NEWS

Analysis: Why It's Time For The EFF To Grow Up

The breakaway opposition party is celebrating its fourth anniversary and needs a new direction.

29/07/2017 07:28 SAST | Updated 29/07/2017 09:36 SAST
Mike Hutchings / Reuters
Party leader Julius Malema and members of his Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) clash with Parliamentary security as they are evicted from the chamber in Cape Town, South Africa, May 17, 2016.

Analysis

The Economic Freedom Fighters have a lot to celebrate on their fourth anniversary. They have grown at an unprecedented rate as an independent opposition since the party was formed when members -- led by expelled ANC Youth League President Julius Malema -- broke away from the ruling party in 2013.

But have Malema's red berets reached a plateau or is there more to come from the overall-wearing, pro-poor party who have thus far managed to agitate the country's political atmosphere?

It all began in 2012 when Malema, who was the ANC's Youth League president, was suspended from the party after being found guilty of undermining party leadership and sowing division through his criticism of President Jacob Zuma.

Malema's current second-in-charge, Floyd Shivambu -- who was the league's spokesperson at the time -- was also suspended on several charges, including accusing the ANC of associating with imperialists.

'My blood is black, green and gold'
Malema, in his first press conference after his dismissal, said he would never start his own political party despite being kicked out of the ANC.

"My blood is black, green and gold. I will die in the ANC. I will stay and sleep here, outside the gate of the ANC. My umbilical cord was buried here in the ANC," he said.

Ironic.

It now seems his blood is all red, pumping with the sole intention of hitting back at the ANC and its president. The EFF's onslaught against Zuma started in Parliament, continued in the courts and ends on the streets.

Although the EFF is a small grouping in Parliament, their members have managed to outshine the Democratic Alliance in confronting the ANC, and at the same time, rally opposition parties to a common cause.

The EFF is notorious for constantly disrupting parliamentary proceedings, seemingly intent on getting thrown out of the house as a statement to their rebellion. This year, the party was most violently ejected from the house during Zuma's State of the Nation Address (which they have disrupted three years in a row) and have since boycotted Parliament when Zuma speaks.

But this year, the DA, who are most stringent on parliamentary rules, walked out behind the EFF.

Malema also spearheaded a campaign to the Constitution Court. It was a crafty, legal strategy which asked the Chief Justice and his panel to make declarations on the Speaker of Parliament, Baleka Mbete, and Zuma's conduct. It sought for the legal equivalent of asking the court to detail how it really feels about Zuma and Parliament.

Growing from strength to strength
On the streets, and in the communities, the EFF have denounced ANC policy and critiqued its service delivery. Most notably, this showed in the polls, with the ANC suffering a massive weakening during the 2016 local government elections, while the EFF have grown from strength to strength.

After it obtained 6% of the national vote in the general elections in 2014, the party went on to be the king maker that assisted the DA in snatching three metros: Johannesburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay.

The EFF managed this by campaigning grass roots policies which affect the disadvantaged and the youth directly. That is where their voting staple lies.

Unlike other breakaway parties like COPE, Agang SA and the UDM, the EFF is growing rather than deteriorating.

'Need to find their own space'
Political analysts Ralph Mathekga said smaller breakaway opposition parties identify with the ideology of their founding members, and the EFF has had such a significant influence on politics and Parliament, that it is disproportionate to their electoral strength.

"They need to find their own space and do something differently to grow," Mathekga said.

The University of Western Cape's Keith Gottschalk has shown a "genius" for grabbing headlines, and have run a spectacular campaign.

"The EFF have passed the first hurdle but they are not as yet a majority in any area. If you read their manifesto, and the incredible list of their demands, they propose to subsidize these from company tax. They may have reached the limit of their support," Gottschalk said.

He said the party's tactical working relationship with the DA is "surprising".

"The pair are on ideologically opposite sides of the spectrum but have a shared hatred of the ruling party. But the crunch time will come in the municipal budgets when it is decided where the money will go."

The challenge for the EFF will now be on the outcomes of a concrete legislative strategy, while continuing to hold the ANC to account.