The good thing about the Independent Electoral Commission’s election headquarters is that the politicians thronging there cannot
ignore the numbers on the giant screens.
Those numbers tell the story of South Africa, and for some parties like Agang, the Congress
of the People and the Inkatha Freedom Party, the story is brutal and devastating.
Even the flashy convict – turned sushi king – turned politician Kenny Kunene looked a bit nauseated every time he looked up to see his party stuck below 13,000 votes.
Politicians build up legends in their heads of what they and their parties are.
This week, South Africans gave them a reality check.
Whatever the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) ultimate poll tally in this election, its toughest task will be mapping out an opposition path that leads to party growth and
not gradual decline, as has been the fate of so many parties since 1994
For Julius Malema and his EFF Party,his ambition was not to sit in the opposition benches although the reality pointed in a different direction. The truth will be now hard for him to swallow,but others have even had more serious problems in their parties dwindling hopes and influence.
EXIT IFP AND BUTHELEZI
One of the big stories of Elections 2014 will be the decimation of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), which
by late Thursday night looked to be losing its place as the official opposition in its former KwaZulu-Natal stronghold.
This will be devastating to the IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who, despite watching his party haemorrhage over the past ten years since they lost power to the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal, still believed he needed to hang onto the top job.
ENTER EFF AND MALEMA
With the crumbling of Cope (as well as a host of other smaller parties) and the failure of Agang SA to gain
any traction with the electorate, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) are – in theory – well-positioned to become an important political force
over the coming five years.
They offer a fundamentally different – and in many respects,more potent – challenge to the ruling ANC than the Democratic Alliance (DA), speaking to the same language and history of the liberation movement.
Viewed with bemusement and scorn by many in the media when they first emerged in the summer of last year, the EFF gradually, and effectively, built up an electoral machine devoid (officially at least) of many of the
resources Cope had when it challenged ANC dominance in 2009.
It has defied predictions that its support would come merely from disillusioned citizens on the margins of society, those least likely to have registered in time for this election, and in particular the unemployed
youth of South Africa.
The aim of the party has been
clear for some time: to portray the ANC as a party that has, in the words of Commissar Floyd Shivambu,
‘degenerated beyond repair…ideologically and politically’ and to offer itself up as the ‘vanguard of
the protest movement’ currently sweeping the country.
The war-like, Soviet rhetoric, the iconic red berets and the mass rallies have all bolstered their
visual and symbolic appeal with snippets of Fanonism, Pan-Africanism and Marxism blending into a surprisingly effective (albeit largely uncosted) manifesto.
Julius Malema claimed 2014 would be the year of the Red Beret Election and in many respects, he’s been correct.
Keen to avoid accusations of merely being a ‘coalition of the wounded’ like Mosiuoa Lekota and Sam Shilowa’s Cope was in 2009, Malema and the EFF have cleverly put together a range of national and
provincial figures previously within the ANC fold, but crucially looked further afield too – former student
activists, those from Black Consciousness groups and
the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC).
As a result, the taint of ‘losers’ has never quite stuck to the EFF
despite the ANC’s best efforts throughout 2013 and 2014 (in particular from the ANCs Secretary-General, Gwede Mantashe, who accused them of being
puppets of Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF).
The co- optation of Andile Mngxitama’s September Imbizo
and gradual incorporation of smaller groups has been very effective and the PAC’s repeat-paltry showing in
this election will make its eventual swallowing by the EFF almost inevitable in the coming months.
The issue now is whether the party can continue to hold the array of aligned groups together, including
the support of the National Congress of Trade Unions (NACTU) which urged its members last month to vote PAC and EFF on 7 May.
Were Irvin Jim’s National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) to emerge with its prospective political formation later this year or in 2015, the
position of the EFF would become precarious: no longer could it claim to be the only formidable alternative voice on the (ostensible) ‘left’ of the
It would be facing leaders tested in the union movement and well-versed in worker mobilisation.
This is why the EFF’s plans to form its own union – already in progress in early 2014 – have become all the more important given its repeated
(failed) attempts to formally align with the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) right up until election day.
Whilst a showing of almost 6% nationally is an impressive feat for the EFF, it is less than what Cope
managed but over double what the ID achieved – and the latter both had far less time to get a campaign
together than the EFF.
Malema and the party leadership are largely disinterested in opposition life in Parliament – but that is what awaits.
For the leadership nationally and provincially, the party –much like the ANC – is a ‘movement’ and therefore
the only real power that interests it is governing, not debating from the opposition benches and engaging
in committee meetings.
As Floyd Shivambu told me at the party headquarters in March, going to parliament ‘is a ceremonial thing’ for a new party and the EFF ‘organisation [is] more important than the parliament’.
Indeed, he does not intend spending
more than a year in Parliament – something he said might also apply to the Commander-in-Chief, Malema
– insisting the EFF must focus on building up the party and a “new organisational culture” in the
coming five years.
It may be that the EFF have seen how other opposition parties have faltered and wish to avoid a
similar fate – but knowing it and achieving it are very different.
Will its members come to see Parliament and institutions and places to debate and discuss
remedies to South Africa’s problems or will it be all or nothing for the EFF: power or revolution?
Their impressive momentum and campaigning throughout 2014 will now be severely tested in the months ahead: can it avoid members going back to the ANC after the failed promise of an EFF government, or heading to the NUMSA party if it is launched?
Can it prevent the type of factionalisation and leadership
splits that plagued Cope after its successful showing in 2009?
Can it avoid the temptation of power,moving into alliance with others (as the ID did) which
is normally a precursor to merger or disappearance?
Few opposition parties have managed to avoid such problems post-election in South Africa, but Julius Malema has proven he is no ordinary politician and the EFF is no ordinary party: as Commissar for
Economic Development Sipho Mbatha told this author recently in a phone call, the EFF “are the chosen ones”.
The next five years of South African politics will be very interesting, indeed.
When the story of the 2014 election is told, three crucial elements will stand out: Nkandla, the Democratic Alliance’s (DA) internal Agang-related fissures and the emergence of the EFF.
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