‘The EFF will rule in 2019’
Four years since the fledgling party was founded, its founder and leader reflects on its past and, more importantly, its future
Three years ago, I got a call at 11:45pm on a Friday from an annoyed Julius Malema. He said that I was being “extremely unfair” for not giving the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) enough time to respond to questions regarding staff members who were dragging the party to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA). It was a difficult time for the then one-year-old party. A few months before the CCMA controversy, the party had expelled three members of Parliament who had soured relations following its first elective conference where all three turned down nominations for top six positions. A sense of paranoia gripped the party as wave after wave of negative publicity rocked it.
For a moment, it looked as if the fighters would take the same route as the Congress of the People (Cope) – imploding before anyone got a chance to get drunk and nurse a hangover.
“We knew when we were forming a party that all these types of things could happen. I was sitting in a strategic committee that destabilised Cope. So, I know what they [the ANC] do,” Malema said this week, rocking back and forth quite comfortably in a chair at the EFF’s headquarters.
According to Malema, that committee unearthed proof that North West Premier Super Mahumapelo – a loyal ally to President Jacob Zuma – was part of Cope, participating in strategy meetings with the then newly formed party. The commander-in-chief said that information was passed on to Zuma, who did not take any action against Mahumapelo.
“I am just saying this to demonstrate to you that I was involved in those things, I know how I should respond when certain things happen in the EFF,” he quipped.
Since that midnight call, the party has successfully led a campaign to have Zuma pay back money for non-security upgrades at his Nkandla homestead and managed to become the kingmaker in three major metros where the ANC was unceremoniously removed from power.
He recalled how his younger brother was furious after the 2014 elections where – as a party agent – he observed their grandmother’s friends voting for the ANC in Seshego instead of the EFF. “I told him that no one was going to trust a new idea, we are paying for the sins of the UDM [United Democratic Movement] and Cope and other parties that came before us. These people want to see if we will do things differently.”
Malema said that his brother now called him with updates on the very same people who were sceptical of the EFF and were now living in party regalia, “refusing to take it off”.
“One of the statements I used to utter in the beginning was, ‘I don’t preside over failed projects’.”
A challenge for the party – particularly during big campaign periods – was the “Malema effect”, which continued to draw crowds in their thousands. The party constantly had to deny that there would be no EFF without Malema.
“I think we have gone beyond the Julius Malema phenomenon. The leadership of the EFF gets to be recognised as leaders in their own right,” he insisted again this week, saying that he had stepped back from the running of projects and day-to-day operational activities.
“The organisation has assumed a life of its own and it is now running without me,” he said.
Still, he has found a way of keeping his finger on the pulse by requesting reports of all activities and ensuring that “this movement of the people is not going to be embarrassed”.
He takes on a more authoritative tone when speaking about the reports. In the run-up to last year’s elections, the party held a mini rally in Mpumalanga. As it began, the crowd trickled in more slowly than the organisers had expected. Nervous looks betrayed some ground forces who were clearly anxious about the turnout ahead of Malema’s arrival.
I asked one of the leaders why they were so afraid of Malema. “Phela, that man is God,” retorted the wide-eyed young leader as if in disbelief of what I had asked.
A few months later, while on the campaign trail in Limpopo, I also raised the incident with Malema. “Who is calling me God?” he asked, clearly angered.
“I am not a dictator, I just expect people to do their jobs the right way, in the same way that I do mine,” he asserted.
The 36-year-old leader said he had no regrets of what would be a four-year journey next week.
“Personally, one has grown from one experience to another. I got married and now I have another child. I must still make another one soon and another one soon after and another one after that [fifth] so that my wife and I can finish making babies, hit the gym, get back into proper shape and start to enjoy all the beautiful beaches in South Africa,” he said, giving a rare glimpse into his personal life.
Having shed nearly half his bodyweight last year, he said he was not done yet. The next task would be to “build muscles”.
Next week, the party plans to play in Zuma’s back yard, taking a great risk by hosting its four-year anniversary celebrations in KwaZulu-Natal where the EFF has struggled to make serious inroads. The party’s provincial leadership in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape were disbanded and placed under administration last year when the party failed to achieve preferred figures.
Malema confirmed that plans were underway for a similar project in the Western Cape, where the party needed to exploit an area where the ANC was at its weakest. However, the greater goal was 2019, where the party would look to unseat the ANC alongside other opposition parties.
“I tell you now, 2019 is going to be interesting. It is going to be a big year. It is going to be a turning point in South Africa.
“What is happening in the ANC was initiated by the EFF because, had the EFF not taken the metros from the ANC, these ANC cowards would not have seen anything wrong. We would have given them the metros and the first words they would have uttered [would have been] nonsense such as ‘ANC lives, ANC leads’. Once they say that, you know they are saying, all is well.
“They didn’t say that after losing control of the metros. Once they couldn’t utter those words, they knew they were in crisis. Now they are beginning to stand up one by one saying, ‘we need to act’. It is because of the EFF, but it is too late, it is just too late.”
ONWARDS AND UPWARDS Julius Malema, the leader of the EFF, during an interview with City Press