Malema’s revolution

2013-11-03 10:00

What does the EFF stand for?

In a recent article, Julius Malema, leader of the newly formed Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), stated that “What is to be done?” was the “definitive question of our generation”.

Malema and other leaders of the ANC Youth League were expelled in 2012.

According to Malema, the birth of the EFF was the answer to this key question. But it is easier to ask this question than to answer it – so immensely complex is the political situation in our country, and still so dominant and powerful is the ANC.

Despite his undoubted popularity among the black masses, it is necessary to understand what Malema and his party truly stand for.

Even those more honest ANC leaders and members will concede that Malema is a force to be reckoned with. In fact, that is precisely why we need to understand what he and the organisation represent today in our politics.

It is also important to know what the party represents because the ANC is today under the most serious threat to its rule.

The huge headache and embarrassment of the chronic black-township revolts since 2004, the equally chronic economic crisis, and the fact that the alliance between the ANC, the SA Communist Party and Cosatu has never been as troubled and as vulnerable as it is today, largely defines the gravity of the situation facing the ANC.

But it is what becomes of Malema’s EFF that is probably the most serious concern for the ANC today.

It is clear that those who believed that he was finished after his expulsion from the ANC made a very big mistake. Significant support for the launch of the EFF by Bantu Holomisa’s United Democratic Movement will worry the ANC even more.

But what is the meaning of the “economic freedom” the EFF is fighting for and what will it mean for the poor black majority who are facing and fighting mass poverty, unemployment and related social injustices?

And the vague “radical programme of the African revolution” the EFF is advocating? And just what is the EFF’s “Fanonian” character – based on the deceased Algerian revolutionary Frantz Fanon – about, as Andile Mngxitama described it in a recent interview in the Mail & Guardian?

What must be explained is that Mngxitama takes for granted the public will understand, as is typical of detached intellectuals.

Malema and Mngxitama are often inclined to revolutionary phraseology and demagogy.

Malema was like that before he was expelled from the ANC and he is like that today. In fact, he seems to be on a mission to be sounding more radical than he was when he led the ANC Youth League.

Mngxitama’s perennial conceptual problem is his repeated failure to understand the race-class nexus in South African history, which is often one of the major theoretical weaknesses of African and black nationalism.

The inherent logic of Malema’s current radicalism is to steal the thunder of the ANC, so to say, and present the EFF as the legitimate alternative to an ANC that has departed from its stated goals, like nationalisation.

For those who believe that the ANC has betrayed its goals, this approach could be very attractive, especially in a context of massive and debilitating poverty and unemployment.

Nationalisation is glib and easy talk, but to achieve it is a totally different matter. Besides, there are many examples where nationalisation as state ownership has happily coexisted within a capitalist economy. Britain is just one of the well-known examples.

The EFF is very far from having the organisational and political muscle to launch, and especially win, a campaign for nationalisation in general and in the mining industry in particular.

In this regard, the Socialist and Workers’ Party made an important contribution to the debate on nationalisation by drawing a distinction between nationalisation as formal state-government ownership and nationalisation as public-social ownership, and the relative meaning and implications of both.

Though there is huge potential for the EFF to rapidly grow in the current social crisis, unambiguous policy clarity is essential, especially for voters.

In this pivotal regard at the moment, the EFF appears to be a hodgepodge of African nationalist and somewhat radical currents who are more alienated and embittered by the current leadership of the ANC than having itself a clear vision and set of policies.

But the decision to launch the EFF in the radicalised soil of Marikana was a very smart and strategic move by Malema.

It might well be that the participation by the EFF in next year’s elections against the background of the growing social crisis and Malema’s undoubted popularity will present the first real test of how loyal the majority of the black masses are to the ANC – not the ANC of the 1950s, but the ANC of today.

In this regard, Malema’s popularity among the under-35 black youth, who are the majority of voters it appears, could prove crucial.

But Malema and the EFF must know that while their anger with and deep alienation from the current ANC leadership provides short-term emotional capital to form an opposition party to the ANC and challenge it at the polls in 2014, it is going to require so much more than rhetoric and misguided radicalism on nationalisation and land seizures without compensation.

In this regard, the uncritical support both Malema and Mngxitama have given to Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe is instructive.

» Harvey is the biographer of Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe

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