INCREASING numbers of South Africans are wondering: will the Economic Freedom Fighters merge into the ANC ahead of or after the next general elections? Will it ditch its ‘issue-by-issue’ cooperation with the DA in favour of boosting the ANC’s threatened electoral fortunes?
Will it continue issuing its divisive racist rhetoric – often explained away as innocent “figures of speech” taken out of context – against fellow white South Africans? Or will it simply resort to comfortably “leading from behind”, as announced by its commander-in-chief Julius Malema in a recent press conference, and playing the DA and the ANC against each other to extract maximum political capital for its own aims?
Alternatively, are we going to see the EFF increasingly behave as the external and radical wing of the ANC Youth League, without the shackles of ANC disciplinary codes – whatever remains of them?
It’s clear that since the fall of the EFF’s staple political diet, Jacob Zuma, Malema’s party has been frantically searching for another issue to hold on to and to claim as its own.
Now it seems to have found one, even though it’s a piece of the political apple the ANC is already claiming as its own. It is one that can be said to have been sitting on the ANC’s political table for many years without the governing party seeming to pay much attention to it – until now, of course, when the EFF wants to claim it as its own to feed on.
It is also clear that with Zuma gone, the ideological similarities between the EFF and the ANC have come into sharp relief. The ideological differences are almost non-existent and the points of convergence seem to dominate increasingly.
One can tell this by the EFF’s often-repeated criticism of the ANC which consists less in urging the ANC to change direction and more in urging it to ditch its apparent timidity.
To the EFF, the ANC is too slow, too timid, or too afraid to make a move on key issues it deems important, including – and especially – the land question.
Expropriation without compensation
So, the entire political space to the left of the ANC, a piece of prime political real estate that would otherwise have been guarded by the South African Communist Party (SACP) on behalf of the tripartite alliance, has become contested space on which the EFF is informally settled.
It has expropriated this entire political real estate for itself without, up to now at least, any compensation to the ANC, and the ANC is not happy with the development.
In the months leading to the next elections, we shall see the EFF using this political real estate as a bargaining chip for concessions from the ANC. The ANC, on the other hand, can pretend all it wants; we all know that it desperately wants to be assured that whoever occupies the space on which the EFF is now settled is a friend, not a foe.
Communists by name only
The SACP can do nothing, of course, because it has over time become ‘communist’ by name only. Since the drafting of its key leaders into comfortable government positions that, inevitably, pulled them away from the extreme left towards the material comforts of the centre left, where the ANC sits, it has lost much of its past appeal in the eyes of the impatient youth, who have become ardent followers of the EFF.
The SACP has little to nothing to offer them. It also lacks what it takes to dislodge the EFF from the political real estate it now occupies.
So with a weakened SACP – which, in any case, has never been electorally tested in democratic South Africa – and a Cosatu that couldn’t survive the wrecking effects of the Zupta era without serious and lasting fissures, the political arena to the left of the ANC has been left exposed for expropriation without compensation by the EFF.
This leaves the governing party with no one to credibly watch this prime political real estate on which the EFF is now comfortably settled.
Under Collen Maine, the official ANCYL is a spent force
Collen Maine’s ANC Youth League, equally discredited by greed when it decided to ditch all principles and attach its wagon to the toxic Zupta train, can never mobilise the youth as effectively as it used to in previous years.
Its target audience is reduced to having to choose between a shell of what the ANCYL used to be, and the energetic party now led by Malema. With state capture investigations now under way and investigators knocking on doors, Maine’s attention has to be split between looking over his shoulder and having to come up with ways to appear fit for purpose ahead of the next general elections.
It’s hard to see how he could be the sentinel the ANC needs to retake the space now occupied by Malema’s troops, hence recent calls by senior ANC leaders for the commander-in-chief to “come back home” with his troops.
What’s in it for South Africa?
It has become clear in recent years that what is good for the ANC is not always good for South Africa, and its priorities are not always in sync with those of South Africa. The ANC has a lot on its plate, no doubt.
Internal winds are still blowing strongly and the blinding sands seem far from settling, what with recent talk of unhappiness as new Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene is said to – understandably – be uncomfortable with the ANC’s resolution to nationalise the South African Reserve Bank.
All of these issues force the attention of a seemingly well-meaning Cyril Ramaphosa to be split between on the one hand, repositioning South Africa as a country open for business in terms of robust, predictable and fair economic and political policies and, on the other, ensuring that the factions within the party he leads do not end up spilling fratricidal political blood on its floors.
For his part, Malema loves power and hates being constrained. He has tasted power and freedom. It is therefore hard to imagine him leading his followers back into the belly of an ANC he would never control from within.
Watch him use the relative power he has and the freedom to speak as he wishes to intimidate, blackmail, reward and punish behaviour by current and potential coalition partners ahead of the next elections.
The ANC is yet to taste the bittersweet juices of Malema’s “issue-by-issue” political joystick. In falling under its spell, it mustn’t forget that it governs a diverse country in which all must be made to feel they belong. Our country’s reputation rests, in large part, on how it treats all its citizens.