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In the long game, Cyril Ramaphosa can only lose and Julius Malema has everything to gain


Ismail Lagardien is a writer, columnist and political economist with extensive exposure and experience in global political economic affairs. He was educated at the London School of Economics, and holds a PhD in International Political Economy.

As things stand, Cyril Ramaphosa has no more than six years to get South Africa on the road to shared wealth and prosperity, while Julius Malema has at least a decade to build his base and whip up the emotions of the unemployed, the homeless, the landless and restive young people.

There are foreboding signs that force us to take the Economic Freedom Fighters seriously; not just as a spectacle, a disruptive force in parliamentary politics, and providing a type of pleasurable fear and morbid fascination with rapine, revenge and bloodlust. When Julius Malema says he will be president of South Africa someday, there is every likelihood that he will.

I have always taken the EFF seriously for two main reasons. The first is in the context of the rise of populism in the world over the past two decades or so, with an attendant slide into fascistic or at least authoritarian behaviour coupled with the scapegoating of people.

The second is because in my research on the subject I learnt how some of the world’s most important media outlets ignored or downplayed and even “cooperated with” Adolf Hitler and the Nazis (and the Holocaust) and how some world leaders defanged, romanticised and even admired Benito Mussolini as they rose to power in Germany and Italy respectively. Hard as it may be, let us set all of that aside.

The basic contention here is that Malema has a lot more to gain from playing the “long game” than has President Cyril Ramaphosa. As for Malema, we should not be confused by the nature of his game.

Ramaphosa has between one to five years to play his game. Moreover, there is very little evidence of a more progressive, ethically less compromised and globally more respected person in the ANC that can replace Ramaphosa. Malema wants to govern and time is on his side.

Malema’s strategy and tactics have fertile grounds

Malema’s grand strategy is to become head of state. According to the EFF’s constitution, this would be a type of totalitarian state where the state has privatised most industries, factories, financial institutions and even the fixed property of civilians.

The EFF’s seven “non-negotiable cardinal pillars” are:

  1. Expropriation of South Africa’s land, without compensation, for equal redistribution.
  2. Nationalisation of mines, banks and other strategic sectors of the economy.
  3. Building state and government capacity which will lead to the abolition of tenders.
  4. Free quality education, healthcare, houses and sanitation.
  5. Massive protected industrial development to create millions of sustainable jobs.
  6. Massive development of the African economy and advocating for a move from reconciliation to justice.
  7. Open, accountable government and society without fear of victimisation by the state defence, police and other agencies.

Should the EFF achieve its grand strategy, it is clear from the above what type of society South Africa will be. The readers can reach their own conclusions about whether such a society is desirable, feasible or even sustainable. One way to reach such conclusions would be to measure these seven “non-negotiable cardinal pillars” against similar social orders in history.

As things stand, these principles run against almost everything that Ramaphosa and the ANC stand for, mutatis mutandis. The problem for Ramaphosa is that he has no more than six years to plant the seeds of democracy and a political economy that is more modern, that has tapped into the technological advances of the early 21st century to expand the economy, create jobs, bring more people (taxpayers) into the middle class, and set the country on a course of shared prosperity and stability.

For Malema these six years — should Ramaphosa remain at the top that long — are to focus on building his base; and he has a fertile ground for his populism and promises of a better life.

He promises jobs, and there are millions of young people unemployed. He promises to “take back the land” and there are very many millions of people who are landless, and who consider land ownership as an end in itself and less as a means to an end. To create jobs and to pay for “quality education, healthcare, houses and sanitation” the EFF would nationalise “mines, banks, and other strategic sectors of the economy”.

If we consider the blowback that Ramaphosa received when he said in his Sona that it was business that created jobs, not the government, it is not difficult to reach the conclusion that after the government has nationalised “mines, banks, and other strategic sectors of the economy”, the state would be the main employer.

Malema is in no hurry. He is convinced that Ramaphosa will not finish his term in office. In the meantime, he is building his support base, expanding membership and is likely to cause more instability to undermine the state and the Ramaphosa presidency.

The next official Opposition

The logical first (next stage) of the EFF’s tactical manoeuvres is to replace the Democratic Alliance as the official Opposition. On the face of things, this should be easy. For as long as John Steenhuisen and Helen Zille are the most prominent faces of the DA (and conveniently ignoring everything good that the DA may have achieved or stands for), the EFF and pop-up parties will do what they can to bleed the liberals of black members, followers or voters.

It comes down to race, the demonisation of white people and the scapegoating of non-Africans or “mixed-race” people — unless mixed-race couples have made sure they included real African names when registering their children… Should this shaving of black supporters and voters from the DA be successful, the liberals could end up with less than 10% of the vote. It is not unreasonable to imagine the DA declining to 15%. At the level of perception, something that the EFF will repeat over and again, the DA is a party for white people.

