THE BLOG
26/03/2018 05:57 SAST | Updated 26/03/2018 18:09 SAST

Love The Red Berets...Not So Sure About The Kidi Amin Get-Up

The EFF is the most interesting political formation in years, so why is it resorting to the easy claps of lazy rhetoric?

Mike Hutchings / Reuters
The EFF is the most interesting political formation in years, so why is it resorting to the easy claps of lazy rhetoric? asks Ferial Haffajee.

The EFF is not even five years old, but it has cut a seismic path across South Africa's political landscape and is admired in many countries on our continent.

This is because of the EFF's youthful zest, its sexy political costume and posture, and for the way it has impacted the country despite being a party with just 6.35 percent share of the national vote. Without the EFF's "Pay back the money" campaign to force former president Jacob Zuma to repay his ill-gotten gains on the renovations to his home at Nkandla, there is every chance that South Africa's political firmament would not be as hopeful as it now is. That campaign opened up a wall of opposition to corruption.

Their use of radical rhetoric resonated in a country cruelly divided between the haves and the have-nots in ways more visible and grotesque than in most other countries.

The EFF has returned Parliament to a place of accountability and excitement after years of being made moribund by the large ANC governing majority and the official opposition, the DA – the style of which is too Westminster for an African political opposition.

Enter the EFF with their workers' uniforms, and it was all change for parliamentary politics in 2014. Expelled from the ANC, the brilliant young Julius Malema with his astute organiser, Godrich Gardee, captured the zeitgeist of the forgotten and the downtrodden. Their use of radical rhetoric resonated in a country cruelly divided between the haves and the have-nots in ways more visible and grotesque than in most other countries.

Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters
Julius Malema, leader of the EFF, gestures during a media briefing in Alexandra. August 17, 2016.

In the past two years, the EFF has shown itself capable of rising above the radicalism of its rhetoric. Instead, the party's young MPs have become iconic orators with speeches that often mix depth and nuance with lived experience. They own Parliament, and you often see the younger members of the ANC trying to sound and be more like their red bench-mates rather than the green, black and gold rubber-stamps the governing bosses at party headquarters at Luthuli House have tried to turn them into.

But with this enormous power, comes enormous responsibility. And in 2018, the EFF has turned toward vicious race baiting

Undoubtedly, the EFF has pushed the ANC more firmly into the realm of redistributive politics on land and free fees. This is a good thing in a country with social justice written into our constitution. With activist lawyer Dali Mpofu in their central command, the EFF has proven itself as a party of law. It has successively used the courts to brilliant impact society. And the EFF has become a talisman for young people who want to study.

With Malema, spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi and deputy president Floyd Shivambu all studying and notching up degree after degree, the EFF has also proven itself a party of education. Malema's conversion of his infamous woodwork score into this year reading for a Masters degree is deeply aspirational and inspirational.

When Malema is in the strident dictator mode, spitting venom at easy targets, he reminds me of a Kidi Amin, a young version of the man who called himself the King of Scotland, the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin.

But with this enormous power, comes enormous responsibility. And in 2018, the EFF has turned toward vicious race baiting – it's an easy win in a country with smouldering politics, and Malema harnesses the claps when he assails "whiteness", Chinese and Indians – as he done in tweets almost as explosive and unwise as U.S. president Donald Trump's 140-character nuclear bombs.

Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters
The EFF secured 6.35 percent of popular support in the 2014 general elections.

And for someone who has benefited from media largesse more than most politicians, Malema and his team attack journalists far too often for ostensible believers in media freedom. For that, they win plaudits too.

It's easy, but is it wise?

When Malema is in the strident dictator mode, spitting venom at easy targets, he reminds me of a Kidi Amin, a young version of the man who called himself the King of Scotland, the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin.

It's a persona Malema has taken on far too often this year, when I would argue that the orator in the red beret is far more interesting and far more authentic.