Elec­tions will again fo­cus on colour – but this time it’s T-shirts and berets

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - ED CRO­P­LEY

COLOUR has al­ways been cen­tral to South African pol­i­tics, but now, nearly 20 years af­ter the end of apartheid, the tint of your T-shirt mat­ters as much as that of your skin.

While the yel­low, green and black of the rul­ing ANC re­mains dom­i­nant, it is the bright red of the ex­trem­ist party founded by ex­pelled ANC youth leader Julius Malema that is mak­ing the big splash.

The gar­ish shirts and red Che Gue­vara-style berets could help the EFF make their mark in the first elec­tion for the “Born Free” gen­er­a­tion – vot­ers born af­ter apartheid ended in 1994.

The anger of the mil­lions of blacks for whom life has changed lit­tle since then has pro­vide fer­tile hunt­ing ground, and any EFF suc­cess is al­most cer­tain to be at the ex­pense of the ANC. “We are re­cruit­ing peo­ple ev­ery day,” said Happy Le­fekane, a 39-year-old EFF ac­tivist in Bekkers­dal, west of Joburg, which un­der­went a week of ri­ot­ing last month over poor pub­lic ser­vices.

The Bekkers­dal up­ris­ing was no­table for its in­ten­sity and re­jec­tion of the ANC.

When Gaut­eng premier Nomvula Mokonyane went to try and calm the crowd, she made mat­ters worse by telling them the ANC did not need Bekkers­dal’s “dirty votes”. She had to be res­cued from the mob in a po­lice ar­moured ve­hi­cle.

To the EFF feed­ing off the pub­lic frus­tra­tion at the ANC’s per­ceived fail­ings – cor­rup­tion, in­ef­fi­ciency and ar­ro­gance – it was a gift.

“Nomvula has opened up a can of worms. She is the best re­cruit­ing agent we’ve got,” Le­fekane said. “We don’t want her apol­ogy. We want rad­i­cal change.”

Omi­nously, at the height of the un­rest, 20- year- old EFF mem­ber Themba Khu­malo was shot dead out­side his shack by gun­men. No ar­rests have been made, but Khu­malo’s friends are sure he died be­cause of the colour of his beret.

“The ANC peo­ple are the ones who started this,” said EFF mem­ber Ruth Mo­gatwe, 30, at a wake held for Khu­malo a week later. “There’s no proof but I think they’re the ones who killed the guy.”

The EFF’s web­site out­lines ex­pro­pri­a­tion of land and na­tion­al­i­sa­tion of the mines and banks, with­out com­pensa- tion, as cen­tral poli­cies.

It says it has no ma­jor fi­nan­cial back­ers, and funds it­self through small dona­tions and whole­sal­ing party re­galia.

The main­stream dis­misses the EFF as slo­ga­neers, but the raw prom­ise of change – ir­re­spec­tive of the abil­ity to de­liver it – has struck a chord with blacks fed up with wait­ing in dead-end town­ships for houses, jobs and sew­ers.

“The EFF will take vot­ers from the ANC’s pop­ulist flank,” said po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst Wil­liam Gumede, of Wits Busi­ness School in Joburg. “On a very good day, if they can get their vot­ers out, they might get 8 per­cent na­tion­ally.”

In­de­pen­dent po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tant Nic Borain also ad­mits that fore­cast­ing the EFF vote is pure con­jec­ture, but his es­ti­mates stand at 3 to 5 per­cent.

“Malema et al are preter­nat­u­rally good at iden­ti­fy­ing is­sues to max­imise mo­bil­i­sa­tion and are ex­cel­lent at ‘fly­ing picket’ type or­gan­i­sa­tion,” Borain said.

Hav­ing won nearly 66 per­cent of the vote in the last elec­tions in 2009, there seems no prospect of the ANC los­ing its ma­jor­ity next year.

How­ever, its share has been wan­ing and if it polls be­low 60 per­cent, the knives will be out for Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma, whose five years in of­fice have been marked by scan­dal, fee­ble growth and so­cial un­rest.

The broad­en­ing ap­peal of the DA has been nib­bling at the ANC in the cen­tre, but it is the sud­den ar­rival of the EFF on the left flank that has ramped up the chances of an ANC bloody nose.

While the DA is still seen as the party of white priv­i­lege, the EFF car­ries no such racetinged bag­gage, and at Bekkers­dal and other protests it has demon­strated a canny knack for grass- roots or­gan­i­sa­tion, and stay­ing in the lime­light.

This week’s de­fec­tion to the Fight­ers of high-pro­file ANC lawyer Dali Mpofu has even stirred spec­u­la­tion the EFF might lure Win­nie Madik­ize­laMan­dela. She has emerged as a heavy-hit­ting Malema backer.

But the ANC de­nies it fears bleed­ing votes to the EFF, say­ing other new par­ties have come and gone, with no mean­ing­ful dent to its pop­u­lar­ity. – Reuters

HOPE­FUL: EFF sup­port­ers at its of­fi­cial launch in Marikana

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