If you further remove black “non-white” DA supporters, white people who are more comfortable with the Freedom Front Plus, people who are drawn to the apparently “coloured” parties — very many of whom feel aggrieved with the ANC — the liberals may drop to 10 or 12% in the longer term (10 years, or so). This would pave the way for the EFF as the official Opposition.

If by that time the ANC remains in second gear, as it currently is, if it continues to be at war with itself, if the corrupt and ethically compromised members remain on the loose, the EFF could seize power in, say, 15 years — at the most.

Between then and now we cannot ignore the possibility of increased violence and disruption, gaslighting and pogroms against “non-African” blacks — especially people believed to be of Asian heritage. There are, of course, “non-African blacks” whose parents have paved their way to glory, and who have associated themselves with the EFF.

What we have then, is an ANC alliance seemingly in decline and obviously fissiparous, an official Opposition that has white people, a minority, that will probably lose more black followers (for as long as Steenhuisen and Zille remain the faces of the DA), the instant (just add water) parties like ActionSA draining members from the liberals and the ruling alliance — and the EFF patiently waiting in the wings.

In this scenario, the ANC (and especially Ramaphosa) does not have time on its side, while Malema has all the time in the world. This might be a frightening scenario for some people, but Malema is a powerful rhetorician and manipulator of emotions; he makes promises that he knows would be impossible to keep, and he has not once let his eye drift from the prize that is the presidency. DM


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  • Rg Bolleurs says:

    The policies of the EFF have been tried before…. USSR, venezuela, cuba, east germany, zimbabwe, communist China under Mao, cambodia under the Kyma rouge and north Korea.

    All of these countries are or were basket cases and hell holes. Most or all of them finally couldn’t even feed their populations. The press does a poor job of pointing this out and owes the public the duty to do so loud and often.

    South Africa has big problems (the main one being that the govt persues ideology over economic growth) but the answer does not lie with the EFF.

    Nationalise land and give the commercial farms to cadres and then watch the country starve.

  • Craig B says:

    SA will be a failed state before all that happens. There is still a decade of ANC to go at least.

  • Coen Gous says:

    Despite some readers claiming that the media gives the EFF too much coverage. Reality is that social media does the work for them. They do not need broad base media coverage at all, least of all online media. Youtube, twitter. etc. does the work for them, for free, and easily accessible. However, Ismail, Malema does not only play the long game better that Ramaphosa, his short term actions of mayhem keeps the EFF in the news virtually everyday, impossible to ignore! He is making fools of prosecutors, judges, anyone whom opposes his viewpoints. A dangerous, very dangerous man.

  • Miles Japhet says:

    Malema is a megalomaniac who has only power and money as his objective. We need to expose his evil agenda and educate the people of the dire consequences for themselves of his populist disastrous policies.

  • Miles Japhet says:

    Malema’s agenda needs to be continuously exposed and the people educated about the disastrous consequences of his populist policies.

  • Sydney Kaye says:

    I’m always a bit suspicious about phrases like ” the blowback he got”.
    Yes from the EFF and the SACP. Noisy and well reported but some more in depth research on that would be more useful than echoing the usual suspects.

  • Susan Keegan says:

    A good analysis of the huge danger Malema poses. Every ANC politician should read this and take note. The longer Juju is left untouched, even when clearly breaking the law, the greater the danger becomes.

  • Lawrence Jacobson says:

    In my opinion, our biggest hope would be that the fragile coalitions that are currently running many of the metros and municipalities are successful in noticeably improving service delivery. There is a saying that every country gets the government it deserves. This despite the horror that other sides of the political fence often feel when their opposition gets elected.

    To me, this highlights two, of many, points worth considering. If South Africa cannot make headway in addressing the legacy of apartheid than it is every South African’s responsibility that populist political platforms gain support amongst our electorate. Secondly, if identity politics remain a primary motivator for our choice at the ballot box, reference the repeated claim of the DA’s lack of a future if led by Steenhuisen and Zille, than once again we will end up with the leadership we deserve. Remember, empty barrels make the most noise.

    So basically, as a country we need to tackle the issues of unemployment and inequality and start voting for people based on demonstrable evidence of capability rather than their sense of humour, fervour and dancing abilities.

  • Rob vZ says:

    Time to teach the history of the Khmer Rouge in our schools, so that the children understand the fatal combination of economic ignorance and revolutionary zeal.
    It might also help to start watering down the Tanqueray at Tasha’s.

    • Graeme de Villiers says:

      2 outstanding suggestions, although the Khmer Rouge is a bit far removed from Chinese history to radically influence our esteemed Ministers of Edukayshin.

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