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Two contrasting media briefings provide a glimpse of future behaviour of MK party and EFF

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Melanie Verwoerd is a former ANC MP and South African ambassador to Ireland.

The EFF must now figure out how to distinguish itself from the MK party in Parliament. Julius Malema’s more statesmanlike behaviour could be a sign of a new – less disruptive – strategy, while Jacob Zuma’s attempts to undermine the IEC’s proceedings provides a troubling picture of how the MK party plans to operate in years to come.

So, we did it. The seventh national and provincial elections were declared free and fair by the IEC.

I spent a few days at the Results Operation Centre (the ROC). This was not my first time, but it remains an exciting experience. The huge room is abuzz with press from all over the world, as well as political operatives from all the parties that contested the election. 

For many of us who have been involved in politics over the years, it is a bit of a reunion and an opportunity to catch up with old friends and colleagues. (I must have hugged about 500 people, which unsurprisingly resulted in a horrendous flu). 

From time to time, leaders of the political parties would give notice that they were on their way to the ROC. Hungry for stories and visuals, a press scrum would form around them. They would often also then have a formal press conference. This is what happened on what became known as the day of two press conferences. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Elections Dashboard

On the morning Julius Malema arrived with Floyd Shivambu and a group of supporters in red. Malema, with a red Palestinian scarf around his neck, clearly loved the attention (as all politicians do) and then moved to the auditorium for the press conference. 

He started to read a prepared statement. He spoke softly and there was none of the usual bluster. During question time, he warmed up a bit and, as is often the case, held court with some funny anecdotes. But this was a different Malema. He seemed to be more statesman-like and although he didn’t say so directly, he seemed dismissive of the uMkhonto Wesizwe (MK) party and Jacob Zuma. He referred to him as the “old man from Nkandla” who took their votes. 

EFF leader Julius Malema at the IEC Results Operations Centre in Midrand on 1 June 2024. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

In contrast he referred respectfully to Cyril Ramaphosa as President Ramaphosa. He made it clear that the EFF would speak to the ANC about coalitions and would like to govern with them although they would demand major changes to the Constitution. 

Contrary to what was expected he also accepted the outcome of the election despite some of the challenges. “These problems would not fundamentally change the outcome of the election,” he explained.

Malema looked more calm and politically mature than I have ever seen him. It was also interesting that there were very few of his usual inflammatory speeches during this election campaign. 

I think there are two important reasons for this: Clearly, he would like to be considered for a Cabinet position in a coalition, which could lead the way to higher possibilities in the future. 

Apart from personal and collective ambitions, the MK party’s arrival on the political scene has also posed a challenge to the EFF. Over the years, they were associated with disrupting Parliament. Making endless points of order, being kicked out and throwing a few punches became their brand, but now there is a new kid on the block with more seats, who will follow the same disruptive playbook – possibly with even greater effect. 

This became clear when Zuma and his entourage in big puffer jackets arrived later that afternoon. They walked around the ROC as if they were now the government with Zuma at the head. 

At the press conference, there was bluster and threats mixed with many unsubstantiated claims of vote rigging. They made several demands – they wanted a re-run of the election, a commission of inquiry and a delay in the declaration of the vote. “Don’t provoke us by announcing the results on Sunday,” Zuma threatened.

Jacob Zuma

Leader of the uMkhonto Wesizwe party Jacob Zuma arrives at the IEC National Results Operations Centre in Midrand on 1 June 2024. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

It was clear: they were out to make trouble.

Of course, very little came of that threat. EWN reported that Zuma in a typical Winnie Mandela move arrived on Sunday when the President was already speaking after the result had been declared by the IEC. His intention was clear: to draw attention to himself and embarrass the President. 

Thankfully, the ANC was prepared for this and members of SAPS clarified that no one was allowed to enter the building after the President. I can just imagine how Zuma was steaming outside in his official vehicle. 

This gave us a troubling picture of how the MK party plans to operate in years to come, both nationally and provincially. Worryingly, this could result in violence in KwaZulu-Natal if an ANC/DA/IFP/NFP deal leaves the MK party out of the provincial government. Of course, the government is aware of the potential danger and will hopefully deploy enough police, from inside and – importantly – outside the province, since there is a fear that many members of the police tend to favour the MK party. 

In the meantime, the EFF must figure out how to distinguish itself from the MK party in Parliament, which might require a new – less disruptive – strategy.  Malema’s more statesmanlike behaviour at the press conference, might therefore be an indication of what is to come.

Now, that would be a pleasant change. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Paul B says:

    Unless I am proven otherwise, I’m convinced the EFF, and MK are working together. How do you explain the likes of
    Busisiwe Mkhwebane, and Jimmy Manyi – both diehard Zuma supporters, in EFF ranks, and her husband is a soon to be MK Party MP.

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