Johannesburg - Julius Malema, who was expelled from the ruling African National Congress, has rekindled his political career after the party he created seven months ago to contest this week’s election won the third most votes.
More than 1 million people voted for the Economic Freedom Fighters on May 7, putting its support at 6.2 percent with most ballots counted, according to provisional figures released by the Independent Electoral Commission.
That exceeds the 5 percent predicted in an Ipsos opinion poll on May 2 and gives the party about 24 of the 400 seats in the National Assembly.
The ANC won 62.4 percent of the vote.
Malema’s pledge to nationalise mines and banks and expropriate farms, a campaign that he failed to push through the ANC, has found resonance among black, unemployed youths.
A charismatic leader who wears a red beret and describes himself as the party’s commander-in-chief, Malema, 33, has drawn on Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez for political inspiration.
“It has demonstrated that it has a large core of enthusiastic supporters,” Professor Daryl Glaser, head of the political science department at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, said by phone yesterday.
“It’s growth prospects beyond the elections will depend on people’s loyalty to Malema, and there’s a fair chance that it will hold together as people in the party have a lot of trust in Malema.”
EFF has displaced the Democratic Alliance, which won 22 percent of the national vote, as the main opposition in two of country’s nine provinces -- in Limpopo, which is Malema’s home, and North West, where he has campaigned among platinum mineworkers who have been on strike for more than three months.
A November survey by Ipsos showed 45 percent of EFF’s supporters were unemployed and 78 percent were under the age of 35.
South Africa’s jobless rate is 25 percent, the highest of more than 40 emerging markets tracked by Bloomberg.
Besides championing nationalisation, the EFF calls for free education, health care and housing and the introduction of minimum wages.
“We’ve met a lot of challenges, some of our meetings have been disrupted, posters removed, tents burned down and petrol bombed,” Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, the EFF’s national spokesman, said in an interview at the national elections centre in Pretoria yesterday.
“We’ve had a tough campaign but we’ve been fighting and fought a good fight.”
Malema was expelled from the ANC two years ago after he criticised President Jacob Zuma and other leaders for failing to support his nationalisation campaign and called for the overthrow of the government in neighbouring Botswana.
South Africa is the world’s biggest producer of platinum and sixth largest for gold.
Malema’s path to taking up a seat in Parliament may be upended.
The South African Revenue Service seized his home and other possessions last year after he failed to pay more than 16 million rand in taxes and won a court application in February to declare him insolvent.
If the High Court confirms the order at a hearing on May 26, he will be prevented from becoming a lawmaker.
Malema is also facing separate fraud and corruption charges.
“Those voter numbers have already qualified him as a member of parliament,” Ndlozi said.
“Sequestration is not going to happen because we’ll challenge it to the highest court of the land.”
The EFF’s success at the polls contrasts that of others, including AgangSA, created last year by ex-GoldFields chairwoman Mamphela Ramphele, which received just 0.3 percent of the votes.
Support for the Congress of the People, formed in 1999 by Mosiuoa Lekota, an ex-defense minister and ANC chairman, and Mbhazima Shilowa, a former premier of the central Gauteng province, dropped to 0.7 percent from 7.4 percent five years ago.
Support for the EFF may represent a “protest vote” against the ANC, with voters fed up with the ruling party’s failure to create more jobs and improve living conditions for many poor people, said Adam Habib, vice-chancellor of the University of Witwatersrand.
“Instead of people who are unhappy with the ANC spoiling their ballots, we’ve seen more of them engaging in a protest vote by voting for the EFF,” he said by phone today.
“It’s a vote that says: We want to teach you a lesson and we’re going to vote for the EFF.” - Bloomberg News