‘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

CityPress - - News -

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.”

PHOTO: TEBOGO LETSIE

ON­WARDS AND UP­WARDS Julius Malema, the leader of the EFF, dur­ing an in­ter­view with City Press

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