Four years on, the EFF are the king­mak­ers of SA pol­i­tics

They shocked all of us by choos­ing the po­lit­i­cal road less trav­elled, choos­ing not to rush to oc­cupy po­si­tions of power but in­stead play­ing pol­i­tics like chess, writes

The Star Early Edition - - INSIDE - Let’s Talk Frankly

WHEN the EFF burst onto the scene in 2014, I was among the scep­tics who dis­missed them as a group of dis­grun­tled ANC Youth Lea­guers who will prob­a­bly amount to noth­ing. I am here to eat my words.

The EFF has dis­patched it­self ex­tremely well in the last four short years of its ex­is­tence and has shaken the South African po­lit­i­cal land­scape more than any other splin­ter party in the his­tory of the ANC. Even the PAC, which broke away on ide­o­log­i­cal grounds, can­not claim a frac­tion of the suc­cess of the EFF as a solid al­ter­na­tive to its mother body.

I had harsh words against Malema as some­one whose dem­a­goguery was well known to me first-hand but, af­ter his ster­ling track record, I am the first one to with­draw my dis­mis­sive words against him and rather lis­ten to Dali Mpofu’s ar­gu­ment that the fel­low who wanted to die for Zuma has since grown up in leaps and bounds. No one can dis­agree that Malema has punched way above (his weight) as a 30-year-old over the last four years and can eas­ily be counted among the most pow­er­ful politi­cians of our time.

He is a smart strate­gist who is set for great things in the fu­ture of South Africa. But be­yond this charis­matic leader, a strength but pos­si­bly also a weak­ness for the new party, let’s as­sess the nuts and bolts of the DNA of the EFF’s im­pact on our body politic over the last four years.

The na­tional Par­lia­ment is the pin­na­cle of the gov­er­nance of South Africa. Its ex­is­tence as the cross­roads of the tri­an­gle of gov­er­nance is cru­cial and sits at the cen­tre of our con­sti­tu­tional state.

Over the last two decades this cen­tre of ac­count­abil­ity was taken for granted, with par­ties no longer field­ing their best to fill up the seats in Cape Town .

When the EFF fielded their best in 2014 this pic­ture changed. What used to be a slum­ber­land turned into a new fierce plat­form of po­lit­i­cal con­test. The EFF can solely be cred­ited for the res­ur­rec­tion of Par­lia­ment as a place where the na­tional pulse of dis­course can now be felt. A few years ago, when Cope en­tered par­lia­ment, I wrote a piece that sug­gested that if Par­lia­ment were to be closed no one would be both­ered. I could never sug­gest such a thing to­day, be­cause the EFF has made Par­lia­ment mat­ter.

Quite frankly, the EFF saved Par­lia­ment from the tooth­less body that the ANC had turned it into, mak­ing min­is­ters take it for granted and the pres­i­dent dis­re­gard it. The Nkandla saga alone re­stored the teeth Par­lia­ment has and we have seen MPs be­gin­ning to take their right­ful place in hold­ing the ex­ec­u­tive to ac­count.

Make no mis­take, though, this im­pact did not come with­out col­lat­eral dam­age. The erst­while deco­rum of the house and the ex­po­si­tion of poor lead­er­ship across the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum were some of the rev­e­la­tions of the fifth demo­cratic Par­lia­ment.

One of the things that the EFF has been able to thrust into the na­tional dis­course is what one can loosely be termed pol­icy dis­tor­tion. Be­cause the EFF poli­cies are frankly not orig­i­nal, but an X-rated ver­sion of ANC poli­cies, the ANC has not yet fig­ured out how to counter the EFF with­out be­ing seen to be kow-tow­ing to their erst­while youth league. This has caused ut­ter chaos within the move­ment but, iron­i­cally, po­si­tioned the EFF as a thought leader on the cru­cial is­sue of eco­nomic eman­ci­pa­tion. The land pol­icy schizophre­nia within the ANC was a di­rect re­sult of this un­de­ni­able im­pact by the EFF. Who would have ever thought that the ANC would be di­vided about whether to sup­port an EFF-spon­sored par­lia­men­tary mo­tion on land?

The EFF’s rad­i­cal ap­proach is now likely to be adopted by an ANC con­fer­ence this De­cem­ber, plac­ing the ANC toe-to-toe with the EFF on con­vinc­ing the voter about who is more se­ri­ous about land re­form. Other eco­nomic ques­tions can be un­der­stood sim­i­larly with the ANC’s be­lated slo­ga­neer­ing about Rad­i­cal Eco­nomic Trans­for­ma­tion seen only as a poor re­sponse to the EFF’s con­sis­tency on prop­a­gat­ing for rad­i­cal eco­nomic change. The ANC has had 23 years to im­ple­ment such poli­cies, to no avail.

