A shack dweller, an economist and a social unionist reveal their views on what the future holds for the EFF, writes Henri du Plessis.
Cape Town - Ever since the elections almost a month ago, many have been wondering how a new party, led by a man many people consider a maverick and a loose cannon, came to be the third biggest party in the National Assembly.
People are also wondering what this says about the country’s immediate future.
Does the ascendance of Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) spell trouble? Is this the arrival of the second revolution? And does it suggest society is becoming radicalised?
Not according to three divergent views from three very different people.
Siyamboleka James, Western Cape leader of the shack-dwellers’ movement Abahlali baseMjondolo, respected economist Mike Schussler and socialist unionist Shaheed Mahomed are not the kind of people who would share a campfire.
Yet, when it comes to the EFF, the three are broadly in agreement.
They all agree that the EFF’s meteoric rise has everything to do with disenchantment and populism and that, unless party leaders come up with careful and successful strategies, its fall is going to be equally meteoric.
James did not need many words to get to the point.
“The EFF’s manifesto sounds good for my people, that is true, especially now that people are unhappy with the ANC,” he said.
“But the problem is that people have already seen through them. They are also just in politics for themselves
. You will see, the moment they are in Parliament and life is good for them, they will also forget the poor.
“When Abahlali baseMjondolo gave all parties a chance to present to them what they would do, the EFF did not even present. And we know their leaders. They come from the same place as the leaders of the ANC, they are not different,” James said.
“Our organisation needs to fight for our people who do not have homes, who live in terrible circumstances. We will support the politicians who show they will do something about that. I cannot change my mind that this new political organisation will not disappear again like Cope.”
Schussler believes the bluster is easy to sell before an election, but that a more rational process takes over once the election is done and dusted.
“One has to remember that many more registered voters chose not to vote than those who chose to vote for the EFF,” Schussler said. “If those who did not vote supported a certain party, that party would now have been in government. This clearly shows that many more people did not express their disenchantment by supporting the EFF’s radical statements.”
Schussler said he was not sure the EFF would feature in the future.
“The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) said they were going to start a political party based on socialism. I cannot help but think this party would rather become the darling of the working class, not the EFF.
“Eventually, the debate is about the economy. Politics is the art of what is possible and economics determine what is possible. I believe we will see a more measured approach by government regarding economics and business.
“The EFF should have no effect on government thinking. After all, the EFF has 6 percent of the vote, while the centrist official opposition, the Democratic Alliance, has 22 percent. I think the swing of support to the DA will be of greater interest to the government.
“I do not think the EFF is going to be around for too long. Victimhood only brings you support for so long… The reality is that 36 percent of employed African adults are self-employed. Already, 90 percent of people in this country are connected to electricity. In India, 90 percent are not. Here, we have the second highest percentage of home ownership in the world. There is no other place in the world where the number of people living on government grants is larger than the number of taxpayers.
“Our country has the highest second-home ownership in the world and the owners are mainly black. Here we have 16 million people with savings accounts. People want ownership.
“The EFF may shout and scream, but figures like these will make them irrelevant in the end. And to grow a party from here, you need money. These guys won’t get money from business.”
Schussler said the ANC was under pressure and it knew it needed to be more competitive. Job creation was one field in which it had been very poor.
“Unemployment is poverty is inequality,” he said.
Mahomed said the ANC and the DA’s manifestos were essentially the same and that workers especially had become disenchanted with the ruling party.
“That is why the EFF is a protest vote against the ANC,” Mahomed said.
“Look at their rhetoric; they talked radical, they went to the hot spots. The trend is not unique to South Africa. As the capitalist crisis is deepening, the shift first goes to the right, to the middle class, to parties like the DA, while there is some shift to the left to parties such as the EFF.
“But it is also an indication of the role Numsa’s political party can play.”
Mahomed confirmed he was also a Cosatu member. He said there was a strong sense among the rank and file in Cosatu that the organisation needed to change. “For many people, there have been 20 years of promises. The EFF will lose support. Workers will see they are all bluster, with no real action.
“If you look at them, their behaviour, their red berets, they are actually national socialists. But the fact is, after 20 years, the country’s people are maturing politically and they are seeing that the system is holding nothing for us.”
* Henri du Plessis is a staff writer for the Cape Argus.