF tack slightly away from its current political position, to broaden its appeal, Malema could position himself in a way that will retain the votes of those who want radical change, while appealing to those who are closer to the centre but are extremely unhappy with the ANC.

He would not be the first political leader to discover that real power lies in dominating the centre rather than the extremes.

However, as things stand, and as Malema appears to be doubling down on his extreme position, the decisive question remains on whether the ANC will swallow its pride enough to work with the EFF.

But that is a decision for the ANC to make.

Unless things change radically in SA’s political ecosystem, even the weakened ANC is still the party to beat, still the true centre of power. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • The Proven says:

    What is however a fact, is that the EFF succeeded in procuring the resources and have the organisational skill to fill the FNB stadium way beyond capacity. We can frown upon their actions all we like, the point is they are growing. Millions of South Africans are buying their divisive messaging. We should be afraid.

  • Don Andrews says:

    To equate John Steenhuisen to Malema is why I won’t pay for Daily Maverick. How can you be so naive Stephen Grootes?

    • D'Esprit Dan says:

      Read the article again: at no point does Grootes say that Steenhuisen is acting LIKE Malema, rather that he is reacting TO Malema, largely in an attempt to shore up support on the right of his own party, with the threat from the FFP eroding that support base.

      The DA is in a difficult position, in that much of its core base is white, middle-class, with significant support from other minorities and a small black minority (in total voter terms), so he has no choice but to go out and bat for that group, whilst trying not to alienate others – the march over the threat to Coloured and Indian jobs recently was one of those attempts to portray the party as not one exclusively protecting white privilege. But for me, until the DA moves on from having the likes of Zille and Steenhuisen acrobatically scoring own goals whilst having their feet firmly in their mouths, they will never threaten to be any more than an opposition party outside of the Western Cape. It’s a real pity, because they’ve got the most sensible policies in South Africa, for the most part.

      • A Concerned Citizen says:

        Hi Dee Bee, I agree with some of your comment, but the idea that the DA is a white party needs to be corrected. I quote the Social Research Foundation as recounted in Leon Schreiber’s article:
        “Out of the 25% of all voters who support the DA nationally, 32% are black. But the key to the DA’s urban growth is that it also attracts similarly substantial support from other groups: 31% of the party’s support base is coloured and 30% white. The DA also attracts the most Indian voters in the country, which adds another 7% to its base.”
        Basic math tells you that a 25% party (depending on current polls) cannot be majorly white when only 7.5% of the population is that race demographic.

        • Carol Green says:

          That may be. But one needs to look at the leadership of the DA and it far too white and their rhetoric is tone deaf. Why do not more middle class black South Africans support the DA??

    • D'Esprit Dan says:

      Just to add to my previous comment, you won’t pay for a newspaper that consistently, daily, speaks truth to power and holds the worst criminals in South Africa – inside and outside of government – to account, because you find one part of one piece that offends your sensibilities? It’s a publication that does more to keep government in check than just about any other public forum in South Africa; it keeps all of us from living in a completely failed state, but you won’t support it (apart from your clicks and complaints) because of one – in my view – misconstrued view of one article? Come on, Don, there are bigger fish to fry than that! Think I may just increase my monthly contribution to help the good fight.

      • P B M .. says:

        Dee Bee, regarding what the DM stands for, you are 100% on point. In my humble opinion, anyone who can afford to contribute something but for reasons known only to them, refuse to, but continue to mooch free reading knowing full well that DM is the one newspaper that is at the forefront of unbiased journalism and who takes no prisoners, should reconsider their options. And I am not connected to the DM in any way other than to be one of their paying subscribers.

  • Sydney Kaye says:

    With regard to the DA you are dead right. It must be obvious that it has focussed on getting back the small slice of voters (from the slightly larger small slice of white voter) who moved to the FF+. This seems to indicate the DA has given up on a national role, and in any event that the mass of voters will see them as the White party they also assumed they were. Moreover competing with the FF+ seems to be mathematically irrational since notwithstanding their differences they are partners in the Moonshot and will act as one in coalition.
    With regard to the EFF, the big mystery to me is why they don’t do better. They are a black party saying all the right things to the desperate masses but are are stuck at around 12%. Perhaps far from being an asset, Malema and his violent rhetoric is a liability

    • A Concerned Citizen says:

