The EFF runs the risk of being dismissed as a disruptive gang with no regard to the law, writes Jovial Rantao.
Just over of a year ago, many South Africans watched with great interest and curiosity when a new political child was born.
These were people who were not happy with the ANC and other smaller political parties and were looking for a better alternatives.
The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) was formed by a coalition of the aggrieved. At the heart of the coalition were people who had been fired by the ANC.
After they had been kicked into what was supposed to be the political wilderness, former ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema and his lieutenant Floyd Shivambu took a bold step. They formed a party and vowed to take on and defeat the mighty ANC at its own game.
The two of them went about, in their own colourful and dramatic way, selling their political dream to many South Africans. “Economic freedom in our lifetime,” was the tagline of the campaign. And it worked. It appealed to many who, over the months leading up to the elections, filled the many venues where the EFF held election rallies.
The new political party did well in the elections, garnering an impressive number of votes – just over 1 million – and winning seats in Parliament and various provincial legislatures.
What has been remarkable about the ascendance of the EFF is not only its performance in the elections but its ability to attract a sector of our society that many thought did not belong to the party. The EFF has largely been seen as a poor person’s party, a party for the blue collar workers. And yet it has been able to attract professionals – from lawyers and doctors to accountants – to swell its ranks.
This has raised the eyebrows of many professionals who might have thought the EFF was, first, a coalition of the angry and, second, a party for the poor and not the middle to upper classes.
It is possible that the EFF was on course to attract many in the upper classes who have been sitting on the political sidelines.
But these potential members and those who are already on its books might have been left worried about the party’s strategy and behaviour in the past few weeks.
To put it bluntly, the behaviour by public representatives of the EFF, supported by their members, has been nothing but abhorrent.
This is no way for public representatives, role models for many children, to conduct themselves.
The EFF is well within its right to adopt a strategy that says they will become the disruptive factor in South African politics. It is okay for them to decide that they will swim against the tide and challenge norms.
It is how they do it that is the problem. Their behaviour is not right and cannot be condoned.
It is okay for the EFF to ask questions about why South Africa has adopted colonial-era rules and regulations for Parliament. It is also okay to challenge the dress code as well as protocols that govern how members of Parliament behave. It is okay to fight for change.
However, the protests or whatever the EFF decides is appropriate, should be done in a peaceful manner and in line with general standards of behaviour in society.
In behaving like thugs the EFF runs a big risk of turning off the very people who joined it hoping to make a difference and those who may have thought that it is a worthwhile political vehicle.
As it is, no one is talking about the important policy positions of the EFF and what it seeks to achieve. The topic is really how people who want to be respected by members of the public can behave in a manner so despicable.
The EFF should use its first birthday to reflect on how it behaves and the negative effect this will have on the image of the party.
The party needs to deliberate on the very possibility that the behaviour of its leadership and public representatives will turn off those who may have been attracted to the party.
The behaviour of EFF members has been no different to the lawlessness displayed by trade union members during strikes. Their behaviour simply means that they are no different from those aligned to the ANC, the main target of their actions.
So it is time for a new strategy, a new game plan, or else the achievements of 2014 will be slowly and surely eroded. People will start not to take the EFF seriously. It runs the risk of being dismissed as a disruptive gang with no regard to the law. And this will be a big turn-off factor.
*Rantao is the editor of the Sunday Independent
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.