Durban - We’re driving out of Wilson’s Wharf after interviewing the EFF’s Vusi Khoza when photographer Jacques Naude gets an epiphany. “Hey, I know that guy. I remember I took a photo of him in court and this big, fat woman jumped on me. It was very funny actually, everyone laughed.”
In an interview marked by populist rhetoric, wild predictions, claims and promises typical of politicians in election season, Khoza had spent the previous hour waxing lyrical about the EFF’s virtues and how it would change South Africa for the better.
All he had left for his once-beloved ANC was contempt.
He spelt out, somewhat too fancifully, his imagination of a South Africa thriving socially and economically – thanks to the EFF’s cure-all radical policies. Under it, the state would create jobs through its 60 percent ownership of mines and banks. It would double social grants and expropriate – without compensation – all land that lies idle, for redistribution to “the majority”.
Malema’s party couldn’t have chosen a more controversial and colourful figure to slap on a red beret, matching T-shirt and ordain its KwaZulu-Natal convener than Khoza.
His CV lists such varying attributes as skilled orator, ex-street kid, ex-eThekwini council translator, ex-mayoral spin doctor, ex-city councillor who once klapped a caterer inside City Hall; and was later charged with two counts of murder, among other things, during a wave of xenophobia-fuelled violence in Albert Park in January, 2009.
Although the murder charges were subsequently dropped and he was sentenced to three years, suspended for five years, for inciting public violence and for malicious damage to property, the spectre of accusation still hangs over Khoza – perhaps because the case dragged on for years.
“It doesn’t worry me what people think,” Khoza said defiantly. “The ANC branch in Albert Park knows exactly what happened. They know the people who were there. A huge number of people know the truth.
“People can believe whatever they want to believe. But my conscience, my God, and my family and certain people know I was not there. But the people that actually were there are walking the streets freely.”
Khoza, who claims to be the single biggest whistleblower in the Manase forensic report into corruption in eThekwini, says he owes most of his troubles and “persecution” to his outspoken, forthright nature.
“I had a lot of info, which I handed to certain officials. But little did I know that most of the people I was giving this information to, were actually implicated.
“I was very vocal in pushing an anti-corruption agenda. I didn’t know that the majority of those councillors were actually beneficiaries. Some were shareholders of those companies implicated in corruption, so I had to be ‘dealt’ with.”
On the day of the attack, which killed Victor Zowa from Zimbabwe and Said Omari from Tanzania, and severely injured Zimbabwean Eugene Madondo, Khoza is adamant that he was not there “and I had nothing to do with it”. “In fact the prosecutor and police were given names of people who were there. But they disregarded that.”
Still a resident of Albert Park, he decries the rampant “corruption” of elements within SAPS and Metro Police and their failure to deal decisively with the so-called Woonga Park.
“When I was the councillor there, I said this thing can and should be shut down and the officials are supposed to act. But the reason they’re not doing anything about it, including the bad buildings you see in town, is because the police are collecting a protection fee from these drug dealers and slum lords.
“Now, if you want to close down those people and chase down the drug pushers you’re actually taking money away from the corrupt police.
“Why would the SAPS and even Metro Police go to a gathering and say this is an illegal gathering, disperse or we’ll shoot? We’ve seen them shooting and killing people. Why can’t they disperse that thing because it’s an illegal gathering and people are openly smoking drugs?”
Khoza, who was born in Volksrust in Mpumalanga, but grew up in Alexandra and spent seven years on the streets of Joburg after fleeing from abuse at the hands of a stepmother, sought to draw similarities between himself and Malema.
“Like me, Malema won’t keep quiet if something is wrong… he has always been consistent in what he’s said. He’s not flip-flopping.
“When he was president of the ANCYL, he spoke about economic emancipation, nationalisation of mines, expropriation of land for equitable distribution. He’s always been consistent.
“But also his outspokenness, in terms of what is right and what is wrong. Thirdly, he has a heart for the poor, maybe because of where he comes from.”
So much “heart” that he finds himself facing serious charges of fraud, corruption, money-laundering and racketeering?
“Mandela used to be very radical. Others branded him a terrorist, anti-Christ. But recently, people were saying he’s a saint. We should not look at how a person started, but how he’s living now and how he’s going to finish.
“We should look at what he’s saying now, and where he’s going to end up. Malema is the next Mandela in South Africa. He’s unstoppable.”
The same Khoza who used to vigorously defend the purchase of expensive cars for mayors and other city officials when he managed Obed Mlaba’s office today berates his former comrades, branding them “sell-outs”.
Those who led negotiations at Codesa, Patrice Motsepe and Cyril Ramaphosa, were singled out because they became mining magnates.
They “tip-toe” around nationalisation, which was enshrined in the Freedom Charter, Khoza said. The ruling party itself was a “politically intolerant” lot, hellbent on frustrating electioneering efforts by refusing them the use of public venues.
His party had made “massive inroads” throughout KwaZulu-Natal, setting up branches in most regions, helping push its card-carrying membership up to 500 000, he claimed. This would be borne out by the anticipated big turnout at the party’s planned provincial rally on April 19.
“We’re working on the ground. We don’t believe we should be grandstanding. We’re building the party, building structures and recruiting extensively.
“At the same time we’re mobilising people to vote EFF. The job on the ground is being done. Reports coming through in terms of growth of membership begin to show that the EFF is making headway.”
But Khoza lamented that donors were reluctant to throw their lot in with the party, preferring instead to ply the ruling party with donations in return for patronage.
“So, money does become an issue. But we’re a party for the poor, that represents the interests of the poor. And poor people always come to the fore when there is a call to say, ‘fund your own revolution’.
“That is where we’re moving forward. It’s not going to hinder us from achieving what we intend achieving. With or without money, the revolution for economic liberation of the majority will continue.”
Political pundits say the EFF could steal up to 10 percent of the vote. President Jacob Zuma has publicly scoffed at their designs to usurp the ANC from power, calling them “dreamers”.
“A lot of analysts were ruling us out, and they can do so at their own risk. People might not be free to be seen wearing a red beret and associating with EFF, because of the positions they hold, and where they stay etc, but we know it’s more than what you’ve seen,” Khoza said.
“There’s a lot of EFF on the ground. Even in the legislatures, provincial and national, some people are there because they have jobs to do. But they’re already EFF. They’re waiting for the dissolution of Parliament, and they’ll be coming over in numbers.
“We’ll surprise and even confound the analysts. We don’t worry about statistics. Let them wait until May 8, when the votes are counted and tallied.
“Then they’ll realise how huge EFF’s support is. We’re a game-changer. And South African politics will never be the same now that we’re here. We’ll change the political landscape.”