Graphic: Timothy Alexander/African News Agency (ANA) – In most parts of Africa and in the diaspora, the CIC (Commander-in-Chief) of the EFF, Julius Malema, is seen as a leader of significance, if not a future President, the writer says.
By Kim Heller
As young freedom fighter and activist Solomon Kalushi Mahlangu was put to death by hanging in 1979, his last words were rooted in a selfless courage and commitment to a struggle whose longevity he knew was well beyond his own.
In those final moments of life, Kalushi said: “My blood will nourish the tree that will bear the fruits of freedom. Tell my people that I love them. They must continue the fight.’’
Kalushi, a young man of just nineteen years, was sentenced to death by the vicious apartheid regime he had fought. The fight for freedom is no quick flick, short feature, or easy matinee. Time and time again, it is an epic, and too often a neverending story. And when there is a happy ending it is typically only after titanic losses, wretched retreats, and a serial of lengthy battles.
The nine-year battle for economic freedom that the EFF has fought since it was launched in 2013, has seen it emerge as South Africa’s third largest political party. The EFF achieved 10.7 percent of the vote in the country’s 2019 national election: a healthy increase from its 6.3 percent tally in 2014.
While many a wise analyst has spoken of how the EFF has reached its pinnacle and that it is unlikely to reach much beyond its current 10 percent electoral vote, such analysis may well prove to be shortsighted.
Since inception, the party has certainly proven its mettle and has punched well above its weight.
It may hold but a small fraction of the electoral vote, but its share of voice and its scope of influence is far beyond its current electoral holding. Not only in South Africa, but in the Continent, and internationally.
It may be a matter of ‘eyes wide shut’ for some scribes of history but it was not the ANC, the governing party, but the EFF which placed the issue of land expropriation without compensation centrepiece in Parliament. In so doing, the EFF redefined the political discourse and trajectory of South Africa.
EFF is not a political party that has mapped its course on colonial infused thought or geographically imposed borders, or even on the conventional protocol that govern so much of today’s party politics. EFF’s expression of and commitment to African unity and to growing its impact and footprint in Africa, is potentially a game changer for how Continental politics is conceptualised and framed.
It was the revolutionary President of Burkina Faso, Thomas Sankara, who spoke of the need for nonconformity and courage to turn one’s back on old formulas in order to carry out fundamental change and to invent the future.
And it appears as if this is exactly what the EFF was doing as it charted out its clear intent to grow its African footprint. In 2019, the party expressed its intent to recruit members across the Continent. Today it boasts branches and networks in more than a handful of African countries including Zimbabwe, Liberia, Lesotho, Botswana, and has Parliamentary representation in Namibia.
“Many have said how EFF would die, and it would never make it to a year. The doomsayers said it would vanish into thin air. Little did they know we are permanent residents of South Africa and Africa, and we are not going anywhere,” Malema told a gathering of supporters.
EFF marked this year’s Africa Day by marching to the French embassy in South Africa calling for France to leave the Continent. Malema said during the proceedings that “colonisers such as France, Britain and Spain among others, must leave the continent of Africa, because Africa belongs to Africans”.
There are those who may argue that EFF’s focus on issues of Africa will dead end the party in South Africa, costing it precious votes in upcoming elections, given the rising antagonisms between ordinary day South Africans and African migrants.
Along the way, the EFF has made some moves I have not always understood, and some of which I queried and criticised publicly such as what I called the party’s ‘illegitimate’ gifting of votes to the DA in the 2016 municipal elections. Sometimes political leaders and organisations in fighting the long-battle, employ tactics that may appear off course, but in the end, these are clearly shown to have been integral to a long-term strategy. Some simply fight the wrong battles, some the wrong game entirely.
There are very few leaders with the foresight to see beyond the current day and into the future and prepare for it with an ideological and strategy clarity that can only but bring certain victory, perhaps not today or the next day, but in a tomorrow many of us may never see.
While EFF’s views on the need for a united Africa, xenophobia, colonialism may not bode well for short term or expedient political gains in upcoming local or national South African elections, EFF’s lens on Africa signals a strong and compelling long term political vision.
Malema is focused on the future in his own words: “It is our generation that must fight for borderless Africa and create one country out of this continent, called the United States of Africa.”
I would argue that EFF has a clear vision and a clear political map. It is the ANC, not the EFF, that has lost its way. While EFF leaders are looking at a tomorrow where African leaders sit together to plan and realise a unified and prosperous future for the Continent, ANC leaders, on the whole can be found wandering in the narrow, ugly turf of internal factional politics. While the EFF is working on a new age path for Continental politics, the ANC’s rupture of internally focused, self-serving politicking is spilling over into the unpaved streets of South Africa, creating a sewerage of service delivery decay, and leaving a pothole of empty promises. Such is the ever-increasing mess of the ruling party.
And when ANC leaders are suddenly jolted back into the real- time world of poor, struggling ordinary South Africans, to campaign for votes, there is no good story to tell. So the ANC can do nothing but speak about its long-lost glory days, its noble past, its previous leaders who had a certain gravitas and its past achievements way back in a past that the current generation barely know. Stuck in the yesteryear, today’s ANC is a grossly out- of-shape, out-of-ideas organisation.
Unlike the ANC, the EFF is forward looking, and focused on the future.
And so while local media and poor visioned opponents and political rivals may do much to diminish both EFF and its leaders, the party is growing its continental and global presence. The party’s strong statement on the role of Queen Elizabeth II in the brutal legacy of colonialism, was broadcast on major international television stations, and was a feature on Trevor Noah’s Daily Show. In most parts of Africa and in the diaspora, the CIC (Commander-in-Chief) of the EFF, Julius Malema, is seen as a leader of significance, if not a future President. “I love brother Julius Malema … he is a celebrated figure here in the States” says Uncle Phil, the host of African Diaspora News, a television news platform, in the US.
This during my recent interview on white supremacy in South Africa: “Malema scares global white supremacy” says Phil. “I was disappointed he was not elected President.“
Only history knows whether Julius Malema will see economic liberation in South Africa and the Continent, in his own lifetime. The fight for freedom does not easily conform to the ready cadence of storytelling. The fight for freedom is a story that tends to outlive both minor and major protagonist, both freedom fighter and oppressor.
But the seeds, they have been planted, not only across the plains of South Africa but Africa itself, for a free tomorrow that will eventually rise.
Heller is a political analyst and author of ‘No White Lies: Black Politics and White Power in South Africa.’