ANALYSIS: Don't overestimate the EFF

2019-05-06 10:57
Julius Malema in Soweto
EFF leader Julius Malema arrives at Orlando stadium in Soweto for the party's election rally. Photo: AFP

The EFF mimics a colonial mentality, which divides society through fear and undermines finely crafted post-apartheid democratic indigenous institutions and their rules and procedures, write Ebrahim Fakir and Ivor Sarakinsky.

Recent opinion polls, notoriously unreliable, methodologically flawed and often inaccurate – place the EFF's support at an unrealistic 12% to 13%. Given where these polls come from, it is likely that the EFF's numbers are placed so high as a scare mongering tactic to get anti-EFF voters out to the polls.

The EFF achieving 12% requires a doubling of its electoral support. It is anyone's guess how well or badly the EFF is likely to perform in the election, but judging by its political approach, ideology, institutional performance, organisational approach, internal fractures, policy platform and past electoral performance, the prognosis is not great.  

EFF electoral support 2014

The EFF will need to double their numbers in Gauteng and Limpopo to compensate for their low growth prospects in all of the other provinces, excluding the Free State and North West.   

The EFF's electoral performance in 2014 is pegged at only 6.35%. Its performance in the 2016 local government elections is not much better, where it only achieved 8% of the vote tally nationally. Even in its stronghold province of Gauteng, it failed to win many ward seats, save for two. Its seats at local level are almost exclusively off the PR list. The pure proportional representation system aids the EFF, especially when voters of the ANC stay away – the EFF's proportionate share goes up, without the party picking up any significant new voters. It is not untrue to suggest that the EFF is in fact a regional party. 

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Two thirds of its votes are drawn exclusively from three provinces, Limpopo (10.7%), the North West (13.2%), and Gauteng (10.3%). The 10.3% of votes it receives in Gauteng, constitutes roughly 40% of total EFF national vote. If its tally in the Free State is added (8.1%), the proportion of votes are even higher, and it would appear that its showing is almost exclusively in four provinces. In contrast, the EFF has low levels of support almost everywhere else (Eastern Cape – 3,5%, KwaZulu-Natal – 1.8% and Western Cape – 2.11%).

3 factions in the EFF

Organisationally, the EFF are factionalised, mirroring some of the economic and commercial interest factions in the ANC, and though not politically or ideologically factionalised, there are three primary groupings. First, those who want to go back to the ANC and are waiting for favourable conditions to do so (promises of Cabinet positions, guarantees of a future political career path into positions of influence within the ANC, some influence over government spending, colonising government procurement, tenders and contracts).

Second, a small minority within the party who genuinely believe that the EFF is a genuine alternative political project. Third, the fence sitters who take a wait-and-see approach, who remain in the EFF as long as they have access to positions, contracts, tenders and the like, until something more lucrative comes along.

Rhetorical demands rather than policies

The EFF remains untested in government, but their performance in Parliament and in the councils in which they voted minority governments into power, doesn't place them in a much better stead. Their lack of a coherent policy framework, extreme flip-flopping from issue to issue, inchoate and rhetorical demands and mimicry of colonial behaviour, crude racial stereotyping and institutional destabilisation, not to mention internal fragmentation, doesn't bode well.

With no discernible political strategy, besides a hodge-podge ensemble of ideology, the Economic Freedom Fighters flip-flop from issue to issue and often proffer inchoate and rhetorical demands rather than policies.

On the land issue, the party offers the absurdity of state ownership with privately held title to buildings. Depending on who the EFF is speaking to, and depending on who speaks on its behalf, it either wishes to change the Constitution or protect it, or it resorts to crude racial stereotypes, either vilifying whites and Indians, or defending them. Its race-baiting politics serves only to further polarise a society already riven by cleavage.

Worse still is its approach to institutions, in which it exists, it appears, merely to destabilise them under the guise of providing "leadership". It, in effect, mimics a colonial mentality, which divides society through fear and undermines finely crafted post-apartheid democratic indigenous institutions and their rules and procedures.

The EFF's approach to partnerships at municipal level betrays its political promiscuity and the naked desire for the spoils of power and influence.

Where it lays claim to successes in policy influence, such as the recall of former president Jacob Zuma and the successive Constitutional Court judgments against him and Parliament, respectively (these were originated by the late journalist Mandy Rossouw and the DA), the  insourcing of workers in municipal entities (started by labour unions and the SACP), the successes of the #fallist movement and free higher education (a broad based student movement), land expropriation without compensation (debate in the ANC since the 1930s), the EFF were hardly the progenitors of the issues, or the debates and discourses about them. Instead, they have usually been bringing up the rear on them, and then capriciously claiming victory.   

What they have been expert at is manipulating an easily duped media through using press conferences as campaign platforms. Even here the messages are not coherent, but rather an invective filled diatribe, replete with (un)official gossip from within the ANC.

EFF used by both ANC and DA

It is evident that the EFF and some within its leadership are manipulated, and abused as conduits fighting factional battles on behalf of some factions within the ANC. Why would voters vote for a party that is a mouthpiece for a part of the ANC, when it could very well just vote for a fragmented and fractured ANC anyway? It also points to the manner in which the EFF is (ab)used by the DA to position itself, in power, or used to undermine the authority of Parliament.

If anyone is captured and used, like a gun for hire, it is the EFF, used and abused by both the ANC and the DA.

Its 2019 manifesto, though seductive, is couched and contained in an incongruously laborious tone. Even if just a few selected proposals were made policy, any wealthy country, let alone an unequal middle-income country like South Africa, would find itself pushed from the fiscal cliff into the fiscal abyss. Examples such as providing pensions of R5 000, 24-hour community care clinics, electronic tablets for every school child, and top down statist solutions to every social and economic problem, illustrates this point.    

It is obvious that the two different factions of the ANC want the EFF back inside the fold of the ANC, but for very different reasons. One faction wants the EFF in order to strengthen its faction against the reform and clean-up initiatives of Ramaphosa. That ANC faction has some ideological and recidivist overlap with the EFF. Ramaphosa's camp, on the other hand, may want to neutralise and contain the policy and corrupt excesses, as well as the disruptive and destabilising impulses of the EFF by controlling them within the ANC.

In both cases, this is likely to backfire. Though both ANC factions see bringing the EFF in to the ANC as bolstering the sure major majority of the ANC into the future, it is likely to prove otherwise. It will ensure a foothold and longevity for a form of corrupt populist patronage pork barrel politics, and will certainly serve to undermine any clean up in government. Inevitably, it will a hasten a split in the ANC, or at the very least cause greater fragmentation, fracture and attrition, and this is likely to happen under Ramaphosa's watch, or very soon after.

While the ANC and DA are likely to lose support, or grow very incrementally in the 2019 election, the EFF will be the only party that will significantly grow its support. This is a noteworthy achievement for a small leadership core, running a nationwide cash intensive campaign. Make no mistake, growing support from 6.35% to 9%, would be a commendable achievement.

However, it would be better for the ANC and for South Africa, if the EFF were left as is, as a small(er) third party, rather than be amalgamated with, or in coalition with the ANC. The EFF can then continue to play a meaningful accountability and oversight role, irrespective of its fantastical policy excesses. 

- Ebrahim Fakir is director of programs at the Auwal Socio Economic Research Institute (ASRI) and Ivor Sarakinsky is a professor at the Wits School of Governance (WSG).        

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