On the EFF and gen­der

The cru­cial in­ter­nal chal­lenge that the party is yet to con­front with vigour is gen­der jus­tice

CityPress - - Voices - Dlakavu is a stu­dent

Four years ago, South Africa was in­tro­duced to the Eco­nomic Free­dom Fight­ers (EFF) in a press con­fer­ence that was dom­i­nated by a sig­nif­i­cant ma­jor­ity of Black men wear­ing red berets. The EFF’s com­man­der in chief, Julius Malema, made a prom­ise: “We will fight against white supremacy and we will fight for restora­tion of Black African dig­nity.” Many of those dis­il­lu­sioned with the cho­sen po­lit­i­cal di­rec­tion by the ANC gov­ern­ment, which pri­ori­tised su­per­fi­cial racial unity with­out jus­tice for the Black ma­jor­ity, joined the move­ment. We heard the echoes of our past as it con­tin­ued to speak. Our past spoke through our ma­te­rial re­al­i­ties, where the faces of poverty con­tinue to be ours, while three white men con­tinue to own the same wealth as the bot­tom half of the pop­u­la­tion, ac­cord­ing to an Ox­fam re­port.

We be­came Fight­ers (pub­licly and pri­vately).

Since its for­ma­tion, the EFF has grown to se­cure its po­si­tion as the third largest po­lit­i­cal party in South Africa and the official op­po­si­tion party in two prov­inces, the North West and Lim­popo. In last year’s lo­cal gov­ern­ment elec­tions, the party in­creased its share of votes by 20%.

For us, mem­bers of the party, the past few years carry many mo­ments of sig­nif­i­cance. Re­mem­ber the cel­e­bra­tion we had when our mem­bers of Par­lia­ment took of­fice and de­manded the re­turn of our land, as well as en­gag­ing in land oc­cu­pa­tions? I do. We were sat­is­fied when Prim­rose Sonti re­minded the po­lit­i­cal elite in Par­lia­ment that fam­i­lies of min­ers mur­dered by the po­lice in Marikana could not feed them­selves, while they lived lav­ishly. We cheered at our TV screens when Sonti told Ja­cob Zuma that he was “heart­less” and “a thief”. Re­mem­ber? We also took pride in the fact that the EFF whole­heart­edly sup­ported #FeesMustFall.

The mass-based move­ment con­tin­ues to grow and, through its media-savvy tech­niques and po­lit­i­cal tac­tics, it cap­tures our na­tional imag­i­na­tion daily. How­ever, the cru­cial in­ter­nal and po­lit­i­cal chal­lenge that the EFF is yet to con­front with the same vigour is gen­der jus­tice. I have spent the past two years look­ing into the party’s gen­der dis­course for my Mas­ter of Arts the­sis. Through my re­search, it be­came ap­par­ent to me that the EFF cen­tres class and race in their the­o­ret­i­cal ground­ing. This the­o­ret­i­cal foun­da­tion in­forms the party’s in­ter­pre­ta­tions to struc­tural ex­clu­sion fac­ing the Black ma­jor­ity in South Africa, as well as their po­lit­i­cal pro­grammes and, as we know, there’s a def­i­nite con­nec­tion be­tween the­ory and prac­tice. By cen­tring race and class sys­tems of op­pres­sion in their the­o­ret­i­cal out­look, the EFF presents gen­der op­pres­sion as a sup­ple­men­tary fac­tor in their “rad­i­cal, left­ist, anti-cap­i­tal­ist and anti-im­pe­ri­al­ist” char­ac­ter.

The priv­i­leg­ing of race and class as the main sources of sys­tem­atic op­pres­sion can be lo­cated in the EFF’s cho­sen ide­o­log­i­cal ground­ing of Marx­ism, Lenin­ism and Fanon­ism. This has al­lowed for the EFF to give ped­a­gog­i­cal author­ity to men who failed to speak to the forms of gen­der op­pres­sion ex­pe­ri­enced by Black South Africans. It has re­sulted in an ide­o­log­i­cal vac­uum in the party’s ap­proach to struc­tural chal­lenges fac­ing Black women in the coun­try. Marx­ism, Lenin­ism and Fanon­ism, as the­o­ries de­vel­oped by men, are in­ad­e­quate in­ter­pre­ta­tive tools to an­a­lyse the sys­tem­atic forms of op­pres­sion ex­pe­ri­enced by the ma­jor­ity of the pop­u­la­tion in the coun­try: Black women.

