The “recall” of the EFF’s former KZN chair, Vusi Khoza and the resignation of the DA’s Mpho Phalatse this past week offer outsiders a glimpse into the political wonderlands that both inhabit.
In the 1939 Hollywood classic The Wizard of Oz, based on a children’s book by Frank Baum, the main character, Dorothy, and her dog, Toto, find themselves transported during a Kansas tornado to the imaginary Land of Oz.
There, along the yellow brick road en route to the Emerald City to consult the Wizard, Dorothy meets a cast of characters who believe that only the leader can solve their problems.
Political parties have their own established cultures and their wizards, their Emerald Cities, where leaders direct the fates and fortunes of their officials, members and supporters.
Well, at least the old established parties in South Africa. Tick tock.
Unlike in the film, where it is revealed that there is no Wizard behind the curtain and that problems are your own to be solved, the EFF and the DA do have their powerful puppet masters, directing events.
Khoza has now been punished by the party’s “Commander-in-Chief”, Julius Malema, along with about 200 other party officials, for failing to rustle up a crowd.
These members, MPs, MPLs and councillors, have now been consigned to the outskirts of party leadership, forfeiting their salaries, for failing to cough up for buses to transport supporters to the EFF’s 10th anniversary jamboree at FNB Stadium in July.
Just like that. Very Apprentice.
So normalised is this unkindness, this arbitrariness, in the EFF that it is accepted as correct and natural.
No good deed
Khoza, who was a recently sworn-in MP for the EFF, as chairperson of the party in KZN, quadrupled support for the red brigade. But no good deed goes unpunished, as the saying goes.
Somehow this did not translate into a real physical presence at the birthday bash. A bit like election results in the real world. The CIC was clearly deeply wounded that so many loving supporters were denied the once-off opportunity of beholding him ascending, like Michael Jackson, on a hydraulic crane above the mortals who had come to pay homage.
Khoza had been summoned to meet the EFF Wizards “to make representations” about his dismal failure as a human being, he has disclosed. Khoza reportedly responded that it was all very simple: “I made my representation to the leadership and I explained that I live in a rural area of uMgababa; there are no rich people here who can assist me with buses, and I told them that there were those who promised that they could assist me, but they dropped me in the last minute,” he said.
No rich people, no VBS branches either.
He did not feel “hard done by” and accepted his fate “like you accepted it when you were deployed”, stated Khoza like a true Scarecrow.
The Scarecrow of Oz, in case you need reminding, has no brain. Among Dorothy’s other companions, the Tin Man has no heart, the Lion has no courage and the Wicked Witch of the West deploys her “flying monkeys” on Dorothy and her comrades to distract them.
In Western popular culture, the flying monkeys have come to represent forces that enable malevolent masterminds to weave chaos and division.
“We serve at the behest of the organisation, and, for whatever reason, the organisation can decide you are not fit for purpose and remove you. It is nothing personal. Deployment works like that. It is here today and gone tomorrow,” Khoza said.
Whatever happened to political longevity?
But perhaps that is not Malema’s goal. He will survive without the EFF. He stands on the shoulders of his supporters below.
Anyone who lost several hours of their lives watching the EFF’s second elective conference in 2019 will understand just how desperately poor the “ground forces” of the EFF are. Delegate after delegate pleaded with leadership for direction and assistance, to which leadership responded with platitudes and barked orders.
“You must all become Julius Malemas,” the CIC informed acolytes. The time had come for members to refrain from door-stopping leadership for funds. Those were for use only in the Emerald City.
The good doctor
The DA’s Phalatse found herself passing twice through the revolving door leading to the mayoral office in Johannesburg before resigning this week to return to practising medicine.
For a party that has seen the haemorrhaging of black women from its leadership ranks – Lindiwe Mazibuko, Mamphela Ramphele, Phumzile van Damme, Mbali Ntuli, Patricia Kopane – Phalatse’s exit was to be expected.
Earlier this year, the good doctor lost her bid for the DA leadership in a battle against John Steenhuisen, who has now consolidated his “Moonshot” political opposition pact (or “Manshot Pact”, as my colleague Ferial Haffajee has termed it).
Phalatse also clashed with the DA’s federal Wizard, Helen Zille, about her proposal to work with the EFF in the municipality.
Phalatse had argued that the suggestion had not been a formal coalition agreement but would play out as in Ekurhuleni and Mogale City where the DA had a “good working relationship” with the EFF in an oversight role.
But Zille sees red when she sees red and categorically shut down any rapprochement, saying the EFF was a party that called on its followers “to murder people on the basis of their race”.
Exiting DA leadership but remaining a member of the party (for now), Phalatse said she would make a “better, meaningful and invaluable contribution elsewhere”.
She concluded with Dorothy-like clarity that the “changing political and economic climate have necessitated that I embark on a process of introspection and reflection regarding my future…”.
There was a time when professional politicians were able to walk the yellow brick road for much of their careers. Today it is indeed here today, gone this evening.
South Africans have all been asking: where are the women leaders in the old dinosaur parties who hope to contest the elections next year?
This does present a golden opportunity for all the Dorothys out there to stop looking for a Wizard and maybe set up your own Oz.
And as for poor Vusi Khoza, we wish him well on the journey to find his own mind. DM
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.