It’s been a year since a nascent new brand of politics hit the scene in the form of the Economic Freedom Fighters. Today marks 365 days and some change since Julius Malema claimed leadership of what is now known as the red beret army. His political fame, which started in 2008, seemed headed for a premature end when he was ousted from the ANCYL’s presidency in 2011. Forced to resuscitate his political career, his Jacob Zuma-sanctioned removal from the ANCYL was just one of many things that made people skeptical about the firebrand’s chances of survival outside the ruling party. But he rallied. Even though he was in trouble with the courts – facing allegations of tender corruption in government deals in Limpopo – he raised the funds to establish a brand new political party despite owing the tax man (SARS) something to the effect of R16 million. So, how could someone with such a shady rep capture the votes of the electorate?
While at this time last year JuJu’s haters (inside and outside the ANC) thought that he and the whole idea was a joke. One year later, the EFF stands strong and dominates news headlines daily. The party gained 1.1 million votes in this year’s national elections and are credited with almost single handedly rejigging youth interest in South African politics. They’ve done very well for a new party that many thought would fold quickly. Particularly when compared with the opposition.
Interestingly, the party – which launched around the same time as Agang SA – has far out-performed Mamphela Ramphele’s equally young organisation – even though Ramphele was considered the more credible leader 12 months ago. At the time, one might have easily wagered that Mamphela Ramphele – and not JuJu – would survive the cut throat life of politics. Instead, Ramphele has since retired from her short stint in politics and her party itself, Agang SA, managed only 52 350 votes in the May election. The former Agang SA leader, who is worth over R55 million and owns a house in Camps Bay, suffered a significant setback in February when her “fling” with the DA exposed her as indecisive, oddly opportunistic and most of all – distant from the everyday black person. The “DAGANG” debacle raised questions about her credibility and crucially, her understanding of the plight of the poor. The EFF, suddenly, didn’t seem to be so bad to many voters. Juju continued to travel the country speaking directly to the homeless, domestic workers, cleaners and the unemployed – who make up the majority of the population.
The EFF ran their entire election campaign on their supposed understanding of the poor, so much so that their parliamentary dress code is overalls and domestic worker outfits. We knew, like JuJu promised, that Parliament would never be the same once the Freedom Fighters grabbed 25 seats in the House . And it hasn’t. Not long after the EFF showed up, the mini political storms quickly began. The party’s members staged a walk-out in solidarity after Malema was chucked out of parliament during the SONA 2014 debate. The Honourable MP’s crime had been his refusal to retract a statement he made claiming the ANC killed the 34 miners during the Marikana massacre ; and telling the chairperson of that sitting, Thandi Modise, not to tell him how to debate.
Still, Malema, faces challenges. The 33-year-old seems to be a hot potato juggling good and bad comments. Unless you are a die-hard Malema fan, you are likely to nod to what he says as quickly as you will be in complete disagreement with him. Recently, he left his his critics surprised when the red berets stood firmly against Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s proposition that journalists be made to earn licenses to trade. And of course, Malema showed us his softer side when he apologised to Ma Epainette Mbeki for the part he played in the ousting of her son, former president Thabo Mbeki in 2008.
The tax allegations facing Malema are still a problem for the EFF. If he is found guilty, he can no longer be the EFF’s parliamentary leader. Despite this, the infamous leader remains optimistic. At the EFF one year anniversary rally, where supporters were given a tray of meat to braai (he knows how to treat his guests doesn’t he?), Malema told the crowd that the EFF is here to stay.
“The future is bright, that is why I am wearing glasses,” he said on Saturday.
It remains to be seen whether the EFF will continue to grow. “For this, we need to assess the party in terms of their experience in parliament and how the electorate perceive this,” says Zwelethu Jolobe, Political Science lecturer at UCT.
— EconomicFreedom (@EconFreedomZA) July 26, 2014
Does the voting population feel that Malema is making parliament his personal playground or is he doing what he apparently set out to do – fight for equality? As long as the EFF continues to dress themselves up as the voice of the everyday people, they may very well continue to be a force to be reckoned with. While it is still too soon to tell whether that force will one day become the new opposition to the ANC, one thing is certain: the ANC (and others) had better watch out.
The #2014Elections have set an exciting and vibrant context for the future of South Africa politics to unfold upon. What happens now that you’ve voted? How do we gauge whether we’re “moving the country forward”, whether we’re “bringing change” or “economic freedom in our lifetime”? Stick with #LiveVIPZA and we’ll give you analysis, debates, comments, polls and all YOU need to understand, enjoy and interact with SA politics.