EFF leader Julius Malema would sweat if he were called to take part in the government, says Eusebius McKaiser.
An awesome bunch of loyal readers hosted me the other night at the Troyeville Hotel in Joburg to discuss my most recent book.
Just when I thought I was about to get a break from the sharp wit of my discussant and fellow writer Antony Altbeker, the audience made me work equally hard.
Among countless column-worthy questions, The Guardian’s David Smith asked me, having followed my analysis of the DA closely over the past few years: “Have you thought of writing a book called Could I Vote EFF?”
Obviously I’ve heard the frivolous version of this question before – someone trying to score a quick but awfully cheap laugh off my book title – Could I Vote DA? – by suggesting books of other parties too.
But Smith wasn’t trying to score a cheap one. Rather, like many foreign journalists, he takes the EFF and Julius Malema more seriously than most local journalists do.
Sure, we give the EFF plenty of local media exposure. But that’s not the same thing as taking the party seriously, ascribing to it a clear, coherent, attractive, feasible and sustainable political ideology. Moulded, say, in some of the left-wing political success stories in South America in recent political history.
We simply lampoon Malema, still.
In his characteristically gentle way, Smith was asking me to set aside my DA dilemma and think of the EFF as a live political option. Could I vote EFF?
I’ve already made up my mind on the question, but when it was posed that night, I hit the pause button and treated it with some seriousness.
I’m not sure if the beer my fabulous publisher was feeding me slowed me down, if David’s English accent induced in me a need to fake a grammatical pause – or whether I genuinely in that moment accepted the EFF as worthy of some consideration. But the question was, for a little while, hard to answer.
The obvious problem with the EFF struck me, though. Are they really interested in governing? I’m not convinced they are.
They are anarchists who simply enjoy critiquing life in post-democratic South Africa as horrible for black people and filled with institutions that are inherently anti-black and illegitimate to the core.
That’s the tenor of their criticism of the current government and of their analysis of life in our country in 2014.
Even the DA is less bleak about how far we’ve come over the past 20 years.
I would pay serious money to be a fly on the EFF wall the night the IEC announces the election results. They will be sweating when the numbers come in.
Imagine their worst nightmare come true and they get up to 15 percent of the national vote. Just imagine! It would be a nightmare because it would present the anarchists with a dilemma.
Legitimise this anti-black institution called the South African state by joining and participating in it or saying to the IEC: “Askies, we didn’t mean to take part in the elections! We wanna continue throwing stompies from the side!”
Can you imagine Malema or Andile Mngxitama seriously being interested in the details of committee work in Parliament or being MECs of some boring portfolio that requires technocratic oversight and strategic leadership?
That would require some sacrificing of time, at the very least.
Less time for trite revolutionary posturing and forced to enter the very state you’ve been dissing as anti-black to the core.
And there’s an identity tension. How do you justify participating in structures you deem not just instrumentally abused but morally and politically rotten?
For EFF politicians, joining the state must be as treacherous as black politicians joining the apartheid government. In that sense other parties – AgangSA, the DA, the UDM, Cope, etc – have less trouble. They think the ANC is doing a bad job. But they don’t think the very heart of post-democratic South Africa, and its foundational institutions, including the state apparatus and the different tiers of government, lack legitimacy.
This doesn’t mean the EFF can’t or won’t do well. But its electoral successes, whatever they will be, will likely be, in part, because the ANC is too arrogant to respond to the impact of the negative Zuma brand on the party’s fortunes; in part because the DA might grow less aggressively than it should, but for avoidable strategic errors; and in part because both the DA and ANC fail to take the EFF seriously enough.
But soon after the elections EFF will not know what to do with itself in the absence of elections mania.
The real essay to be written – a book would be over the top – won’t be Could I Vote EFF? but Why EFF was doomed, and the answer will be rooted in its founding anarchism and lack of interest in governance.
For now, the EFF can chill. But it should not be fooled by the temporary rewards of gatvol ANC loyalists. Voters will want more. Just ask Cope.