After 7 years of EFF fighter power, could it be time for some soul searching?

play article
Subscribers can listen to this article
EFF leader Julius Malema
EFF leader Julius Malema
PHOTO: Chanté Schatz, News24
  • The EFF has significantly changed the South African political landscape and is marking its seventh anniversary.
  • Party leader Julius Malema has, however, been dogged by numerous controversies.
  • Political analysts say leaders should be discerning and able to act in the interest of the organisation they serve, as opposed to themselves.
  • Analysts and an EFF insider ask what the party's ideology is.

The EFF remains an enigma for some, controversial for many and a complete waste of time for others.

But, regardless of what one thinks of the fighters and their red berets, the EFF has continued to grow since its inception. It is now marking its seventh anniversary, having significantly changed the South African political landscape.

But its pursuit of state power remains elusive and, along this path, there have been some growing pains and dark clouds threatening South Africa's third largest political party.

"The conduct of a leader will give us clues as to whether the party was formed for the benefit of the leader or the leaders were making a political intervention for the benefit of society," says University of KwaZulu-Natal political lecturer Lukhona Mnguni.

He says both are at play when it comes to the red berets and its fate, with the party's leader dogged by numerous controversies.

'Malema, the face of our revolution'

Mnguni further says leaders have to be discerning and able to act in the interest of the organisation they serve, as opposed to themselves.

"Leaders must also realise when they have been tarnished to a point that it damages the brand of their organisation… you resign not because the accusations are right, but that the gravity of those claims are so big that remaining in their positions compromises all that they have worked for," said Mnguni.

In the EFF's case, this would apply to its fiery leader Julius Malema.

Once seen as a victim of the mighty ANC, which kicked him out when he was its youth league president, he has become a firm favourite after the establishment of the EFF. He led the calls of "pay back the money" and "Zuma must fall" against former president Jacob Zuma. Now, the commentary from the media includes the phrases dangerous, fascist, corrupt and racist in reference to Malema.

But none of these labels matter. To many in his party, his and the party's fate are set to remain tied for many years to come.

In conversations with three EFF leaders, who serve on different structures, the unwavering commitment the fighters have for their "commander in chief" is evident.

"Every revolution has a face, ours is Malema… he is still working for us," a regional leader tells News24.

The party loyal, describing his leader as a genius, says even the hardened military approach adopted by Malema was the best way to build it from the ground up.

The first party member continues: 

The military style, controlled leadership and limited democracy are working here – we are not a broad church. If he didn't do this, people would be doing as they wished, contesting every decision and we would not have come this far.

However, a second source, who serves on one of the EFF's provincial structures, holds a different view. He questions the "democratic centralism in the party", and argues that the concept usually dictates discussions and debates before a decision is reached.

"Julius always reminds us it is command and control, so they always emphasise democratic centralism, but what he says goes," remarked the second EFF member.

The good

Independent analyst Ralph Mathekga says the EFF has survived the country's tough political terrain, which is often unkind to new entries because the two dominant, bigger parties have been long established.

"They really latched onto low hanging fruit, racial inequality and racism in South Africa; none of these issues need nuances to fill up stadiums," remarks Mathekga.

This is a view shared by Mgnuni, who said the party added "new flavour" to the country's politics, stretched the rules in the National Assembly and the legislature, and boosted accountability in those spaces.

"They showed you can be robust in the house without being violent and this was affirmed by the Constitutional Court when the EFF said the ANC government killed people in Marikana… [it] showed you can even irritate your opponent, but that doesn't mean they can shut you down," said Mnguni, referring to its 2015 ConCourt victory.

The third EFF insider, who is also an academic, praises his party for reaching the seven-year mark.

"Many thought we were just a passing phase or a Cope; worse is people were stuck on Malema's soundbite, saying he will die ANC... but bring that up now in public and we laugh at you," says the EFF member.

Escaping the ANC

The third insider, however, says the EFF has been able to build an existence outside the ANC, but it is troubling that some of the behaviour learnt from the governing party was starting to show in their own party.

Mathekga has concerns about a similar issue, saying the EFF doesn't seem to be able to disconnect itself from the culture of controversial relationships with resources.

"That culture can break their politics, it's like the curse of the ANC following them," Mathekga says.

Some of the party's top leaders had been accused of influencing tenders in areas where the EFF helped the DA to oust the ANC from power. These include a fleet tender in the City of Johannesburg, as well as having a role in the multimillion rand Glad Africa and fuel tenders in Tshwane.

VBS and other controversies  

The collapse of VBS Mutual Bank in Limpopo has been linked to several ANC officials, but it has also allegedly been linked to the EFF through Malema's deputy Floyd Shivambu's brother, Brian.

Both politicians have vehemently denied any wrongdoing, even in the face of mounting claims attempting to create a chain between the looted VBS millions and the two leaders.

Malema went as far as going head-to-head with journalists, to prove his innocence in the court of public opinion. It is this move that has the first party insider convinced Malema is innocent and is only being singled out by the media.

