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13/06/2018 08:53 SAST | Updated 13/06/2018 08:54 SAST

The EFF Uses Radical Rhetoric As A Means To Stay Relevant

'The anxiety shown by the top political parties going into the 2019 elections in South Africa has also infected the EFF.'

Siphiwe Sibeko/ Reuters

The road to the 2019 elections is paved with uncertainties, risks, and the need for deeper calculations as far as South Africa's top political parties are concerned. The 2019 elections are poised to redefine the boundaries between the governing African National Congress (ANC), the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) and the radical Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).

All these politicians are currently encountering problems that would determine how they respectively fare in the elections. The ANC is experiencing internal squabbles that would take up much of the party's time, instead of dedicating that time to campaigning for the elections. Continued factions within the ANC, as we have recently seen in relation to KwaZulu-Natal, are some of the worrying issues within the party.

Having to waste time on internal party squabbles instead of focusing on the elections is something that should not only concern the ANC; the DA is also experiencing similar headwinds as the party is preparing for 2019.

In recent months, the DA has been embroiled in an unwinnable tussle with Patricia De Lille in the City of Cape Town, which has laid bare inadequacies when it comes to the party's ability to address internal differences.

The public spats among senior DA leaders on how to position the DA in relation to the race dialogue in the country have shown that the party will find it difficult to convince voters that the party is indeed capable of responding to South Africa's historical challenges. These are the challenges that require that the DA takes a position on matters such as inequality and race relations, for example. So far, the DA has severely mishandled these debates. However, it's not over for the party yet.

The anxiety shown by the top political parties going into the 2019 elections in South Africa has also infected the EFF; South Africa's electoral newbie. The EFF is going into the elections having to calculate as to how much dosage of radical rhetoric will be necessary to keep the voters interested in the EFF as a party that speaks truth to power.

The EFF wants to recalibrate its radicalism and assess what is tolerable in the eyes of the voters. The statement by Malema has the necessary vagueness to achieve this.

The EFF has recently attempted a practical approach by focusing on issues such as health collapse in the country as an issue through which to cosy up to potential voters. The EFF, however, seems not to have confidence in an electoral campaign strategy that is based on building something such as the health sector. The EFF seems to be uneasy with this straightforward strategy and its ability to bring voters closer to the party.

Hence, the EFF wants to go into the attack, a strategy that the party has perfected very well during Jacob Zuma's leadership. Unlike during Zuma's tenure when the EFF could leisurely fire in Zuma's direction without necessarily having to be worried about missing the well-exposed target, the situation has recently become too complicated.

The EFF needs to choose enemies carefully and yet it has to make a compelling case in each of the attacks it undertakes. The EFF CIC Julius Malema has recently stated that the party has not called for the killing of white people yet. The statement is loaded, yet it's simple.

Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters

Malema is actually saying that if the situation dictates or if the strategic interests of the party so require, the EFF will not hesitate to target whites. In this way, the EFF will appear radical and capable of targeting anyone who does not agree with the party.

At this point, the EFF cannot be accused of targeting whites because it has not actually done so. But the party is actually threatening to do so if it fails to win policy concession through dialogue. It's a win-win scenario for the EFF: Agree with what I want on the table or else I will burn down the house. However, this cannot be a condition for fair engagement on the table.

Although the EFF strategy is dishonest in the sense that the party wants to have it both ways by benefitting from formal policy dialogue and threats at the same time, the strategy is a clear indication that the EFF wants to recalibrate its radicalism and assess what is tolerable in the eyes of the voters. The statement by Malema has the necessary vagueness to achieve this. This is just so the party can be well positioned to remain relevant.

The outright denial by some within our society that race matters in the allocation of opportunities in our society is a factor that serves to fuel extremism in how others seek to tackle the race question.

The sad reality with the use of race as a political rallying point in the elections is that race becomes even more relevant where those who are presumed level-headed fail to handle the race debate properly.

The outright denial by some within our society that race matters in the allocation of opportunities in our society is a factor that serves to fuel extremism in how others seek to tackle the race question.

Quite interesting about the 2019 elections is that not only are different political parties set on going into the elections with extreme and divisive policy positions, but parties will use the elections as a referendum on those policies. This means that we might see major policy and rhetoric adjustments after the elections.