Johannesburg - There is an unforgettable line in Dame Judi Dench’s latest film Philomena about a working-class woman in the evening of her life who is desperately trying to find the son who was taken from her in his infancy.
She is aided in her plight by the metropolitan, upper-crust London journalist Martin Sixsmith and together the odd couple travel to the far side of the Atlantic in search of Anthony.
In a moment of desperation, Sixsmith phones his wife to complain about his unsophisticated travel companion. “I now know what a lifetime of the Daily Mail and Reader’s Digest and romantic fiction does to someone’s brain,” he quips.
That line could just as easily be applied to the million and more men and women who voted for the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) in the elections.
My intention here is not to imply that they are unsophisticated or unworldly in any manner, but instead that the profile of the EFF voter is someone who is generally fed-up with a lifetime of ANC failed promises and policies, tormented by social isolation and suffering.
People who voted for the EFF are not as easily pigeon-holed as many would believe.
Unsurprisingly, only a smattering of them are white (according to an Ipsos poll carried out ahead of the national elections, just 1 percent).
However, they are much more than the bunch of radical young men who defected from the ANC Youth League when Julius Malema was turfed out two years ago.
According to the same poll, while 40 percent of EFF supporters are unemployed, almost one in four are employed full-time, mostly in the blue-collar sector and generally dissatisfied with their lot.
According to the survey, one out of five earn between R2 500 and R5 000 a month, while 13 percent earn between R5 000 and R7 000 a month. They are the people who have begun to turn their backs on Cosatu and the ANC. While 44 percent of EFF supporters are the so-called “born frees”, in the 18-24 age bracket, 49 percent of them are between the ages of 25 and 50.
“On the issue of first-time voters, it is wrong to think they are only the born-frees who are voting for the first time,” says party spokesman Mbuyiseni Ndlozi.
“Remember, you have people like Andile Mngxitama, who is 40-something and a first-time voter. Andile never voted before because he never found a political party who responded to his political beliefs.”
Mngxitama, the EFF commissar for agrarian reform, is a good example. An advocate of Black Consciousness who was once a harsh critic of Malema’s financial excesses, he now has a “political crush” on the EFF’s commander-in-chief and has forgiven Malema for past indiscretions in the light of the political agenda the latter is now pushing.
“There are no morals in politics, only expedience,” Mngxitama likes to say. “A scoundrel may be useful to you precisely because he is a scoundrel.”
And it is not only men who support the EFF. Ndlozi says women are rising in its ranks. “And these women are fighters. Make no mistake,” he says.
The EFF can be found to a lesser or greater extent across the country.
Wednesday’s poll indicates that the greatest number of EFF supporters are to be found in Gauteng.
The party will be the official opposition in Limpopo where it secured well over 10 percent of the vote, compared to the DA’s 6.6 percent. In other provinces, the party’s performance was respectable for a first-time contender.
Ndlozi says a common denominator is poverty and blackness and the party is a new political home for the unemployed and underemployed in many respects.
“If you want to understand our supporters, see them as people who voted with a sober mind on Wednesday for a new agenda. They are people who believe in us, believe in our policies and believe in Julius,” he said.
“They see him as fearless and they say, ‘this is a man we can count on, we need to give him a chance because he is the only one who can really shake things up’.”
The Juju factor is indeed the magnet. In his last days as the leader of the ANC Youth League, Malema convened an economic freedom march from Joburg to Pretoria, and called on the unemployed, the underemployed and underpaid, shack dwellers and all others who were struggling, to fall into step behind him as he called for a better life for all (only to jet off to Mauritius on a first class ticket for a lavish celebrity wedding hours later).
The Juju appeal feeds another characteristic of an EFF supporter – anger. Talk to any man or woman in the mining belt or the grime of an informal settlement about their political views and Malema’s name is likely to surface.
As Ndlozi says, these people believe Malema. Whether his promises will – or indeed can – be fulfilled is an important question, but for now Malema has offered 6 percent of the electorate a last resort.
That means extraordinary pressure on the 33 year old as he begins his career as an MP and the leader of a new party on the opposition benches in many provincial legislatures. His party does not have the power to deliver on anything except opposition to the ruling party and its empty promises that have fuelled the very kind of anger Malema has traded on – a fact that feeds a very vicious cycle. - Independent Newspapers