The EFF, which celebrates its fifth anniversary under commander-in-chief Julius Malema, has been a constant thorn in the ANC’s side, both in Parliament and in government. Picture: African News Agency (ANA) Archives
TOMORROW, the EFF is celebrating its fifth anniversary in Mdantsane, Eastern Cape, South Africa’s second-biggest township.

The opposition party’s age equals that of a single term of Parliament and a presidential administration.

Since its formation, the red berets - under leader Julius Malema - have been a thorn in the ANC’s side in Parliament and in government.

The fighters have shaken the very foundations on which the new South Africa was built and are providing a critical voice in the country’s political discourse - with just 6.35% on the national vote and 25 seats in the National Assembly.

As the party celebrates its birthday, the question that Malema and his cohorts have to contend with is: Will the party survive beyond former president Jacob Zuma?

Zuma not only fired Malema and stripped him of the wealth he accumulated in Limpopo - which left the young leader bitter - but he literally became the rock upon which the EFF was formed.

Zuma was a gift that kept on giving to the EFF, and by forcing the former president to pay for the Nkandla upgrades Malema’s party solidified its place in the political order.

But now that Zuma has gone, what becomes of the EFF?

Political analyst Ralph Mathekga says the party’s focus on Zuma was strategic as it helped it to assert itself in national politics.

By pushing "a lot on this anti-Zuma and anti-corruption" they were able to distinguish themselves from the ANC, he adds.

“I don’t know how committed they are to it but they have done very well and it was very strategic of them,” Mathekga says. “They have done very well, if you look at how they have been able to dominate the discourse.

"I credit them for Zuma’s removal because had they not put pressure on the ANC I don’t think the ANC would have done it as speedily as it did, even under President Cyril Ramaphosa,” Mathekga says.

The EFF’s focus on the land issue has sustained its relevance and increased its prospects of increasing voter support in next year's elections, he says.

“I think they will grow and they will be rewarded. I think their voters remain very excited. I cannot tell you by what margin. It is not impossible at this point for them to jump to double digits.

“It is difficult to be a new party, especially when you are a splinter party because you move from another party out of internal battles but you don’t completely have a problem with the principle of the party that you are leaving.

"They've picked the issue of land and have again pressurised the ANC to adopt a parliamentary motion on it. It is a success on their side."

But the party’s radical and racially charged politics - especially Malema’s sharp tongue - have generated friends and adversaries.

This has pitted the fighters against the white community while drawing support from many black supporters disillusioned with the ANC’s failures.

In some quarters, the EFF has gained notoriety for promoting illegality with its calls for land invasions, a move which has seen Malema being charged for incitement.

This has also irked some prominent thought leaders, including former public protector Thuli Madonsela, who accused the EFF of promoting lawlessness and fuelling racial divisions to gain votes.

The party has also been accused of being irresponsible and reckless as it did not have the responsibility of governing like the ANC and DA.

The organisation has also come under scrutiny for alleged lack of internal democracy and Malema’s dictatorship, according to leaders who have been booted out of the party, including BLF leader Andile Mngxitama and founding secretary-general Mpho Ramakatsa.

This has seen the party being branded a one-man party, whose existence could not be imagined without Malema at its helm.

Political analyst Professor Susan Booysen says the criticism would not negatively affect the party, as it was unlikely to see it losing supporters.

“Their calls for land occupations would aid rather than detract from its support because the constituency where EFF gets support is where this message resonates.

"I also think their internal problems are not as bad as that in the ANC and the DA,” Booysen says.

The fighters remain seemingly unshaken and insist they are here to stay.

EFF secretary-general Godrich Gardee says those who predicted a shorter lifespan for the party failed to appreciate the people’s hunger for land and economic freedom.

“Similarly, many of them also underestimated an economic movement founded on historical necessity in a society like ours with high levels of unemployment, gender and racial inequality, poverty and massacre of workers in protection of accumulation of capital,” Gardee says.