Max du Preez

Why the EFF is likely to go home to the ANC

2017-08-01 09:02
Supporters at the EFF’s fourth anniversary celebrations in Durban yesterday. Picture: Siyanda Mayeza

Supporters at the EFF’s fourth anniversary celebrations in Durban yesterday. Picture: Siyanda Mayeza

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So the EFF has survived for four years and, unlike the other ANC split-offs, Cope and the UDM, it is still growing.

But my looking glass tells me that the EFF’s best chance of being in government soon would be in alliance with the ANC.

The media seem to be more in love with the red berets than the voters.

Having said that, the party has an energy and Julius Malema is a leader that would ensure that it plays an influential role in our political and national life, at least until 2019.

The EFF’s 6,3 percent support in the 2014 general election was impressive, seeing that the party was just about one year old then.

Voting patterns are different in national and local elections, but it was still significant that the EFF only increased its support by 2 percent between the 2014 election and the 2016 local elections.

This was despite the massive media coverage the EFF had generated in that time.

During the EFF’s fourth birthday celebrations last week Malema and his leadership boasted that the party was growing very fast and was on its way to become a majority party.

If the pace of growth between 2014 and 2016 is sustained, the EFF would probably only get 10 percent or so of the national vote in 2019.

In contrast, the DA’s growth trajectory since 2009 could mean they could get to the 30 percent mark in 2019, as things stand now.

But these are mere calculations. The reality could be very different. 

Opinion surveys indicate that most EFF supporters are younger than thirty. Two-thirds of all South Africans are under 35 years old and this is clearly the best market for a political party to capture.

If one accepts that the millions of young, mostly poor and often unemployed black people are the EFF’s most natural primary constituency, the party could theoretically have the potential to grow into a major player in years to come.

The reality is that few really poor and marginalised people bother to register as voters, and if they have, to turn up at the polling booths. Their lives are just too desperate. This is also the case in other developing countries.

The EFF hasn’t gone out of its way to mobilise this group, organise them into branches and getting them to register as voters.
It seems to believe that radical talk, theatrics and symbolism are its best weapons to grow its support.

It has in fact now decided to grow its support, so far concentrated in Limpopo, Northwest and Gauteng, to KwaZulu-Natal and last week they went to suck up to the Zulu king.

Its growth potential in this region doesn’t look strong.

Malema and senior colleagues like Floyd Shivambu, Mbuyiseni Ndlozi and Dali Mpofu have matured a lot politically and are not as raw as in the early days, but their rhetoric and policy proposals are still rather crude and race-obsessed.

Sometimes they even create the impression that they’re more focused on avenging white people than in growing and transforming the economy in the interest of the majority.

Malema’s statement last week that all white South Africans, without exception, are white supremacists was a deeply racist thing to say because it suggests a genetic imperative to certain attitudes.

I also found his statement about Indian South Africans gross stereotyping.

No serious economist or agricultural expert would disagree that the EFF’s insistence that all land be expropriated without compensation would be catastrophic for the economy, stability and food security.

The party’s simplistic, purist socialist policies have demonstrably failed in every society that had adopted them.

It is not an exact science to measure the attitudes of voters, but my sense is that the EFF overestimates the power of radical rhetoric, crude race politics and theatre.

Some voters would join in on social media, but I think the ordinary South African voter is actually more pragmatic and focused on real solutions that would deliver a better and fairer society.

Many citizens are entertained by the EFF’s violent shenanigans in Parliament, but I don’t believe these theatrics have much of an impact any longer. Refusing to be in Parliament when the president was present, for instance, was counter-productive.

“Give our land back” has become a popular slogan, but this is more about symbolism and assertiveness than reality.

Relatively few people have the ambition to leave the city for the tough life of working the land – and South Africa is two-thirds urbanised.

Malema and Co targets Jacob Zuma all the time, but in reality there is little difference between the noises the Zuma faction and the ANC Youth League have been making recently and that of the EFF.

Malema is a clever, talented politician with ample charisma. He’s not the kind of politician who would want to be in perpetual opposition. He wants power.

The EFF has celebrated its fourth birthday, but it might not have a sixth birthday party, at least not as a stand-alone party.

After Zuma had gone, and the ANC further weakened because of irreconcilable factions, a coalition with or even merger with the EFF must be seen as likely right now – if Malema is assured of a powerful position.

But until then the EFF will continue to punch way above its weight.

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