Cape Town - It was the year of the beret, with politicians ranging from Julius Malema to Helen Zille donning the signature headgear, but there’s more to the red beret than just a stylish jauntiness, according to the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) Western Cape convener.
“The berets give us a greater sense of discipline because the beret is symbolic of the headgear you would wear in the military,” said Nazier Paulsen, the EFF’s provincial electoral strategist.
“One of the problems in many organisations is that there isn’t a strong sense of organisational discipline. We need people that, when decisions are made at a certain level, actually follow those decisions.”
Berets have been used widely in the military since World War 2. They are cheap and easy to make, take up little room and, most important, don’t fall off. Their different colours and insignia help create a sense of unit pride, and build morale.
For the EFF, the sale of berets brings in funds too.
“All our activities are funded by our members,” said Paulsen. “The red beret, as wonderful as it is, as much as we would like to give it away, is used to generate funds.
“Nobody is going to put money into a movement like ours (whose policy is to) nationalise and expropriate land,” he said.
On the party’s website, the berets sell for R80. They are so popular that the EFF now tells its Twitter followers as soon as new stocks arrive.
“All selling at a supersonic speed already. Get yours quick!” the party posted late last month.
The headgear also links the party to beret-wearing revolutionaries and politicians whom many EFF members admire.
Paulsen said these included Che Guevara, Fidel Castro, former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, and assassinated Burkina Faso President Thomas Sankara.
Sankara’s influence on the EFF is evident in the “Sankara oath” that the party would like to introduce and that would make government officials pledge only to use public services.
During his four-year presidency in the 1980s, Sankara was known for his austerity. For example, he sold ministers’ expensive government cars, replacing them with smaller, cheaper models.
The red beret was Sankara’s signature. An August 1986 Associated Press report about a Non-Aligned Movement meeting in Zimbabwe states: “Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso came in military fatigues and a red beret, a pistol on his right hip.”
He was killed on October 15, 1987, during a coup launched by his colleague Captain Blaise Compaoré, who assumed the presidency and has been in power since.