      I see things differently. The appeal to the UN is far more than just posturing for votes from a white minority, which as you say does not make mathematical sense. I see this as an example of the DA exercising its values of fairness, equality, and diversity – all of which are threatened by Malema’s racialized rhetoric. Should a white person, or someone of any other race, do something in the same vein, the DA will speak out as well. They demonstrated this a few years ago with the Schweizer-Reyneke incident (admittedly this turned out to be premature and not strategic as the teacher was exonerated and the DA was left with egg on its face here after being too hasty to speak out). The DA is the most diversely supported party in South Africa and has the most diverse political candidates. That is an irrefutable fact, and all of this conspiracy of it being a white party is unhelpful and ignorant.

      • Dani Werner says:

        I’ve seen your comments around in other articles as well, and I just need to say that I like how you think and explain things. You add to these articles when you comment, and I’ll be looking out for your insight as I read the news!

      • Martin Ernst says:

        Well said, thank you.

  • Denise Smit says:

    Can Malema fit through the eye of a needle for the ANC? Of course not. Steven, you and friends do not judge the DA on the same criteria as other parties, you always ignore their successes and lift out any small weakness. You are the biggest marketing force for the EFF

    • Paddy Ross says:

      And also portrays almost any action of the DA as being for the benefit of whites, whether substantiated or not, thereby perpetuating the myth that the DA is only interested in people with white skin. The media must bear most of the blame for impeding the DA in its defence of democracy.

  • Jennifer D says:

    How do you consider inciting violence against white people not illegal. So it’s illegal for a little estate agent to post something mildly offensive in her private Facebook, but a public figure in authority can incite to violence by singing Kill the Boer bang bang without consequence. Where do you find that “not illegal”. There is massive hypocrisy here – white people are a minority group – we are being systematically discriminated against.
    Why is this racism considered acceptable?

    • Gerrie Pretorius says:

      Agreed. How can an obvious racist song not be racist, but singing “Die Stem” or displaying the old SA flag is? Bullsh1t!

  • Jeremy Stephenson says:

    It’s quite extraordinary that the DA isn’t able to attract the solid centre of voters despite the manifest incompetence and dishonesty of the ANC on the one hand and the delusional posturing of Julius Malema on the other. And the decision to appeal to the UNHRC, of all things, is just another political gift to the DA’s opponents. It’s as if there isn’t a single person in the DA leadership with an ounce of political savvy.

    • D'Esprit Dan says:

      I’m with you 100% on this. But when your National Chair (or whatever Zille’s positions is) is becoming less and less able to read a room with every passing day, and seems to bulldoze her way through the party, is it surprising?

      • Dermot Molloy says:

        So true!! Once The DA have credible, competent Black leaders at the forefront of the party they will see a significant growth in black membership & black votes for the party. Zille has indeed has played a commendable role in the DA’s success but she is now well past her ‘sell by date’ & is seriously holding up the future growth & success of the DA.

    • A Concerned Citizen says:

      Why shouldn’t the DA go to the UN? The structures here in South Africa have proved immovable, the national government is complicit in its silence. Where else in the world do you think this kind of race-baiting and violent rhetoric would be tolerated? I applaud the DA for exercising their values of freedom, fairness, equality, and diversity.

  • David Lewis says:

    Excellent, succinct analysis

  • Beyond Fedup says:

    No party is perfect, but the DA is by far the best in the land i.e. honest, efficient, service-orientated etc. It is NO accident that 34 out of 257 municipalities in SA get a clean bill of health, the huge majority of them DA-run. Any decent and right-thinking South African can only vote for them if they want progress and a better country for all, and other like-minded smaller parties like the IFP, Action SA etc. The putrid, cursed and thieving anc and eff , are one and the same, belong to a miserable and failed past, where corruption, poverty, bankruptcy etc. are the order of the day, except for the chosen few i.e. cadres, poodles and elites.

  • Fernando Moreira says:

    Amazing the clarity of the comment ” using the old “dog whistle trick”

    Again the bias of equaling this as an attempt to protect white people, to the Eff ‘s deliberate singing
    ” Kill the boer ,kill the farmer ” is beyond belief !
    I am white i vote DA, but i dont need a protector !!
    I need a voice that shouts for the common good of people of a country shouting out for help against plunderers and fascists !
    I say well done DA ,when many others sit and watch !

    Very poor

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