The EFF’s eternal Dezemba

2014-12-21 15:00

It is that time of the year when madness reigns. It is a time of freedom, of letting go.

Everywhere you turn the catch phrase is Ke Dezemba Boss. It is the time when free spenders and freeloaders achieve equilibrium. The free spenders wantonly throw their kindness around, while the freeloaders benefit from it.

There is free stuff everywhere. From scorching Musina to the burgeoning and bustling metropolis of Butterworth, there is free nyama and there are free drinks galore. Intoxicated individuals are giving freely of their bodies at parties and other joyous gatherings. Retail brochures carry offers of free stuff – of two for the price of one.

Some single malt whisky brands are giving away free glasses and free miniature bottles with each purchase (hint, hint, to all those who have not yet decided what gift to give this lowly newspaperman for Christmas).

Number 1 will be heading to Nkandla to dish out free stuff to elderly villagers. There will be much dancing and singing as the father of dozens plays Father Christmas, and hands out food parcels and all sorts of goodies.

Not his own stuff, mind you. Being the legendary freeloader he is, he will have solicited the goodies from other people and put them in nice Christmas wrapping for the grateful pensioners.

It is probably in this spirit of giving freely that the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) pledged to fight for South Africans to get all sorts of free stuff. The party came out of its founding congress, dubbed the National People’s Assembly, with a raft of proposals about giving citizens many benefits.

By far the one that got the most media coverage was the call for the poor to invade unoccupied land. The party’s resolution on land and agrarian reform suggested that current government policy was far from adequate and more drastic measures had to be taken to deal with the effects of colonisation and dispossession.

The red brigade said the property clause should be scrapped and municipalities should be empowered to expropriate land and redistribute it.

“We must invade unoccupied land and also engage the Legal Resources Centre to assist those who have occupied land,” the party’s Shelly Mokhothu said this week.

Seeking to go one better than the ANC, the EFF also wants social grants to be replaced with vouchers so beneficiaries get free clothes and free food. It wants the National Student Financial Aid Scheme – under which the state lends tertiary fees to students – scrapped and all students to be given free education until they have finished undergraduate studies.

Under the Utopian EFF government, if you get sick, you will be able to walk into any health facility and be treated for free.

So you get the picture. Life will be beautiful under an EFF government. We will have free things from here to heaven.

But judging by the evolution of the party’s internal culture, the infatuation with free things ends with the goods that will be handed out to an appreciating public. Internally, the word ‘free’ is not so cool.

By most accounts, the party’s commander in chief, Julius Malema, runs the party like a commander, not a leader. It appears he and his lieutenants have imported the worst aspects of the ANC’s “democratic centralism” into their new party. Mixed with his autocratic nature is his

bullyboy attitude. This has already led to tensions in the party with mini revolts taking place in several provinces.

It nearly led to the collapse of the congress last weekend when delegates rebelled against his imposition of an election slate. It was meant to ensure that Malema’s preferred candidates occupy the top six positions and dominate the 35-member national executive committee.

Malema has won his internal battles on the strength of his personality, deft politicking, iron-fisted management of the party and the fact that his brand is the party brand. In the process, a potentially irreversible authoritarian culture has set in.

But why should we worry about the internal goings-on of a small opposition party with little chance of governing South Africa in the near future?

First, because the opposition might not be small for very long. Of all the start-ups that South Africa has seen since 1994, the EFF has the greatest potential of staying power and of growing into a more powerful force on the political scene.

Second, the culture that exists in political parties influences the behaviour of society. A corrupt political culture infects institutions and citizens. Clean, healthy parties make for a better society.

Third, nobody can guarantee that this opposition will always be in opposition. South African politics is heading into a decade of flux and the EFF is set to play a pivotal role in the coming realignment. So the habits that it develops internally will be the habits it will sell to society as normal behaviour.

If the EFF is to evolve into a useful contributor to South Africa’s political culture and the strengthening of our freedoms, it will have to examine the norms it is developing in its internal workings. Freedom of thought and the ability to operate freely must be among the norms that the party internalises.

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