Where do the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) come from, and where are they going?
In the lead-up to the 1949 national conference of the African National Congress (ANC), the Youth League tried to interest the then president of the ANC Dr AB Xuma in the idea of adopting a radical programme of action. Because Xuma spurned the idea, the Youth League mobilised against him and he was dethroned at the 1949 national congress.
At its 2008 national congress, the ANC Youth League elected Julius Malema its president and adopted resolutions which, among other things, called for the nationalisation of key sectors of the economy. The period leading up to the 2012 conference of the ruling party coincided with an internal revolt by the Youth League under the leadership of Malema. It must be noted that Malema gained prominence as an ally of President Jacob Zuma during the internal revolt against former President Thabo Mbeki. The irony, therefore, is that the EFF is a direct product of the Youth League rebellion against a Zuma, who had benefited directly from the militancy and, sometimes, the madness that led to Mbeki’s demise. The anti-Zuma rebellion had two pillars: his removal as president of the ANC at the 2012 Mangaung conference and the fact that Malema and his comrades wanted the Mangaung conference to adopt radical policies, such as nationalisation and the expropriation of land without compensation. However, this rebellion ended in the expulsion of Malema and the formation of the EFF, which today has 61 public representatives in our national and provincial legislatures.
As I have argued before, the EFF has a dual character. It seeks to position itself as both a Parliamentary party and a social movement. In fact, Malema recently argued that the EFF was the vanguard of the protest movement when he responded to criticism about its ‘unparliamentary’ behaviour. He has also been known to refer to the EFF as the vanguard of the working class.
Perhaps it is wrong to characterise the party in terms of a dual character. The EFF is either confused about its political identity or it intends to assume a multiplicity of identities. If the latter is the case, foregrounding a particular element of its complex identity will depend on what the party needs to achieve at different times, and this may at times be an attempt to customise both the identity and message to suit the target constituency. The problem, however, is that a political identity that is either too complex or confused may compromise the clarity of the message. In some cases, different aspects of such a complex or confused political identity may come into conflict with one another or even cause strategic confusion. On the other hand, a party with multiple identities may benefit from a strategy that is based on uniting the party-political and nonparty political elements of its strategy. In this case, it will not fall into the trap of becoming a narrow electoral entity that becomes susceptible to the errors of narrow electoralism.
In the book The Economic Revolution: Julius Malema and the Fight for Economic Freedom, it is argued: “Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) as a revolutionary movement engaged in the struggle for economic liberation has its roots in the struggles of the working class, those who do not own the means of production, inclusive of the unemployed, underemployed and poor in South Africa. Any political formation or individual who believes that they hold the copyright to the struggle for emancipation is disingenuous, disrespectful and misleading, and also misreads the dynamic and dialectical nature and character of political struggles.”
According to the book, “the struggle for economic freedom is a political struggle, the primary mission of which is to ensure that all the people of South Africa equitably share in the natural and economic resources of our country”.
The difference between the EFF and the Congress of the People (Cope) is that Cope did not burst onto the South African political scene with a distinct political and ideological identity. It seems that it is this distinct identity that is beginning to sharpen contradictions between the ANC and the EFF. At face value, the ANC is responding to madness disguised as militancy and radicalism. In reality, however, the ANC may be responding to the possibility that the EFF may constitute a greater threat than Cope.
In part, it may be for this reason that the ruling party has decided to characterise the EFF as a neo-Fascist and neo-Nazi movement. Whether this is mere hyperbole or a prophecy that we should take seriously remains to be seen. What is important, though, is the fact that the EFF must avoid situations that have the potential to cause conflict between different dimensions of its strategy and identity.