07/06/2018 04:38 SAST | Updated 07/06/2018 04:39 SAST

Is The EFF An Ethno-Racial Party?

Analysts are divided on whether the EFF (and its leadership) display racist tendencies, or use race to bait voters at the polls.

EFF leader Julius Malema (C) and fellow EFF members of Parliament answer journalists' questions as they walk out of the National Assembly on February 16 2018 in Cape Town.
NASIEF MANIE via Getty Images
EFF leader Julius Malema (C) and fellow EFF members of Parliament answer journalists' questions as they walk out of the National Assembly on February 16 2018 in Cape Town.

Leaders of the EFF have, since the party's inception (and before), come under fire for various racial slurs — most recently those from its deputy leader, Floyd Shivambu, who reportedly called Treasury deputy director-general Ismail Momoniat a "non-African".

The incident, which sparked furious responses on social media and condemnation from Parliament's standing committee on finance, with which Shivambu was meeting when he made the comments, has ignited the debate on how the EFF deals with the issue of race — politically and rhetorically.

Analysts speaking to HuffPost on Wednesday answered the question: Is the EFF an ethno-racial party?

READ: The EFF — South Africa's Curious Creature

Independent political analyst Ralph Mathekga said the EFF offers a different approach to political debates in South Africa by, on occasion, moving away from the mainstream issues surrounding various policies.

"The EFF is good with the politics of gossip. For instance, Shivambu accused Momoniat of corruption. It becomes difficult in these cases to falsify or prove correct these comments, because the party and its followers do not leave themselves open to critique and inspection on what they say in the public domain," Mathekga said.

READ: All You Need To Know About The Red Berets

"The EFF carries out the interests of the black South African, and they are blatant about this. They are operating from the extreme left, and this makes it difficult to engage with them,as they are too far from the centre. Its leaders go below the belt and position themselves as people who know everything about everything. Their racial comments make headlines for a day, then disappear."

Politics expert Susan Booysen had a different view.

READ: Dear Floyd: In Curiosity, From Ferial

"The EFF has non-black members within its ranks. So why would they draw this differentiation between African and non-African, unless you are trying to exclude someone? The party would have to draw the same differentiation between its members. All political parties target a bloc of voters, which they know gets the best return for their campaigning. Certainly, the EFF gets overwhelming support from young, black voters," she said.

"But it is difficult to call the party racist. You can't call the party as a party racist. They may practice racial targeting in their campaigning, but all parties do. One cannot talk about South African politics, the economy, land or any other topic, without bringing in the inequalities in race. Talking politics is a lot about talking race, because that is the dynamic in which politics exists in South Africa."

Political analyst Protas Madlala said the party will have to expand from race-baiting if it is to grow.

"The EFF portray a large anti-white and anti-Indian sentiment, even if they will never admit it. All we have to do is look back at the comments its leader Julius Malema made as far back as from when he led the ANC's Youth League. EFF leaders are making a mistake, and it is the same as mistakes being made by the BLF and the upcoming pro-Zuma party Mazibuyele Emasisweni — you do not have to be anti-everyone to be pro-black," he said.

"The EFF is following the original slogan of the PAC. But where is the PAC now? It is the essential weakness of ultra-leftism. South Africans pride themselves on racial tolerance. Having members of other races does not make you a racially diverse party."