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