Give us strength: EFF leaders led by the party president, Julius Malema, motion to the crowd on Sunday - three days before the 2019 elections. Picture: Tebogo Letsie
The EFF is a phenomenon on the South African political landscape. Few other political formations have captured the imagination of both supporters and detractors like the red berets led by Julius Malema.
The party has been going full tilt since it was established in time ahead of the 2014 national elections, blowing up parliamentary convention, shaping a new brand of racial nationalism and setting fire to the political environment. It has attacked everything and everyone from the governing party to the media, individuals and institutions while changing allegiances mid-horse and principles as needed.
Its 2019 election campaign was focused on two issues: jobs and land. Its bright red posters with a benign and smiling Malema was just as visible as that of the ANC and the DA, and the party's leaders were bullish about doubling their support, with party chairperson Dali Mpofu (an advocate who also represents, among others, former SARS commissioner Tom Moyane) declaring the party is a government in waiting.
The EFF's headline numbers are by far and away the most impressive of any party, bar perhaps those of its stablemate the Freedom Front Plus on the other side of the political spectrum.
- The EFF increased its support in percentage and real terms amid the lowest voter turnout in democracy.
- It increased its support by 4,44 percentage points from 6,35% to 10,79%.
- Its real numbers grew by an eye-watering 60%, from 1 169 259 to 1 881 331. That's an increase of 712 072 voters, or more than seven full FNB Stadiums.
- Support at provincial level grew exponentially, with significant increases in every single province registered, including almost 270 000 new voters in KwaZulu-Natal, the cornerstone of the ANC's base.
- In Tshwane it increased its support at both national and provincial level at the expense of the ANC.
- And in Johannesburg national support increased from more than 166 000 voters in 2014 to almost 220 000 in 2019. Similarly at provincial level the party's support jumped from 159 000 to 227 000 between 2014 and 2019, or four percentage points from 10% to 14%.
- Malema will now command a caucus of 44 MPs, up from 25.
The party (which is hosting a post-election press conference on Thursday) has been subdued about their results, given its leaders' propensity for hyperbole and violent statements. That is sure to change though.
And that's going to be one of its big challenges over the next five years. If it wants to be taken seriously as a progressive formation it will have to grow up and leave behind its fire and brimstone type of politics where they tend to take a flamethrower to process and procedure.
Want to change the law governing expropriation? Cultivate and keep allies across the aisle in Parliament.
Want to nationalise the Reserve Bank? Commission credible research, lobby policy makers and build broad support to enact new legislation.
Want to break up monopolies? Offer up creative ways to provide access to business for entrepreneurs who want to and can provide competition in the market place.
Fiery speeches in the National Assembly or long-winded monologues at EFF HQ in Braamfontein won't get things done. Working the political system, offering alternatives and enlisting support beyond your own boundaries are what breaks gridlock.
It remains to be seen however if the EFF is a serious political party, or simply a vehicle for Malema to build an empire.
Speaking of which, Malema might have a difficult year ahead with the last chapters of his involvement with the tenderpreneuring On-Point Engineering as well as an investigation into his tax affairs yet to be written.
The EFF has grown – but there's still a long way to go to breach 50% of national support.
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