JULIUS MALEMA shares several traits with Donald Trump: not a profound political thinker but driven by all-consuming egotism and ambition, with a street-fighter instinct and the kind of charisma typical of populist dictators throughout history.
Malema is both the reason for the EFF's rapid rise to becoming the third-largest party and the limitation to its further growth.
Without Malema, there wouldn't be much of an EFF. It was built around his personality and ego. He does not tolerate dissent and no one dares to challenge him.
South Africa needed a party like the EFF to challenge the ANC's hegemony from the left with strong black leadership that could either oust the governing party or force it to govern properly.
I'll go as far as saying that Malema and the EFF's confrontational and insulting attitude towards white South Africans, though dangerous, has contributed to giving young black people self-confidence, helping them to act more assertively.
During the Jacob Zuma era, the EFF injected the parliament with refreshing energy.
The EFF can rightfully claim to be the only party that truly keeps the Marikana massacre of August 2012 in the public memory.
The fact that the EFF succeeded in a short time in attracting 10% of voter support shows there are many South Africans who are very angry and seek radical solutions.
It is always good for democracy and stability when a significant sentiment in society is represented by an official political party.
But what can rightly be said of the DA and other opposition parties — that the ANC's long record of misrule and corruption was enough reason for the opposition to grow much stronger — can also be said of the EFF.
In spite of the fertile climate — poor services, corruption, high unemployment, poverty and inequality — it looks unlikely that the EFF will get near 15% of the vote next year.
(Malema said at Wednesday's EFF rally at Marikana: “2024 is the young people's 1994.")
When Malema rails with extreme rhetoric against whites, “whitemonopolycapital" and the West, a good many black South Africans probably nod in agreement. He voices their fustrations.
But it doesn't mean they are going to vote for him.
There is a real fear that the EFF's policy proposals about nationalising banks, mines and industries, and confiscating all land to be held by the state, could lead to an economic collapse similar to Zimbabwe's experience.
The overwhelming majority of citizens probably prefer owning their own land and homes rather than leasing from the state.
A senior Umkhonto we Sizwe veteran, Omry Makgoale, wrote: “The EFF will not improve the living conditions of South Africans. It will implement the policies of former Zimbabwen president Robert Mugabe and former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. This will lead to an economic meltdown and even further massive hardships.
“Under an EFF government, South Africans could face even worse unemployment, and severe petrol and food shortages. The EFF promises milk and honey for the poor, but it is likely to deliver even worse corruption than the ANC." The EFF’s 10-year milestone — a clear and present political danger to South Africa.
I also don't think the hatred Malema and Co are stoking against white “settlers", or the fact that the EFF is not in favour of the extermination of whites “for now”, is well received. There is a much greater acceptance of South Africa's demographic diversity than they might think, despite existing racism and inequality.
Revenge politics is not a vision for the future. South Africans are desperate for better living conditions and hope for a brighter future for their children. There is little appetite for racial war.
Malema's constant flip-flopping doesn't help his standing either. He was Jacob Zuma's fiercest enemy, but is now his friend and has just appointed his spokesperson, Mzwanele Manyi, as an EFF MP. He once called Western Cape judge president John Hlophe a “rotten potato" and demanded he be impeached, then he proposed him as a candidate for chief justice. He called public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane a “Gupta puppet" and “useless", but today he is her fiercest protector. And so on.
There is good reason to suspect that Malema and some of his lieutenants, such as Floyd Shivambu, may be corrupt. Malema has not been cleared of charges related to tender fraud with his Ratanang family trust and On Point Engineering, and their involvement with the VBS bank scandal still hangs over their heads.
Malema has always had a talent for using symbolism — his idea of red workers' overalls in solidarity with the working class, for example. But his and his comrades' excessively opulent lifestyles undermine this entirely. You can read shocking revelations about Malema's personal tastes and scandals in Jacques Pauw's book Our Poisoned Land: Living in the Shadows of Zuma's Keepers; read Fiona Forde's book, An Inconvenient Youth: Julius Malema and the ‘new' ANC as well.
The EFF often claim to be “Sankarists": followers of Thomas Sankara, the president of Burkina Faso who was assassinated in 1987. Sankara was indeed a revolutionary and a strong advocate of decolonisation, but he lived like an ascetic and despised displays of wealth and power.
I met Sankara three months before his assassination, spoke with him at his house in Ouagadougou, and saw him drive in his old Peugeot with a cracked windscreen.
Sankara was the opposite of Malema. You can read my article about him here: Meer as net ’n rooi baret en ’n gebalde vuis.
The EFF is thus more demagoguery than political philosophy. Violence or the threat of violence is always just beneath the surface. The party is built in a military style: Malema is not the president, he is the “commander-in-chief", and his followers are “ground troops".
I agree with my old friend and colleague Issy Lagardien when he writes: “What is clear is that the EFF’s drift towards fascism has, in part, been driven by the politics of performance and is devoid of original ideas and obsessed with drawing attention only to itself. Its vision of South Africa is decidedly Stalinist, and with its unoriginality, it reads only what it wants to determine its policies."
But is the EFF a clear and present danger for South Africa?
Well, I don't think so any more. Unless, and this seems increasingly unlikely, it grows significantly in the next year's election and forms a coalition government with the ANC.
♦ VWB ♦
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