Rumour of an EFF factional war has been swirling about in the run-up to the party’s elective conference, with headlines like “Malema Faces an EFF Rebellion” capturing a sense of the alleged internal ructions. One name keeps cropping up – Marshall Dlamini. amaBhungane's previous reporting on his involvement in dodgy tenders may go some way to explaining his rise. Marshall Dlamini is tipped to replace the lacklustre Godrich Gardee as the EFF’s secretary general at its elective conference, which kicks off on Friday. But just who is Marshall Dlamini?Over the last year or so, since his name came up in connection with dubious tenders in Johannesburg and Tshwane, Dlamini has been of interest to amaBhungane. In that time, he has also garnered some level of media attention, making headlines for assaulting a security official in Parliament at the State of the Nation Address in February. Those close to Malema are reportedly lobbying hard for Dlamini to replace Gardee, but Dlamini’s enigmatic rise cannot be explained by his fondness for what is becoming the Fighters’ rite of passage – very public brawls. What then does explain it?Dlamini, who is from uMzimkhulu is KwaZulu-Natal, is credited with building the party’s support base in that province. The EFF more than quadrupled votes from around 70 000 in 2014 to well over 300 000 in this year’s elections. After the elections, the EFF profiled Dlamini on Facebook, saying: “According to Commissar Marshall Dlamini, the work in KZN was a collective effort and delivered by the ordinary ground forces of the organization…“He thanks the people of KZN, firstly for opening their homes while we were doing door-to-door campaigns and speaking to them as individuals. Secondly, for believing in our message by voting for us and says we are committing to never fail them.”READ: Don't let cash, Chicken Licken or booze influence you, EFF delegates cautionedBut there appears to be more to Dlamini’s rise – and reputed closeness to Julius Malema – than his supposed ability to live up to his name in marshalling the EFF “ground forces”. A more clandestine explanation puts him at the heart of a network of business and patronage ties within the party. Dlamini’s background is in business – construction and plant hire in particular. According to one former EFF MP, Dlamini was hesitant about taking up a formal party position because that would mean giving up promising business interests. But he ended up taking the political plunge, while, it appears, also hanging on to a level of involvement in business, melding the two craftily and very successfully.He has cropped up in amaBhungane investigations into tender rigging and manipulation in metros where the EFF had a strong political foothold and could lean on officials involved in procurement processes.The ease with which the party can command influence in key metros where it emerged kingmaker after the 2016 local government elections has bred a certain brazenness. AmaBhungane has seen evidence of that brazenness in messages from Dlamini requesting officials to intervene in a metro's internal legal matter. Sources who provided the messages said they show that Dlamini had an improper interest in, and insight into, internal procedures and information that no politician, least of all an MP who had no political role in the metro, should have been involved in. READ: Firm that won R1bn Joburg fleet contract paid Malema-EFF 'slush fund'In amaBhungane’s exposé on a dodgy Johannesburg fleet tender published last year, Dlamini was there, lurking in the background and pulling political strings together. That story and subsequent reporting showed that the company that won the contract paid “kickbacks” to a Malema slush fund, presumably in return for leaning on officials.A former senior city executive claimed that he was asked to meet with Dlamini at a Sandton hotel, where Dlamini told him that they wanted the fleet tender to go to “a company that works with us”. In our more recent story on a corrupt City of Tshwane fuel tender, Dlamini featured not only as a backroom dealer, but as an apparent beneficiary alongside Malema, of kickbacks paid from one of the companies that won the tender. There, Hendrick Kganyago, the owner of the company that won the bid, Balimi Barui Trading, paid Malema and Dlamini-linked companies at least R15-million.That Dlamini-linked company is DMM Media and Entertainment, which shares a name and logo with Dlamini’s DMM Holdings. The name DMM appears to be Dlamini’s initials in reverse. DMM Media’s director, 30-year-old Wesley Dlamini, has also listed working for Eyethu Translodge and Plant Hire, a company that Marshall founded.The Daily Maverick separately traced Dlamini to efforts by EFF deputy president Floyd Shivambu to convince high net-worth businessmen to sponsor personal business ventures. According to a DM article: “In around 2017, deputy president of the EFF Floyd Shivambu approached several businessmen – including individuals whom he often scornfully referred to in public as ‘the Stellenbosch Mafia’ – regarding personal business ventures he had his eyes set on.“EFF MP Marshall Dlamini accompanied Floyd Shivambu to some of these repeated meetings.”Dlamini’s relationship with the EFF goes back to the party’s earliest days. Two former EFF sources say that Dlamini was close to murdered ANC Youth League secretary general Sindiso Magaqa, before Malema’s expulsion from the league and the formation of the EFF. Magaqa is also from uMzimkhulu. Dlamini was among the EFF’s founding members when the party launched at the ironically-named Uncle Tom’s Hall in Soweto in 2013. Although he has mostly been a discreet presence in South African politics, his rise has been steady. Malema’s favoured fixerIn 2015 he made it into Parliament, amid the rapid churn of EFF MPs – the party had by far the highest turnover of MPs in the 5th Parliament. He was also appointed the party’s commissar for economic development – a fitting position for Malema’s favoured fixer. And now the political chatter suggests that he is in the running for one of the highest formal positions in the party. His nose for opportunities, the ease with which he navigates the corridors of political power, and his apparent knack for striking deals to cut Malema or the party into, has no doubt ingratiated Dlamini with the commander-in-chief. Sources depict Dlamini as a man who is reserved by the standards of his party, with a sharp business sense, an obsessive eye for detail, and mastery in the art of the political hustle – Malema’s own Stringer Bell. And Dlamini appears not to have forgotten to take care of himself too, given at the very least the evidence of DMM Media creaming off a hefty share of the Tshwane fuel tender kickbacks.Either way, his financial clout appears to have been used to boost his reputation in the party.A Sunday Times article from October cited sources who put the commissar’s popularity down to his ability to personally fund EFF activities. The article cited a source close to Dlamini as saying: "Marshall spends a lot of his own money on party work and he never complains about it." City Press last month ran an article about competition over top party positions, alleging that Dlamini was attempting to bribe delegates to the elective conference with inducements like an iPhone. Dlamini angrily denied it. The article claimed that KZN was divided between those backing Dlamini for the post of secretary-general, and those backing EFF spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi. The position of secretary-general is a critical one, considered the “engine room” of the party’s day-to-day activities. What the articles have not mentioned, was just how Dlamini accumulates that largesse he now uses to build political support. The amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism, an independent non-profit, produced this story. Like it? Be an amaB supporter, sign up for its newsletter or visit amaBhungane.org.