The third insider says those who failed to win the legal argument against Malema could not even hold him to ideological or ethical standards regarding the matter.

The two believe if the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) had the proof, it would have acted by now.

The provincial figure who spoke to News24 says beyond the VBS allegations there were many internal problems the EFF needed to manage better going forward – including issues such as women representation, lack of political education, research and internal democracy.

"I don't know if we have been clearly able to articulate an alternative political landscape," says the second source.

The insider argues many don't understand the party's position on a number of issues, and instead are "infatuated" by their leader.

In complaining of resources, this party member said the EFF had limited researchers serving those in the National Assembly. He said the party should have known better than to mess up by voting against the Civil Union Amendment Bill in the National Council of Provinces.

READ MORE | EFF MPs in trouble for vote in Parliament: Our members don't know what they are fighting for

"There are some serious cracks and every now and then they reach the surface," says the second insider.

The EFF has also lost a string of prominent leaders since its launch, including Mpho Ramakatsa, Andile Mngxitama, Khanyisile Litchfield and, most recently, Mandisa Mashego.

It elicited mixed views from those News24 spoke to: Two said "good riddance", while one questioned how the party had never managed to keep a provincial chairperson in Gauteng through an entire term.

Even provinces are said to be not run as well as the national office. Last year, Malema, during a media briefing, hit out at how some structures were being run, declaring that any failure of the EFF was directly linked to him as its leader.

The third insider highlights a point the analysts also bring up: What is the EFF's ideology?

The insider says: 

Ideologically, we still have not defined ourselves… we are still meandering. One day we are Marxists, then Fanonian; other times, we are Pan-Africanists. In seven years, we ought to be able to narrow this down – right now, we are a mix-masala really.

He says the EFF was developed as a protest movement, but hardly holds any protests, save for a few pickets and demonstrations. He even describes the party's recent march to the United States embassy, in support of Black Lives Matter, as an event.

"Anyone who feared their policies, their rhetoric, radicalism, that person now sleeps peacefully knowing the members aren't living to the ideals they speak about," says Mathekga.

While the regional leader felt Malema is surrounded by the right people, who do not need to be in the spotlight, this is flagged as an issue by everyone else News24 spoke to, with the other party members saying it would be to the EFF's detriment as it grows.

"It's just not workable. They need to profile more people – the EFF is not just Julius, Floyd and Mbuyiseni [Ndlozi]. We should be seeing other figures, learning different things; even in that book club we are constantly being given Floyd as if he is the alpha and omega on political ideology," complains the member.

Mnguni also flags this, saying the only constant personalities remains Malema and Shivambu, which creates no room for more prominent leaders to emerge.

He says this would open the party up to be tolerant of dissent and for people to feel they can disagree without repercussions.

He also says that, not allowing other players to emerge and flourish, would in the long run mean when the party finally transitions to new leadership it would have shed a lot of talent. As such, those who inherit it would be Malema's proxies, and would be expected to do his bidding.

The future

The regional EFF leader believes the party's future remains bright and its ambitions for state power are not too far off.

He did, however, raise concerns over the behaviour of some of their members, who are believed to be in conversation with former Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba.

"That's what greed will do. Some of us did not join for the right reasons, just positions, and know when a new thing starts opportunities to be councillors and mayoral candidates are plenty. We are expecting this move and know they are mobilising," the loyalist tells News24.

Mathekga says the EFF can no longer afford any more controversies.

"Imagine if they didn't have to answer for VBS, where would they be – they'd be headed for 20%," he says in reference to the upcoming local government polls.

Mathekga, in his analysis of the way forward, says the EFF has built a huge mountain of integrity that it needs to live by.

Mathekga continues: 

Take integrity issues away, take VBS away, Malema's On-Point scandal and he could actually influence this country.

Mnguni even argues that Malema should be thinking of his swansong, if he really cares about the EFF.

"I really feel this should be Julius' last term," says Mnguni.

He laughingly asks if a leader could not allow democracy in their own homes, how the electorate is expected to believe this would happen when they governed the country. 

Mnguni says South Africans had grown weary of leaders who stay on for far too long. They are looking for young people to take on new issues, but also to demonstrate they do not embody the traits of greed, narcissism and self-centredness so often seen in the older generation.

"Young leaders must be able to demonstrate there is life outside and beyond politics. Instead of falling into the trap of not elevating yourself beyond the politics of greed and self, and almost appearing that there is no life beyond politics, then you are going to kill your brand," he says.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
A Section 89 panel headed by former chief justice Sandile Ngcobo found President Cyril Ramaphosa has an impeachable case to answer on the Phala Phala scandal.
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Ramaphosa should do the honourable thing and immediately resign.
23% - 1704 votes
Ramaphosa should follow due process and submit himself to an impeachment hearing.
30% - 2224 votes
Ramaphosa should fight the findings in court and keep his job at all costs
48% - 3585 votes
Rand - Dollar
Rand - Pound
Rand - Euro
Rand - Aus dollar
Rand - Yen
Brent Crude
Top 40
All Share
Resource 10
Industrial 25
Financial 15
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.