EFF split exposes chinks in Malema’s armour

Cape Town - The EFF has gone to ground since being branded “liars and hypocrites who stole the votes of the poor masses” by former EFF regional co-ordinator Wonder Sentimile.

Sentimile, along with several other disgruntled EFF members, has abandoned the party in favour of a new party: The New Economic Freedom Front.

Yet the EFF has refused to give News24 - or indeed any other media group - a response to Sentimile’s allegations.

In a bizarre exchange, EFF spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi first evaded contact with News24, before sending a picture of the actor Bill Cosby looking quizzical.

Finally, Ndlozi admitted to News24 that he did not want to talk about it, before adding: “Swallow it”.

But his silence speaks volumes, according to academics.

Broken promises

Last week, Sentimile claimed: "Immediately after the election, they received everything from government - air tickets, accommodation, money in Parliament.

"We were not supposed to take from government. We have people who are suffering... They have stolen the votes of the poor masses of our people."

EFF members had agreed before the May general election that they would not take anything from government. They had promised to emulate the austere lifestyle of the late Burkina Faso president, Thomas Sankara.

But Professor Daryl Glaser, head of political studies at Witwatersrand University, told News24: “They have already shown signs of compromising their commitment to personal austerity, for example in their decision to use private health and education.

“And of course [EFF leader Julius] Malema carries a personal baggage of corruption allegations, and continues to advertise his own high consumption as evidence that he is liberated from apartheid and black poverty”.

Glaser said he would therefore expect the EFF to be sensitive to allegations of selling out

Indeed, Professor Steven Friedman, director of the Centre for the Study of Democracy at the University of Johannesburg is well accustomed to the EFF’s sensitivity.

“I am repeatedly subject to personal insult when I criticise them,” he told News24, adding: “When faced with queries on developments which may make them look bad, they therefore become abusive because they assume they can bully anyone who does not tell the story in the way they want it told”.

‘Unjust practices’

Certainly, it is not just Sentimile’s criticism of parliamentary perks that threatens the EFF’s image. He also claimed the party was riddled with “unjust practices”.

Sentimile said: "Every meeting you attend in the EFF, there is no platform to enquire about any decisions being made. I have spoken to them several times - Julius Malema, [Chief Whip] Floyd Shivambu, etc.

“They say if you are not satisfied with the decisions they are making you can leave the organisation."

Political parties are rarely very democratic, as Professor Anthony Butler, head of politics at the University of Cape Town, points out. In fact, “the more democratic they are, the more they fall apart”, he said.

That said, one of the problems with the EFF is that it was created from losing ANC factions, said Butler.

“It was the same story with Cope - the defeated faction created a new party and attracted those who weren’t in it - so there are inherent tensions within the party. The group of outsiders have a different objective.”

These different objectives still need to be heard through official mechanisms or channels, he said.

Glaser, meanwhile, pointed to evidence that Malema himself is “haughty with underlings and rivals, very thin-skinned and reluctant to hear criticism”.

He added: “The militarised ranks of the EFF - and Malema's designation as Commander in Chief – are suggestive of hierarchy and obedience rather than internal democracy.”

The EFF may have a manifesto, but what it needs to do next, said Butler, is to hold an elective conference where the leadership is endorsed by the delegates.

It also needs to look ahead to what compromises it may have to make in the event of future local election successes, said Glaser. These compromises will “definitely upset those attracted to the EFF’s ideological purity”.

‘Victims of their own success’

Though the New EFF is not viewed as much of a threat, Amanda Gouws, professor of political science at the University of Stellenbosch, said that the EFF would not have expected factions in their midst so soon.

She told News24: “I am of the opinion that the allegations are probably true and they are now trying to find information that will put Sentimile in a bad light. But I have no proof of this.”

Both Glaser and Butler agree that the split does not pose any real danger to the EFF at this point. It has none of the EFF’s funding or resources, and has no standing in parliament.

Butler said: “One can safely assume that the New EFF will disappear.”

But what the split has done is draw attention to the EFF’s credibility - which as Glaser argues, “depends on their continuing to appear as rebels or outsiders, untainted by establishment power and corruption”.

He added: “The EFF faces a familiar challenge for emerging parties - the danger of potentially becoming victims of their own success.”

Can the EFF keep up appearances and remain untainted? If the party is unwilling to answer the charges

Sentimile has laid at its door, “there must be pressure there”, said Butler.

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