BLF: Zuma’s new BFF

African Times - - Front Page - REBECCA DAVIS This ar­ti­cle was first pub­lished in Daily Mav­er­ick

IF THE events around the Dur­ban High Court last week could be said to have a win­ner, it would not be for­mer pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma or the Na­tional Pros­e­cut­ing Au­thor­ity. It would be Black First Land First (BLF).

At the demon­stra­tions around Zuma’s first court ap­pear­ance, BLF en­joyed a mo­ment in the sun. A move­ment rou­tinely scoffed at or ig­nored for its thug­gish tac­tics sud­denly found it­self given a sheen of po­lit­i­cal le­git­i­macy, al­beit by a for­mer leader.

BLF leader Andile Mngxi­tama ad­dressed cheering crowds, at both the night vigil be­fore Zuma’s court ap­pear­ance and out­side the court it­self, of a size that BLF has hith­erto been in­ca­pable of draw­ing in­de­pen­dently. Other BLF lead­ers made the rounds, giv­ing prac­ticed sound bites to jour­nal­ists

Of course, many of the Zuma fans demon­strat­ing their sup­port out­side court last week may not have even known in ad­vance who BLF were. BLF T-shirts were vastly out­num­bered by ANC T-shirts. But for Mngxi­tama’s move­ment, the mo­ment was also a cam­paign­ing op­por­tu­nity. BLF dis­trib­uted to the crowd glossy flyers promi­nently fea­tur­ing Mngxi­tama’s face, to­gether with text ex­plain­ing the move­ment’s stance on Zuma and eco­nomic lib­er­a­tion.

The endgame? Not just mo­bil­is­ing sup­port for Zuma. The real tar­get is the 2019 elec­tions, which, the In­de­pen­dent Elec­toral Com­mis­sion has con­firmed, BLF is reg­is­tered to con­test.

The Sunday Times even sug­gested that BLF could be­come po­ten­tial king­mak­ers in KwaZulu-Na­tal be­fore the elec­tions. The news­pa­per re­ported that Zuma-favour­ing ANC fac­tions were “pon­der­ing work­ing with Andile Mngxi­tama’s Black First Land First ahead of the gen­eral elec­tion as part of a plan to pun­ish Ramaphosa for Zuma’s re­moval from of­fice”.

The idea seems far-fetched, as Daily Mav­er­ick’s Stephen Grootes has ar­gued on Monday.

BLF’s na­tional spokesper­son Lind­say Maas­dorp also dis­missed the idea in con­ver­sa­tion with Daily Mav­er­ick on Monday.

“On our side we have no work­ing re­la­tion­ship with the ANC,” he said, “though we wish to unite all black peo­ple.”

Zuma has seemed happy to ac­cept the sup­port of BLF, which for­mally be­gan on 4 Septem­ber 2016 with the launch of the #Hand­sOf­fZuma cam­paign.

The rea­son why BLF has de­fended Zuma so en­thu­si­as­ti­cally ap­pears to owe very lit­tle to the re­al­ity of Zuma’s ac­tual iden­tity as man or pres­i­dent, and ev­ery­thing to do with his sym­bolic value. In BLF mythol­ogy, Zuma has be­come a kind of per­se­cuted rev­o­lu­tion­ary.

It is a far cry from Andile Mngxi­tama’s per­for­mance in Par­lia­ment as an EFF MP, where he once sass­ily hinted in the Na­tional As­sem­bly at Julius Malema’s in­tel­lec­tual su­pe­ri­or­ity over Zuma:

“There is noth­ing that our Pres­i­dent, Mr Ja­cob Zuma, can say or think that can pos­si­bly fly above the head of [Julius Malema],” Mngxi­tama said.

Zuma re­ceived in­ter­nal crit­i­cism from the ANC for not dis­tanc­ing him­self from BLF be­fore step­ping down as pres­i­dent. Out­side court on Friday, he even had a spe­cial wave for the group. The re­al­ity is, how­ever, that BLF’s ac­tions in sup­port of Zuma may have rel­a­tively lit­tle to do with the for­mer pres­i­dent and ev­ery­thing to do with BLF grasp­ing an op­por­tu­nity for po­lit­i­cal mo­bil­i­sa­tion. In other words, BLF is us­ing Zuma as much as Zuma may be us­ing BLF.

A num­ber of me­dia out­lets seem to have taken an in­for­mal de­ci­sion in re­cent years to ig­nore BLF, as a re­sult of their in­cen­di­ary state­ments and threats of vi­o­lence to­wards jour­nal­ists. But BLF’s po­si­tion­ing in Dur­ban last week was clever: it en­sured them both me­dia ex­po­sure and ac­cess to a much wider au­di­ence than nor­mal.

Whether any of that sud­den mo­men­tum can trans­late into ac­tual votes at the bal­lot box in 2019, how­ever, re­mains to be seen. The ex­tent of BLF’s true sup­port is largely un­known, though has al­ways been be­lieved to be mi­nus­cule – judg­ing by the tiny numbers its past protests have pro­duced.

Maas­dorp claims, how­ever, that au­dited BLF mem­ber­ship numbers from 2017 ex­ceeded 100,000.

An­other mys­te­ri­ous as­pect has been BLF’s fund­ing sources. 2

The #Gup­taLeaks emails show that Mngxi­tama met with Gupta lieu­tenant San­tosh Choubey in Fe­bru­ary 2016 to ask for money from the Gup­tas. In March that year, he re­ceived an email from the Gupta me­dia team re­quest­ing him to write an ar­ti­cle on the source of fund­ing of the BizNews web­site, fol­low­ing the pub­li­ca­tion of a Gupta le­gal threat on that web­site. The ca­sual tone of that email sug­gested that some fi­nan­cial agree­ment may by then have been reached. 13

But would the Gup­tas still be bankrolling Mngxi­tama’s rel­a­tively in­signif­i­cant group at this highly stress­ful time for them? It seems un­likely. Yet in Dur­ban last week, BLF had the air of a group with ac­cess to some fi­nan­cial re­sources, judg­ing by its printed prod­ucts and the ease with which its lead­ers ap­pear to move around the coun­try. 11

“We get money from sym­pa­this­ers,” was all Maas­dorp would say for now on the topic. “From time to time, we put out a re­quest to see who can as­sist us.”

One known sym­pa­thiser is for­mer Eskom CEO Brian Molefe, whose son Itume­leng Molefe is a close friend of BLF fig­ures in­clud­ing Maas­dorp. Daily Mav­er­ick re­ported in 2017 that BLF protesters sped off from The Gath­er­ing in Molefe’s car.

There were far more pow­er­ful fig­ures than BLF be­hind last week’s Zuma demon­stra­tions, of course. On Monday, it was re­ported that 20% of Dur­ban’s buses may have been rerouted to trans­port Zuma sup­port­ers to the Dur­ban High Court.

Next to that kind of mus­cle, BLF starts to look dis­tinctly small fry.

BLF leader Andile Mngxi­tama BE­LOW: For­mer Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma Pictures: Den­vor de Wee/ Vis­ual Buzz SA

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.