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Leigh-Ann Mathys, Dali Mpofu, Floyd Shivambu, Julius Malema, Godrich Gardee and Hlengiwe Hlophe. Picture: Tebogo Letsie/City Press
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The EFF that comes out of the elective conference will most likely no longer have a place for Godrich Gardee and Dali Mpofu, who seem to be indifferent towards defending their fellow leaders on allegations of impropriety, writes Ralph Mathekga.
South Africa's self-styled disrupters, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), are headed to a potentially divisive elective conference in December where the top leaders of the party will be elected.
Known for maintaining a tightly knit leadership often repelling any insinuation of internal divisions, the EFF is battling to maintain a united front as the conference nears. Reports have surfaced indicating a possible shakeup of the party's central command team. It has been rumoured that the party's national chairperson Dali Mpofu and secretary general Godrich Gardee will be replaced.
Like any other political party in South Africa, the EFF is not immune to the internal divisions that result from leadership contests. While Gardee and Mpofu are not entitled to leadership positions, removing the two could create internal ructions, particularly if the party leader and his deputy retain their positions unchallenged.
If party leader Julius Malema and deputy leader Floyd Shivambu respectively retain their current positions and Gardee and Mpofu are booted out of the top leadership, the entire EFF project will begin to look like the personal project of Malema and Shivambu – the founders of the EFF.
Gardee and Mpofu are widely respected and tolerated outside the EFF, with Mpofu often facing muted criticism as to how he survives under Malema's seemingly iron fisted leadership style. Mpofu has come through for the EFF in many ways, often publicly defending the organisation and its leadership.
Gardee also has impeccable activist credentials, and enjoys respect outside the EFF. If one were to desperately scrape the bottom of the barrel for political moderates within the EFF, both Gardee and Mpofu would fit that classification. The question then is what could have resulted in the fallout that would have them leave the party.
I am of the view that the fallout might have something to do with the tensions brought about by the VBS Mutual Bank matter. There is no denying that the VBS matter has placed serious strain on the leadership coherence of the EFF. Since the scandal came into the open with allegations that Malema and Shivambu personally benefitted from the funds looted from the bank, the EFF central command has not been holding up well. There are clear divisions among the top leaders regarding the positions taken in relation to the VBS matter.
The top leadership can easily be demarcated into two groups, namely those who defend the party and its leaders against allegations of undue benefit on the one hand, and those who have washed their hands of the VBS saga and remain mum about the matter and how it affects the party.
Mpofu and Gardee have not been steadfast defenders of their colleagues against the VBS allegations, while Malema and Shivambu have featured prominently in media reports alleging how the two went on a shopping spree with the stolen money. The details about VBS are so embarrassing that a prominent lawyer such as Mpofu and a respectable Gardee would find it difficult to publicly defend the party's positions. The two have been noticeably quiet on the issue, which could have created mistrust among the top leadership of the party.
But the greater risk the EFF faces in relation to criticism of impropriety is not the backlash from the broader membership of the party, but rather how such criticisms affect the internal coherence among its leaders.
The broader membership of the EFF often goes along with the party's anti-establishment rhetoric, whereby the party is judged only by the extent to which it challenges the establishment in South Africa as opposed to the integrity of the party leaders. Malema has been able to lead the EFF without experiencing a significant challenge to his hegemony. The VBS matter could prove to be a major challenge to Malema's hegemony, with some willing to challenge his leadership and perhaps even to question why the party should be used to defend senior leaders in case they face a criminal probe into their personal affairs.
The EFF that comes out of the elective conference will most likely be resolute on defending the embattled Malema and Shivambu on the VBS matter, and perhaps even on other matters relating to impropriety. This is the EFF that might no longer have a place for Gardee and Mpofu, who seem to be indifferent towards defending their fellow leaders on allegations of impropriety.
Without Gardee and Mpofu, given the circumstances that would have led to their departure, the EFF will become weaker and weaker in the public eye and Malema and Shivambu will face a mountain of questions regarding whether the EFF is simply their pet project to keep them out of jail.
- Dr Ralph Mathekga is a political analyst and author of When Zuma Goes and Ramaphosa's Turn.
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