Siya Khumalo | Militancy in the evolution of the EFF’s value proposition

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EFF supporters protesting at Mall of Africa during the national shutdown of all Clicks outlets in Midrand.
EFF supporters protesting at Mall of Africa during the national shutdown of all Clicks outlets in Midrand.
Luba Lesolle/Gallo Images via Getty Images

Siya Khumalo writes that Julius Malema is clear that since the ANC sold the economic dimension of reconciliation and efficacy of law for political power, the EFF can do whatever it wants.

This is a take on why the EFF's confrontationalism is a natural development in South African politics.

Apartheid is ugly and obstrusive: neocolonialism achieves the same economic ends while remaining invisible and subtle. And so the ANC, malleable and inclusive enough to embrace a sea of perspectives, races and backgrounds, was approached by the custodians of the ugly and invited to partner in the transition to the insidious. 

The ANC's malleability was a double-edged sword because it let opportunists camouflage themselves in the party's internal democracy, a "unity" that has barely held together.  

So, the ANC's promises of economic redress for black people were postponed for a number of trade-offs that kept the country from descending into a political bloodbath in 1994; black liberation leaders sold political influence to maintain the status quo. 

"Business had to look after its interests," recalled political economist Moeletsi Mbeki. "They recruited people who they thought were to go to Parliament, who were going to be political leaders."  

This allowed policy positions like nationalisation to be replaced by Black Economic Empowerment (BEE): black people were going to be absorbed into the economy instead of the economy being absorbed into black people.

But lacking political influence, the typical black person takes up space usually reserved for members of the "old boys’ club" (*coughs* read: rugby playing Stellenbosch retail and finance mafia *sips water*) without advancing the club's interests in the political sphere. And that was how this "virus", as Mbeki described BEE, became the black politician's gateway drug to state capture by white and Indian families. 


"Corruption" and "monopoly capital", respectively, are defined by the alignment of ANC faction, family and the media platforms not getting the finest cuts at the buffet at that moment. We will revisit these factions. 

The important question right now is: did what happened with the BEE Act happen with all laws written since the end of apartheid? 

If the unspoken economic and political intention of any law differed from what that law was publicly thought to be about, what’ is to say the Constitution was not written to give black people the impression they were being included in the economy, without giving them the fact of that inclusion?

Or could it be, as political analyst Ralph Mathekga explained at the Midlands Literary Festival, that since apartheid black people have not trusted government institutions? The death of Collins Khoza at the start of lockdown is an illustration of why they would not.  

Cold outside the ANC

Now nature abhors a vacuum, so since the people are not pushing a democratic agenda through state institutions, whose agenda occupies the minds of these institutions' leaders and director-generals? 

This is why the Mbeki error (intentional spelling) was characterised by accusations from Cosatu in the Tripartite Alliance that the president was dictatorial: no one person can run the "broad church" that is the ANC except as an absolute monarch or by knowing all its leaders' smallanyana skeletons, or through "unity".

If you want democracy, you have to join the ANC because the ANC never created democracy outside the party. 

You may vote for any party you democratically choose, but only if it is the ANC that is synonymous with democracy. 

"It's cold outside the ANC," former president Jacob Zuma explained.  

Why does this set of political myths dominate South Africa's consciousness? 

Because the ANC is the only time democracy has ever happened in South Africa! Unity! 

The country's whole memory of democracy is branded ANC. 

READ | Analysis: The decline of freedom in democracies

But this is a poisoned chalice for any leader because that very malleability and inclusiveness has allowed the ANC to pander to capital on the right one moment, then black voters and workers on the left the next: to use "white monopoly capital" as a fig leaf for deals ostensibly to aid "transformation", then to use "corruption" and "the nine wasted years" as adjectives for everything the economic right is not. 

Whenever the party seems to succeed at appeasing the one, it is often at expense of the other.

President Cyril Ramaphosa understands this pendulum cannot swing as widely as it has in the past, so he has to move carefully.  

Not so Julius Malema.

The EFF leader is clear since the ANC sold the economic dimension of reconciliation and hollowed out the efficacy of law for political power, the party can then do whatever it wants, and what it wants is to take advantage of the perceptions on the rule and strength of law as it marches to the ANC's chaotic drumbeat: the law can, in turns, be cast as an obstacle, and then a tool for, black people's fuller economic existence.

Ferial Haffajee described the EFF as schoolyard bullies on their way to becoming fascists. 

"As a party represented in Parliament and with an outsize influence on South African politics, the EFF could easily use procedures in the legislature, through Chapter 9 institutions and the courts to ensure corporates who have not shrugged off the apartheid past 9are put through their paces." 

Political drama 

But what she is describing is exactly the Gordian Knot - an extremely complicated problem that can only be solved by reframing its constraints - that the EFF has mastered: the party's influence on South African politics is outsized because it knows when not to go to Chapter 9 institutions, and when to be seen as supporting them. Whatever he may lack in integrity, Malema makes up for in an instinct for political drama. 

Zuma, for example, was seen as among black people and outside the establishment. It served the EFF's interests (but not always Malema, one suspects) to cast Zuma as a thief defeatable by the DA in court. 

But as a party, like the EFF, you do not march against Zuma unless you have traded in something black people want and do not have, such as free education, otherwise you turn Zuma into a martyr without the institutional power to withhold or deliver something people need. The realm of the underdog is his turf. But an Absa or a Clicks can be marched on by an EFF because they appear part of the establishment whose inner whiteness was preserved by the 1994 trade-off.

"To law or not to law: that is the question" at the amoral core of the EFF's militancy, and since the ANC is going legit with Ramaphosa at the helm there is not much to be gained by playing for the establishment through institutions anymore. 

The low-hanging fruit, and the EFF's niche, are coterminous with the extent of South Africa's inequality. 

What will this mean for insurance company share prices?

- Siya Khumalo is the author of You Have To Be Gay To Know God (2018). He is also a Mr Gay South Africa runner-up and Mr Gay World Top 10 finalist.

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