About 50 000 people gathered to hear EFF leader Julius Malema unveil his manifesto in Tembisa. EFFs strongest selling point is that it is the only political party with a clear vision and economic policy, says Max du Preez. File picture: Nicholas Thabo Tau

EFF’s strongest selling point is that it is the only political party with a clear vision and economic policy, says Max du Preez.

Cape Town - It is a sad indictment of our general political illiteracy that the Economic Freedom Fighters’ strongest selling point is that it is the only political party with a clear vision and economic policy. But perhaps the other parties could learn from this.

The ANC, the DA and the other smaller parties all declare they will create jobs, fight corruption and wastage, grow the economy, fight poverty and improve education. Blah blah blah, is the ordinary voter’s reaction.

The EFF spells it out. The president will only have one official residence and will receive no support for his wives. Ministers and MECs will have to buy their own houses and cars. All public office bearers will be compelled to use state schools and hospitals. Small-scale farming will be intensified and food traders forced to buy locally. Small business will be supported and traders and street hawkers will be protected. Social grants will be doubled. Taxis will be subsidised in order to decrease taxi fares. Abandoned factories in rural areas will be revived. State administration courts will be established to swiftly deal with corruption. Public representatives and civil servants will be banned from doing business with the state. Etcetera.

The fatal flaw of the EFF’s election manifesto, of course, is how South Africa would afford to fulfil their promises and what impact they would have on the economy.

The EFF proposes a 50-percent increase in all civil service salaries, for instance. That, and doubling the value of social grants alone will bankrupt the state. And then they add free tertiary education, the cancelling of student debts, massive public spending on the beneficiation of minerals and sky-high minimum wages.

EFF leader Julius Malema knew that people would ask how the country would afford his proposals. His response on Saturday when he spoke at the manifesto launch? We will get it from the banks that we will nationalise, he said.

It reminds me of the time my daughter, when she was eight years old, asked for an expensive present and I said I could not afford it. She was genuinely surprised: “Why don’t you just go to the bank and get the money?” She pointed to a nearby ATM and said: “Isn’t your card working?”

If, by early May, I suspect the EFF isn’t going to do well at the election (which now seems unlikely), I will be tempted to vote for them just to see Malema and some of his top lieutenants go to Parliament. That will help to bring them down to earth.

It is one thing to stand on a stage with a microphone in front of excited people and declare that hundreds of billions will be sourced from the banks and all land will be expropriated without massively endangering food security and destabilising the rural areas. It is quite another to face some 400 members of Parliament and say these silly things in a debate.

But the way the EFF has been making inroads and the reaction to the weekend’s manifesto launch make it clear that large numbers of voters are not asking the difficult questions. We are still a nation where populist rhetoric works. The EFF has been absolutely brilliant in identifying what people want to hear and what problems they have and tailoring its policies and promises accordingly, regardless of whether it makes any economic and practical sense.

The ANC has been reluctant to directly confront the EFF’s policies so far, arguing they would only benefit from the attention. They will have to change this approach. They will have to show in a very simple way and point by point that Malema and co’s reckless policies are totally unworkable and will fundamentally destabilise the economy and the country.

The ANC will have to work much harder to convince doubting voters about its commitment to clean government and the fight against self-enrichment and abuse of money and power. While Jacob Zuma is the face on its election posters, this will be hard to do.

The ANC and the DA will also have to recognise that the electorate has become sceptical and need more than vague promises of economic growth and job creation. People want to hear and understand how those promises would be realised in practice. They will have to spell it out.

The DA can and should boast about the way they have governed the Western Cape and the municipalities they’re in charge of, but it will have to be far more convincing in explaining why the townships and squatter camps in their cities and towns are still in the state they are.

* Max du Preez is an author and columnist.

** The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Independent Newspapers.

Cape Times