Red berets turn SA upside down

2015-07-26 16:46
EFF leader Julius Malema with a young supporter in Rustenburg this week. Picture: Theana Breugem

EFF leader Julius Malema with a young supporter in Rustenburg this week. Picture: Theana Breugem

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At the tender age of just two, the EFF has changed our political landscape. Rapule Tabane and Andisiwe Makinana look at the young party

As the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) celebrated two years of its existence yesterday, the party has already caused enough havoc for a member of the governing tripartite alliance to call for it to be “killed”. 

This was a bit of a back-handed compliment. It meant that the misery EFF leader Julius Malema had inflicted inside the ANC, which had led to his expulsion from the party, continued to be felt with the establishment of his own opposition party.

It is a historical fact that the EFF came about after Malema and Floyd Shivambu fell out with the ANC leadership and were expelled in 2012.

But their gripe with the ANC was not only about personalities and clashes with President Jacob Zuma – it mainly resulted from the ANC Youth League’s failed push for its programme of economic freedom in our lifetime to be adopted.

Although some in the ANC leadership embraced the slogan, they were resistant to the content, which included the nationalisation of mines and expropriation of land without compensation.

Malema badly wanted to tackle big capital, but his ANC elders wanted to go about it carefully as they felt his pronouncements were hurting efforts to attract international investment into the country and to grow the economy.

He led a 5 000-strong march to the JSE in Sandton, Joburg, in October 2011 to highlight youth unemployment and growing inequality. He was expelled from the ANC four months later. Malema announced the formation of the EFF in July 2013.

In last year’s national elections, the EFF won 6% of the vote – 1.3 million South Africans chose the new party.

Policies and personalities

The EFF has projected itself as a party to the left of the political spectrum. It has also modelled itself and taken the posture and public appearance of leftists such as Che Guevara and Thomas Sankara with its red berets. Members have also taken to wearing red overalls and domestic-worker uniforms in Parliament and various legislatures to show solidarity with blue-collar workers. 


In discussion documents for its congress, the EFF identifies unemployment as the biggest crisis in the country, saying that more than 40% of the working population have been cast on to the scrapheap. This resonates with the country’s unemployed youth, who make up the majority of the party’s followers.

Radical economic transformation

Some of the EFF’s economic policies have been described as the right ingredients for a recipe to destroy an economy. The policies are largely premised on the state taking control of key sectors of the economy and redistributing wealth to the poor.

Land and agriculture

One of the most frightening aspects of the EFF for farmers is the party’s radical proposals on land and agriculture. 

Land proposals include:

Land expropriation without compensation as the only acceptable solution;

That the EFF introduces a debate and bill in Parliament to amend section 25 of the Constitution to ensure “land expropriation without compensation”; and

That a mass “back to land” campaign be undertaken where land claimants reoccupy their land through an EFF mass action.


The EFF has punched way above its weight in Parliament, where its unrelenting calls for Zuma to pay back the money on upgrades to his Nkandla homestead have disrupted several sittings of the National Assembly.

This has led to the speaker setting up a committee to revise rules that would allow presiding officers to immediately take steps against anyone disobeying them. 

It all started when the party’s MPs came wearing overalls and domestic-worker uniforms for the swearing-in ceremony at the opening of the Parliament in May last year. 

This was a clear sign that Parliament would never be the same again.

Critics of the EFF – from the ANC to the SA Communist Party and others – have described the red brigade as disruptive, rascals and as rabble rousers, but there is no denying that its members have brought a breath of fresh air to Parliament.

But the EFF might have overplayed its hand when it stifled Zuma’s question time last month. 

It should expect a backlash not only from Parliament and the ANC, but from other opposition parties that took exception to their actions.

Read more on:    julius  |  malema  |  eff

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