POLITICS
17/01/2018 18:25 SAST | Updated 18/01/2018 06:38 SAST

Has The EFF Resorted To A Culture Of Violence?

The radical, ultra-left red berets have brought their fight back to the streets after a string of successful legal crusades last year.

COMMENT

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) has been making headlines since the weekend, spearheading fierce protest action on racially driven issues.

The radical, ultra-left red berets -- who earned their reputation as a protest movement through their parliamentary antics and violent student protests, among other things -- have brought their fight back to the streets after a string of successful legal crusades last year.

But why now?

Why is it that -- after a year of being at the forefront of historic court cases that led to votes of no confidence being held by secret ballot and to Parliament being forced to review its rules for impeachment -- has the EFF again resorted to rabble-rousing?

Queenin Masuabi

Some analysts think it's because of the ANC's new boss. Or it is just political opportunism and populism?

On Saturday, EFF supporters launched an onslaught against clothing retailer H&M, under fire all week for an advert featuring a black child wearing a hoodie bearing a "Coolest Monkey in the Jungle" slogan.

As universities and TVET colleges opened for registration, the EFF called on all qualified matriculants who had previously not been able to afford tertiary education to present themselves for walk-in registration. There have been a number of incidents around the country of crowds of would-be students trying to force their way on to campuses to register, with EFF encouragment, despite a blanket ban on walk-ins adopted by Universities South Africa (USAF).

On Wednesday, a group of people wearing party-branded T-shirts protested outside the Hoërskool Overvaal over its language and admissions policy.

The protest turned violent, with police using stun grenades and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd.

2017 marked the third year in a row that the party has interrupted the state of the nation address – a systematic approach consisting of boycotts, disruption and insults, orchestrated as a spectacle to get their anti-Zuma/anti-ANC theme across the floor.

On the streets, the EFF's Student Command was at the forefront of the #FeesMustFall movement, while party leader Julius Malema also found himself in hot water over his radical and inciting comments on land redistribution.

It seemed last year that the party matured, using the judicial system and clever lawyers to spearhead their fight against Zuma. This past week, however, the party showed a regression.

Independent political analyst Molifi Tshabalala said that one of the reasons behind Saturday's violent H&M outburst could have been to distract from ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa's January 8 statement – which had almost reached its end when the protest began.

"It is [a strategy of anarchism], one that is wrong for the country right now. We don't have a unifier like we did in Nelson Mandela; there is a leadership vacuum in that type of leadership. The EFF is not occupying that space – they are exploiting it for their own benefit," he said.

"Their strategy depends on what is needed at the time; it varies. I don't think they have a strategy on how to deal with Ramaphosa as yet. They are aware the ANC took resolutions at their conference from a populist point of view, so now they are putting them to the test."

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. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

Politics expert Theo Venter said the EFF, by protesting unlawfully after a court decision was made in the case of Hoërskool Overvaal, is undermining the judicial system that it "got right" last year.

"Now it seems like the party is using the courts for their political gain, and not respecting its decisions outside of that. What will happen if the court some day rules against the EFF? Last year they used the rule of law to their advantage; now they are back to their old ways," he said.

"The EFF is playing the racial card. Ramaphosa is going back to the Freedom Charter and national integration, and if that theme gets traction, the EFF will increase their antics. They will only get their political advantage [if] racial polarisation widens."