It is no ex­ag­ger­a­tion that the EFF has mas­tered mass mo­bil­i­sa­tion more than any other party in South Africa, cul­mi­nat­ing in a rel­a­tively good show­ing from zero to over 800 rep­re­sen­ta­tives across South Africa’s mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties. The vis­i­ble sup­port on cam­paigns, marches, ral­lies and door-to-door mo­bil­i­sa­tion can be com­pared with par­ties with long-stand­ing or­gan­i­sa­tional ma­chiner­ies, ie the ANC and the DA. The ANC did not do it­self any favours by pub­licly fail­ing to fill up the Nel­son Man­dela Sta­dium last year ahead of the lo­cal poll lead­ing to its dis­mal per­for­mance in the elec­tions. While the EFF did not con­vince a sin­gle mu­nic­i­pal­ity to hand it to­tal gov­er­nance, only the to­tally blind won’t come to the con­clu­sion that the EFF was the big­gest win­ner of the lo­cal gov­ern­ment elec­tions while its neme­sis, the ANC, was the big­gest loser.

The EFF shocked all of us by choos­ing the po­lit­i­cal road less trav­elled – it chose not to rush to oc­cupy po­si­tions of power but in­stead play­ing pol­i­tics like chess, giv­ing it­self space to grow and be bet­ter pre­pared to take over the gov­er­nance of South Africa in the fu­ture. I strug­gled to find too many peo­ple who faulted this ap­proach. We should, how­ever, not ig­nore the al­ter­na­tive nar­ra­tive that they should have picked one cen­tre of ex­cel­lence where they could test some of their rather un­re­al­is­tic poli­cies. The EFF’s Achilles Heel is prob­a­bly their pol­icy ex­u­ber­ance as con­tained in their so-called seven car­di­nal pil­lars.

The most pop­u­lar of th­ese is the na­tion­al­i­sa­tion of mines. While ini­tially they seemed to be call­ing for whole­sale na­tion­al­i­sa­tion they have since re­vised this to lim­ited na­tion­al­i­sa­tion of mines which may well not be far from the ex­u­ber­ant pro­nounce­ments made by the min­is­ter of min­er­als. Their pol­icy has yet to stand ro­bust scru­tiny in this re­gard and will need them to win na­tional elec­tions to im­ple­ment, in any event.

The generic ref­er­ence to na­tion­al­i­sa­tion of other strate­gic sec­tors of the econ­omy, most no­tably the banks, re­mains above the heads of even the most rad­i­cal of econ­o­mists. This is likely to be what makes those who want to come closer to the EFF scep­ti­cal. This pol­icy of na­tion­al­is­ing banks makes the EFF more rad­i­cal than even the Com­mu­nists who want So­cial­ism now. So they get a nought from me, not for dream­ing and imag­in­ing the world be­ing a kinder place, but for not ap­ply­ing their minds to the tac­tics of eco­nomic rev­o­lu­tion where this is con­cerned.

I agree with the EFF that we need a re­formed state with high ca­pac­ity. The propo­si­tion to get rid of ten­ders makes no sense at all. No mat­ter how ca­pac­i­tate the state can be there will be things that it can­not do by it­self, be­cause it is not, and should not be, its core busi­ness. I un­der­stand the need for the EFF to be seen to be against ten­ders be­cause of their own back­ground in be­ing wrongly in­volved in the prac­tice not so long ago. But the truth is there is noth­ing wrong with ten­ders – there is ev­ery­thing wrong with cor­rup­tion over ten­ders. Ten­ders are a way of bring­ing cit­i­zens on board to com­ple­ment the ca­pac­ity of the state and a good gov­ern­ment will use its brain to de­ter­mine which ar­eas of de­liv­ery it will out­source and which it will in­source.

At the end of the day, the EFF has proved to be the mover and shaker of our pol­i­tics; whether it be mak­ing Zuma pay back the money or kick­ing the ANC off its perch in three big met­ros – you can only ig­nore the EFF at your own peril. In view of fu­ture gov­er­nance, it is im­por­tant to ask the ques­tion: Can the EFF lead our na­tion out of the ter­ri­ble eco­nomic pic­ture brought on by the Zuma ad­min­is­tra­tion, or will their pol­icy tra­jec­tory al­ways need mod­er­a­tion to sur­vive the hard global re­al­i­ties?

The EFF has to guard against the cult of per­son­al­ity. Julius Malema is a larg­erthan-life per­son­al­ity whose pas­sion and en­ergy will not be repli­cated eas­ily across all spheres of gov­er­nance where the EFF is hop­ing to make an im­pact. Lead­ers like Dali Mpofu, Floyd Shivambu, Gadricjh Ghadi and Man­disa Mashego must take more cen­tre stage in ar­tic­u­lat­ing what the EFF is about. This will be in keep­ing with the EFF as a mass-based party and not a splin­ter led by one charis­matic leader – this was an ex­cel­lent start of a gov­ern­ment-in-wait­ing but a lot of slog lies ahead if that dream is to ma­te­ri­alise.

You can only ig­nore the EFF at your own peril

Ta­bane is au­thor of and host of Power Per­spec­tive on Power 98.7

HARD CORE: Julius Malema and Floyd Shivambu of the EFF lis­ten in­tently to for­mer min­is­ter of fi­nance Pravin Gord­han de­liv­er­ing his sev­enth bud­get speech in the Na­tional Assem­bly in Par­lia­ment ear­lier this year.

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