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EFF must walk the talk on youth, worker liberation

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Photo: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency (ANA) – As part of the EFF 10th Anniversary, party president Julius Malema, accompanied by the National Chairperson Veronica Mente, treasure general Omphile Mankoba Confidence Maotwe and chairman in the Western Cape Unathi Ntame visited the Alakana home for the children in Malmesbury to donate R100 thousand and to have a party with the young ones.

By Trevor Ngwane

The EFF will soon be celebrating their 10th birthday. The party was founded on July 26, 2013, by a coterie of ANC Youth League members in reaction to the expulsion of their president, Julius Malema. This was the second splinter from the ANC following the formation of the Congress of the People in 2008 by comrades who were left angered by the recall of former president Thabo Mbeki from office.

Their new party was soon weakened by internecine conflict, leading to catastrophic electoral decline, forcing some members to heed the ANC call to splinter groups “It’s cold outside – come back home.”

By comparison, the EFF is doing well, winning 10.6% of the national vote in the 2019 elections and maintaining its status as the second-biggest opposition party in Parliament. The decline in ANC’s electoral support and political dominance has seen the EFF play the role of kingmaker and dethroner in municipal coalition politics.

In 2024, the ANC faces the prospect of losing its majority control of the National Assembly, which opens the prospect of a coalition government and new possibilities for the EFF. What does the future hold for the EFF? What can we expect of this young and youthful political party in the next 10 years or so?

June is Youth Month in South Africa as the country remembers the sacrifices made by students in the struggle for liberation. Thirteen-year-old Hector Pieterson was shot dead by apartheid police in Soweto, sparking a mass movement that culminated in the downfall of the apartheid regime and ushering in of a democratic order. The role of the youth in struggle is indelibly etched in history, and the EFF invokes this tradition. It is thus appropriate to evaluate the EFF from the perspective of the needs, hopes and future of the youth.

The EFF Founding Manifesto states that the party is fighting for, among others, ‘the dejected masses, the homeless, hopeless youth, the rural and urban poor, the informal settlement dwellers, the unemployed and underemployed population’. Research suggests that about half of EFF supporters are between 18 and 34 years old, and that about 38% of South African youth are attracted by the party’s policies. The youth of South Africa is disproportionately affected by the unemployment crisis and finds hope in the EFF.

The ANC has arguably failed the youth of South Africa. The rich have gotten richer, and the poor poorer, under its watch. Although there has been an increase in the size of the black middle class, half of the population finds itself mired in poverty, hardship and suffering, suggesting that the upward mobility of the minority is at the expense of the majority. The attraction of the EFF lies in its bold call for struggle, power and wealth. Through struggle, it says, it will take state power and implement policies that will redistribute wealth in favour of the poor and dispossessed, ‘the black majority, and Africans, in particular.’

‘Nationalisation of mines, banks, and other strategic sectors of the economy, without compensation, free quality education, healthcare, houses, and sanitation’ are central pillars of the EFF programme. The EFF ‘draws inspiration from the broad Marxist-Leninist tradition and Fanonian schools of thought’ and frequently identifies itself as socialist. However, a closer look suggests that its economic policies are social democratic and based on Keynesian economics rather than revolutionary Marxism.

Indeed, it can be argued that there is very little in the EFF programme that the ANC has not espoused in its phase as a militant and revolutionary national liberation movement, that is before it adopted ‘a modestly redistributive Afro-Neo-liberalism’ policy when it became manager of government for the capitalist state.

The EFF slogan ‘economic freedom in our lifetime’, is a modification of the ANC slogan of the 1950s ‘inkululeko ngesikhathi sethu’ (freedom in our lifetime), which interestingly was adopted by the ANC Youth League under the leadership of Julius Malema before his expulsion from the ANC. Some observers have argued that former president Jacob Zuma orchestrated the expulsion of Malema partly because of a struggle over control of patronage networks of state capture and the young comrade’s ambition, which threatened to scuttle the ANC old guard’s traditional first claim to top positions. In other words, the expulsion was not a disagreement of principle. The EFF is Malema’s ANC.

The EFF should not play games with the political emotions and hopes of the South African youth, especially the black working-class youth. It should not raise its hopes about a future of socialism and then do what the ANC did: dash the hopes of another generation of South African youth. The ANC’s somersault away from socialist and social-democratic policies in favour of pro-capitalist Neo-liberalism has caused tremendous damage to the working class in South Africa. These are people who were brutalised by apartheid and further abused by the ANC’s three decades of market-driven, trickle-down, anti-poor economic policies.

Recently, there have been some criticisms of the EFF and especially of Malema for inconsistent politics. The EFF supports black capitalism or the state-supported enrichment of the aspirant black bourgeoisie. The EFF has come out in support of traditional leaders and their undemocratic and patriarchal claim to power. It has formed coalitions with pro-capitalist parties, including voting for anti-working class budgets. Its leaders have been accused of corruption. This does not bode well for the youth that are putting their trust and hope on the EFF. Some of them will be bound to defend the indefensible because they will be called upon to defend their organisation and their leader. Doing so will cause untold damage to themselves.

The EFF must leave the path of its ‘mother body’, the ANC, and eschew the politics of class collaboration with the capitalist class, whether black or white. It must add ‘under workers’ control’ to its call for nationalisation without compensation. Karl Marx said the working class is a revolutionary subject, the EFF must allow the workers to lead. If, in the next 10 years, it takes or shares national state power, it must not do what the ANC did, betray the masses in favour of the self-enrichment of the leaders and the capitalist class.

*Trevor Ngwane is the Director of the Centre for Sociological Research and Practice, University of Johannesburg.