6% is all it takes

2014-09-01 06:45

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Even though the EFF won only a fraction of the vote, it has raised its hand as the unofficial opposition. But how will the ANC respond?

It has been an extremely exciting week and a half, what with the red overall and maid uniform brigade storming the Bastille, as it were, leaving President Jacob Zuma miffed and being hastily escorted out of Parliament.

And then there was the letter from Public Protector Thuli Madonsela to Zuma on the same day as the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) drama, so the ANC tells us, also asking in perhaps a less pointed way: “When are you paying back the money?”

Add to this mix Jessie Duarte and her boss at ANC headquarters, Gwede Mantashe, who see in Madonsela a “populist” in cahoots with the EFF to the point of synchronising the attacks. National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete wants the EFF to justify why its members should not be suspended.

The answer is going to be extremely interesting.

That is because, as a “6% party” (Duarte made it a point of reminding us), the EFF is not in Parliament to change laws. That is done by the governing party with its more than 60% representation. Of course, even small parties can initiate and sometimes get a law passed if it convinces the majority party.

But the majority party in this case is not going to take anything from the EFF, not even enough votes to make land accessible for restitution.

So why is the EFF in Parliament? It is a site of struggle. The struggle they have been waging against the ANC and Zuma, in particular, from the time of the fallout between EFF leader Julius Malema and his erstwhile admirer, who saw in Juju a future leader of this country.

When you are engaged in struggle, the end justifies the means. The ANC decided on armed struggle in the 1960s, even though its leaders really wanted a peaceful resistance.

But in the face of the aggression of the white supremacists against the black majority, Umkhonto weSizwe was formed to push the struggle forward. If that would bring freedom, the end justified the means.

The EFF finds itself in the same space. It has about 25 MPs in a House of 400. The ANC is not going to listen to them. So speeches in Parliament serve only one purpose: to generate enough traction to catapult them on to the news pages and bulletins to mobilise more support from the population.

If EFF speeches alone, limited as they are by time due to its 6% status, cannot achieve the propaganda threshold, other means must be deployed.

And so the overalls and maids’ uniforms stay on.

This despite the fact that outside Parliament most of the EFF members are Gucci and Armani faithfuls with jewellery at the level of Breitling wristwatches.

EFF leader Julius Malema chants ‘pay
back the money’ in

The attitude all the time is one of scorn for the institution of Parliament and its Western cultures of “honourable members” and irritant “points of order”.

The EFF calculates to subvert the numbers game of Parliament and in effect take away the 60% from the ANC by dominating the news agenda. And the party has succeeded, thanks to an irritable ANC that plays right into the propaganda tactics.

The dramatics in the Gauteng and Eastern Cape legislatures around overalls were simply unnecessary, yet very effective for the EFF.

I mean, how does Zuma go to a house of debates and say he does not want a debate on the issue he is being asked about.

What indeed if he truly does not want a debate? Does that mean a debate is then banned by presidential decree? It is a red flag to the red bulls and they took him on.

Zuma started off laughing when Malema declared they would not leave the House until they got an answer, but that soon became the scowl in that now serialised picture, before he was whisked away.

Enter the national chairperson of the ANC, who also moonlights as Speaker when she is not fatigued. Was she dealing with rowdy but still honourable members or with “howlers”, as she almost said?

In that moment, was she the Speaker or the national chairperson who has a duty to protect Number?1 and the ANC at all times? Can someone with that level of active senior party leadership be expected to chair an effective Parliament?

I think the conflicts of interest are just too immense, and, whatever the reasons for placing her there, they would not have been to ensure fair treatment of a recalcitrant group such as the EFF.

Desperation is setting in as a result of the ANC’s inability to deal with the EFF, hence the preposterous assertion that the coincidence of the letter and the mayhem on the same day was “interesting”.

Mantashe was even more explicit when he said: “Without accusing anybody, the tight coordination of this offensive is interesting.” Really? Is that what the ANC now believes the EFF is capable of: subverting state institutions and using them to their own advantage, against the govening party, and with the connivance of the key principals of those institutions? It’s mind-boggling.

But there may well be some merit in the populist assertion around Madonsela. Not because of the letter but the follow-ups. In my book, the Office of the Public Protector does not tweet about official issues it is handling with state officials.

Also, if Madonsela is not going to name the senior ANC member who allegedly leaked her letter to Zuma, why make the allegation of being informed confidentially?

For once, the ANC says you are lying and challenges you to name the person, what do you do? The name and the source were given in confidence, which cannot be broken.

Madonsela’s office is an important one that must play it cool, even under extreme provocation of accusations of colluding with opposition parties.

What now? With the DA totally eclipsed by the EFF, the red brigade is not about to back off.

The campaign for local elections is about to start in earnest, so expect more of the same. For them, it’s “a luta continua” until final victory.

Without the resources of the scale that the ANC has, the EFF has to be creative about marketing itself, and the path they’ve chosen has thus far worked beautifully for them.

Does the ANC have the depth to understand this and the maturity to respond in ways that do not feed the propaganda mill?

Judging by the party’s responses up to now, the answer is a definite no.

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