Picture: Phando Jikelo / African News Agency (ANA) / Taken on May 5, 2023 – 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 chairperson in the Western Cape, Unathi Ntame, visited the Elkana home for children in Malmesbury to donate R100 thousand and to have a party with the young ones.
By Trevor Ngwane
When Julius Malema was raised to the skies on an elevated stage, fist clenched and confetti flying in the air, at the EFF’s 10th-anniversary celebration at a packed FNB Stadium on July 29 last year, it was a moment of triumph and a performative declaration of intent for the 2024 elections.
The question is whether he can deliver on the expectations arising from his “Beyoncé moment”: Will the EFF win enough votes to have its claim to be the government of the future taken seriously? Will the EFF win enough votes in the Gauteng and the KwaZulu-Natal provinces to bolster its claim that Malema is the future president of the country?
The EFF was launched in 2013 and went on to win 1,169,259 votes, amounting to 6.35 percent of the total votes cast, in the 2014 national and provincial elections. In that election, 451,318 people voted for the party in Gauteng, 10.30 percent of the vote. In KZN, it got 70,823 votes, 1.85 percent of the vote.
This was arguably a flying start for the new party. The victory ensured its visibility in Parliament, especially when its 25 MPs wore red workers’ overalls instead of formal suits and costumes. A new red kid had invaded the pristine bourgeois ambience of the National Assembly. The kid was prone to rowdy behaviour which was punished this week with a banning that led to the EFF’s absence at the State of the Nation Address.
The EFF’s performance in the 2019 national elections is best understood against the backdrop of ANC’s losses. The ANC’s electoral support had fallen from over 62 percent in 2014 to 57.50 percent in 2019. On the other hand, the EFF increased its share of the vote from 6.35 percent to 10.80 percent. It also managed to increase its Gauteng share to 14.69 percent and its KwaZulu-Natal share to 9.71 percent. These are arguably steady and impressive but modest increments if viewed in the light of Malema’s stated bombastic ambitions, and the EFF’s penchant for highly publicised political theatrics including its protest actions and other attention-seeking gimmicks.
There is no doubt that the EFF is intent on dramatically increasing its share of the vote this year, and failure to do so will be a blow to the party and its leadership. Increasing the Gauteng and KZN share of the vote is key in the EFF’s election strategy given the populous nature of these provinces. The disappointing showing in the 2014 election in KZN must be of great concern to the EFF although the improvement in 2019 was celebrated by Malema in a speech. But he has made his intentions clear by his plan to launch the party’s election manifesto at the Moses Mabhida Stadium this weekend.
Not surprisingly, the ANC and the IFP have also decided to launch their manifestos in the same venue. KZN and Gauteng are the kingmakers in South African politics. The newly launched Umkhonto weSizwe (MK) party led by former president Jacob Zuma has been described as a spoiler, a kind of wild card in the elections. The party was launched only in December last year and Zuma’s involvement came as a shock to many. Zuma made his political mark by closely identifying with KZN and emphasising his Zulu identity.
He is credited with increasing the ANC’s support base in the province including winning the late Zulu king away from the IFP. His decision to fight as MK in the elections is bound to lose the ANC votes and is making the IFP, EFF and other parties worried.
So far, the EFF does not seem to have an answer to the MK challenge. In Gauteng, the EFF faces the challenge of winning the vote of the elderly and the not-so-young as it has projected itself as a youthful party since Malema’s split from the ANC, when he was president of its Youth League. The EFF’s involvement in municipal coalition governments has also not been comforting to voters who were disoriented by the endless votes of confidence, power struggles and the resultant lack of attention to service delivery issues.
However, if the youth come out in numbers to vote, which they have increasingly failed to do, then the EFF can see some improvement. But what it wants and needs is a jump in the number of votes and not incremental growth. The EFF has made an impact as the voice of radicalism and uncompromising struggle for land, wealth and power. Its election victories are related to its successes, but they are only an aspect, not the whole.
The problem is arguably that its leadership is increasingly seeing the election numbers game as the alpha and omega of its strategy and measure of success. It is increasingly being drawn into bourgeois electoral politics. Its coalition tactics seem to pull it deeper and deeper into pragmatism, opportunism and lack of revolutionary principle. This is a great pity because the EFF is one of few political parties contesting for elections that have not embraced capitalism gleefully as the ANC sadly did.
Malema is right to claim that it is the last hope of the working class and the poor. But he is wrong to think that hope lies in the ballot box. The EFF can and will increase the number of votes it gets in Gauteng and KZN in the next election. But it must not bury itself irretrievably in bourgeois politics.
Trevor Ngwane is Director of the Centre for Sociological Research and Practice at the University of Johannesburg.