MKP can dethrone EFF as the enfant terrible and media darling


MKP can dethrone EFF as the enfant terrible and media darling

The momentum of Jacob Zuma's party could lead to Julius Malema and Floyd Shivambu's EFF eventually becoming a 6% political phenomenon again, writes PIET CROUCAMP.


FOR a party that clearly cannot generate enough political capital to shake off the perception of a 10% player, the EFF has found it surprisingly easy to maintain the infatuation of media houses, disrupt debate in legislatures  and exert a significant influence on the policy of municipal governments since 2013.

A sea of ​​red berets has tested stadiums' capacity to the maximum over the past decade. The EFF is still the only party that can fill 80,000 seats. One would like to think it probably had significantly more power and influence than its 10% national support deserves and I wonder if the emergence of the uMkhonto weSizwe Party (MKP) will put an end to this.

I have attended several EFF press conferences over the years. An atmosphere of fascination, in which journalists ask questions with nervous caution, hangs as thick as incense. With a combination of pretentious anger, cheap charisma, opportunistic imagery and superficial humour, Julius Malema keeps journalists hanging on his every word. His crude indifference towards the ANC and open disdain for white South Africans elicit giggles and laughter among members of the fourth estate. Over the years, the militaristic jargon, advocacy of violence and racist rhetoric has mutated into a contemporary normality.

With Eusebius McKaiser peddling the cheap philosophy at the SABC and Radio 702 that black people have been systemically disempowered and therefore cannot be racist, the EFF rode a media wave of racial and ethnic indifference towards white, Indian and brown South Africans. With predictable regularity, the local and international media fell over their feet to report on Malema's public tirades and the theatrical hooliganism.

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Zuma’s reappearance

But all this was before Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma's MKP first appeared in opinion polls, then on the front page of every newspaper, then in court documents and finally on the ballot paper. The 2024 election is the first since the inception of the EFF in 2013 during which Malema's radical reformism is not dominating the national conversation, and unlike other elections there is an expectation that support for the EFF may trend downwards.

With the ANC in total disarray in the “last outpost" and amid the violence that plagues the province, there is ample support to be gained for both the EFF and the MKP, perhaps even for the DA. But polls show that the EFF is ceding support to the MKP in KwaZulu-Natal, until recently one of the red berets' intended growth points. What happens there could have a huge impact on the EFF's national support base.

The MKP is a Zulu ethnic political phenomenon with significant footprints in KZN, Mpumalanga and Gauteng, but if Zuma's election campaign can maintain the momentum of KZN in Mpumalanga and Gauteng and affect the EFF in these two provinces in a similar way, there is a reasonable chance the EFF will fall below the psychological threshold of 10% support and be dethroned as the enfant terrible with the media at its feet.

Saturation point

As a reminder: the EFF was founded after Malema's recalcitrant falling out with then President Zuma, which led to his expulsion from the ANC in 2012. Among the ANC members who left the party at the time to join Malema were Floyd Shivambu, Godrich Gardee, Marshall Dlamini, Dali Mpofu, Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, Joe Nkuna and Alfred Motsi. Between 2014 and 2015, Andile Mngxitama of Black First, Land First was also an EFF MP, but his disorderliness was too much even for the party that Adam Habib, former vice-chancellor of Wits, refers to as “a proto-fascist movement”.

With significant support among young South Africans, the EFF has become a political patron for the ANC's historic interests and values. While the ANC forged a neoliberal pact with the market economy, aggrieved members could switch parties without giving up an ideological inch of the ANC's original raison d'être. The EFF took up the armour of a radical, anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist movement and targeted white political interests in an attempt to stigmatise the ANC's pact with the free market economy. Malema's party was ultimately clearly distinguishable from the ANC in terms of ideology and policy.

Inequality, race-based land ownership patterns, white ownership of the economy, unemployment and nationalisation of mines and banks are areas of policy that fuelled the EFF's destructive presence in legislatures. The party's 2013 manifesto said: “We draw inspiration from the broad Marxist-Leninist tradition and Fanonian schools of thought in their analyses of the state, imperialism, culture and class contradictions in every society." However, the apparent destructiveness of the EFF in the National Assembly mostly overshadowed the ideological understanding for its existence.

The party made an impressive debut in the 2014 election, winning 6% (1.2 million votes) of national support and 25 seats in the National Assembly. After the 2019 election it had 44 seats after increasing its share of the vote to 10.8% (1.9 million votes). In North West, Limpopo and Mpumalanga, the EFF is the official opposition, and in KZN it has a power-sharing agreement with the IFP in 25 municipalities.

In the run-up to the local government elections in November 2021, the expectation among analysts was that the EFF could, with good reason, attract 15% or more of the national vote. The red berets packed large stadiums from corner to corner and Malema's press conferences and bloodthirsty statements dominated the political discourse. But the disappointing 10.88% national support raised the suspicion that voters had reached a saturation point in terms of the EFF's approach and style.

Last week, the MKP publicly declared through Zuma that the party, referring to Afrikaners, “has no plans to kill them". According to Zuma, the MKP still aspires, as in 1994, to unite all South Africans. For some conservative white people, this so-called “aspiration" is in contrast to Malema's “kill the Boer, kill the farmer". But perhaps it is also an indication that political support can be lured from the ANC without targeting white South Africans.

However, the realities of South Africa have often confirmed the EFF and Malema's drive and anger as not unfounded. The right-wing AfriForum has often confirmed Malema's claims of white arrogance by targeting the EFF with the shameless sophistication and political footwork of an old-school racist. In September 2018, this organisation made a presentation to the parliamentary constitutional review committee which is investigating possible amendments to Article 25 of the constitution. It was a debate rooted in all of our quests for justice. At issue were the country's controversial history and the moral imperative of redress.

Pieter du Toit of News24 wrote afterwards: “The deputy CEO of AfriForum, Ernst Roets, intentionally and purposefully led the Afrikaner rights organisation, its members and supporters into the wilderness with a tone-deaf, ahistorical account that neither takes into account the context of the past nor wants to understand it." Glynnis Breytenbach (DA) stood up in the National Assembly and said it was “a missed opportunity that I cannot relate to". A significant number of third-year EFF students normally sit at the back of my class and I more often than not have a constructive conversation with them. The day after these events, my attempts to provide academic context about this event were not taken very seriously.

Love affair with SA media

Finally, the argument is often made that Malema is patiently waiting for internal instability to erode the ANC's consensus so that he and his cadres can return in triumph to an ANC defined by EFF policies. But if the early signs of the polls maintain momentum and the MKP succeeds in luring significant EFF support, the red party's rhetoric and political right to exist may just give way.

The dynamic tension between the MKP and the ANC is totally different than that between the EFF and the ANC. The EFF is defined by its resentment of white South Africans, the MKP by a political anger towards Cyril Ramaphosa's ANC. Apart from Malema, most of the EFF's leadership were in junior positions or the ANC Youth League. MKP members come from the intelligence structures of the state and were once established beneficiaries of patronage in the value chain of empowerment. The EFF's feigned militarism is not sustainable in the face of the paramilitary capacity of Zuma's extended family.

If the MKP can obtain 10% of the national vote on May 29, it will be a significantly more powerful 10% than that of the EFF. In fact, the MKP's momentum could lead to Malema and Shivambu's party eventually becoming a 6% political phenomenon again. This will also probably end the media's love affair with the EFF.

♦ VWB ♦

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