This the­o­ret­i­cal lim­i­ta­tion in re­la­tion to gen­der has in­flu­enced the EFF’s elec­tion man­i­festo and po­lit­i­cal pro­grammes. Af­ter the 2016 lo­cal gov­ern­ment elec­tion, Gen­der Links gave the EFF a 28% rat­ing on the pro­mo­tion of gen­der aware­ness in their man­i­festo. The EFF was even sur­passed by the ANC, which was rated as the lead­ing po­lit­i­cal party for pro­mot­ing gen­der aware­ness in their elec­tion man­i­festo, at 44%. There­fore, as the EFF con­tin­ues to grow, it is my view that the party needs to broaden its ide­o­log­i­cal foot­ing. That process should be­gin by look­ing at and am­pli­fy­ing the­o­ries de­vel­oped by Black and African fem­i­nists. In do­ing so, the EFF will be chal­leng­ing the “en­trenched colo­nial myths and ex­clu­sion­ary prac­tices that mark African women as per­sons who dare not imag­ine them­selves as in­tel­lec­tu­als and mak­ers of the­ory – the very stuff that in­forms both pol­icy and ac­cess to crit­i­cal re­sources in our so­ci­eties” (Pa­tri­cia McFad­den). If the party con­tin­ues to un­der­play and ig­nore these the­o­ries, it will be ill-equipped to achieve eco­nomic free­dom for all Black peo­ple, es­pe­cially Black women. Fur­ther­more, it will be un­able to dis­man­tle pa­tri­archy and sex­ism, which it de­fines as en­e­mies of the revo­lu­tion en­vi­sioned by the party.

An­other lim­i­ta­tion has been the party’s fail­ure to hold toxic and vi­o­lent forms of pa­tri­archy ac­count­able within its own ranks. Re­cently, two of its male stu­dent lead­ers (cur­rent and for­mer) were ac­cused of rape, yet there has been no in­ter­nal po­lit­i­cal con­se­quence for their ac­tions. In­stead, the Univer­sity of Cape Town’s Stu­dents’ Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Coun­cil was the body that pro­vided ac­count­abil­ity; they were able to act quickly and they sus­pend­ing one of the ac­cused from his po­si­tion un­til in­ves­ti­ga­tions were fi­nalised. Both these ac­cused rapists con­tinue their daily po­lit­i­cal work for the party with con­fi­dence. Fur­ther­more, in the re­cent lead­er­ship elec­tions of the EFF Stu­dent Com­mand, some of the women can­di­dates were tor­mented on so­cial media by men within the party. Black women can­di­dates were called whores and ac­cused of “sleep­ing with lead­er­ship for po­si­tions”, in­stead of these men analysing their po­lit­i­cal mes­sag­ing and track record. Again, there have been no dis­ci­plinary ac­tions taken against these men. How are these in­ac­tions a demon­stra­tion of a com­mit­ment to anti-sex­ism by the EFF? Why are toxic forms of mas­culin­ity al­lowed to flour­ish within the party with­out any cost?

The face of the party and its lead­er­ship have made a sig­nif­i­cant shift in the last four years. There were only three women present in the pool of men dur­ing the EFF’s first press con­fer­ence. To­day it is the lead­ing po­lit­i­cal party to achieve gen­der par­ity, ac­cord­ing to Gen­der Links, in the 2016 lo­cal gov­ern­ment elec­tions, at 49%. There are prov­inces like the North West where over 60% of EFF coun­sel­lors are women. Al­though sig­nif­i­cant, the party’s com­mit­ment to gen­der jus­tice can­not solely be re­flected in Black women’s rep­re­sen­ta­tion in lead­er­ship po­si­tions within the EFF, and I say this be­cause of the gen­uine eman­ci­pa­tory pro­ject to ex­ist for us.

I ap­peal to the EFF that gen­der jus­tice needs to move be­yond ac­quir­ing bal­anced num­bers.

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In what way can the EFF broaden its ide­o­log­i­cal foot­ing to pro­mote gen­der equal­ity?

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PHOTO: LEON SADIKI

POWER POL­I­TICS Eco­nomic Free­dom Fight­ers leader Julius Malema dur­ing a media con­fer­ence re­gard­ing state cap­ture

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