t is a warm Tuesday afternoon when crowds gather on a dusty field in the seemingly forgotten mining community of Boitekong in Rustenburg.
Around a tent, a man clad in red Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) regalia is shouting into a microphone: “Shake your bodies and I will give you this very nice shirt.”
The crowd remains unmoved, waiting only for the arrival of party leader Julius Malema.
Thirty minutes after the community meeting is scheduled to start, the gathering is bigger, the people’s excitement building, the messianic reverence characterising Malema’s fans over the past two years plainly evident.
The mining community has gathered to air grievances before the man who has promised to lead them to economic freedom.
When Malema’s convoy – a Mercedes-Benz C200, a Mercedes-Benz Viano and the infamous Golf GTI – come speeding into the venue 55 minutes late, the crowd awakens in deafening cheers and applause. And though he warns them he is not the Holy Spirit and will not provide solutions to all their problems, it appears to fall on deaf ears.
The North West town, which in essence sits on a dump surrounded by streets littered with rubbish, is the kind of environment the EFF has adopted in its two-year existence. It has sought out places where hope has died, the people seemingly betrayed by democracy, and has taken its gospel of emancipation there.
While the populist narrative has won hearts on the ground, it has been a dramatic two years within the party. Its woes started at its national conference in December, where allegations were made that Malema was instructing delegates on how to vote.
There, discord was sown, and eventually that led to four senior members going their own way, starting a campaign to “save the soul of the EFF”.
Khanyisile Litchfield-Tshabalala, Mpho Ramakatsa and Andile Mngxitama – who were all members of Parliament – were later expelled from the party for sowing division. Their breakaway formation struggled to get any credible support before it ran out of steam altogether.
The final member of the “rebel MPs” – as they were dubbed by the media – Lucky Twala, was given a more lenient sentence after he made an effort to engage with the disciplinary procedures of the party.
But now, at Boitekong, elderly people are given a chance to speak. They complain about a leaky sewage system.
It flows into their homes and makes their children sick. They worry about access to water and corruption in the RDP housing system. They have been waiting for years to get RDP houses, they say, but still they wait.
Those who have been frustrated enough to go to the municipality have received no help at all. And it has been that way for many years, they say.
Malema tells the people gathered to see him – either out of loyalty or curiosity – that he has come to them not to campaign for votes but to hear their grievances and take them to Parliament, where their votes have placed him.
“Malema, please my president. Please may I ask about those people who were killed like dogs at Marikana. What has become of their story?
“When I watch TV I see nothing being said about Marikana. It upsets me because I am a parent. Malema, I am begging you to speak about people’s children who died there at Marikana. Do something,” pleads a woman, who identifies herself as Thoko.
The issue of Marikana is one that has been adopted by the party. But the campaign that has mainly come to characterise the EFF is “Pay back the money”.
The party, in essence, shut Parliament down with its deafening calls for President Jacob Zuma to pay back the money used to build his Nkandla homestead.
On every occasion, the chant has been on the EFF’s lips and it has repeatedly brought Parliament to a standstill.
Malema tells the gathering the party has been thrown out of Parliament because it has been fearless in speaking the truth.
MEN OF THE MOMENT Julius Malema (left) and Floyd Shivambu during the Economic Freedom Fighters’ anniversary celebrations