Will the EFF survive beyond President Zuma?

Julius Malema addresses the crowd

EFF leader Julius Malema addresses the crowd at Church Square in Pretoria before the party’s anti-Zuma march to the Union Buildings on April 12. No man has been subjected to the EFF’s wrath and scorn, and been at the centre of the EFF’s growth plan like Zuma has, say the writers. File picture: Oupa Mokoena

On a scorching hot Sunday afternoon in October 2013, a boorish Julius Malema apologised to a crowd of his supporters, gathered at Nkaneng informal settlement in Marikana, North West, for supporting President Jacob Zuma.It was the occasion of the launch of his new party, the EFF, happening strategically at the site of a fatal shooting of 34 miners in 2012, one of the biggest massacres in post-apartheid South Africa.

Malema was fresh from the wilderness, having been expelled by Zuma and the ANC from a party he grew up in, a party he once charged he would never leave.

Not only had he been expelled but the fiery young leader was stripped of his farm, a mansion in Sandton and he was facing charges of tax evasion for millions of rand.

Many thought that was the end of his political career.

Malema was a bitter man.

You could pick this up in the way he tore into Zuma, a man who once proclaimed that the young leader would one day be the president of the country.

Malema told a cheering crowd that they should refuse to vote for Zuma, a leader he had played a central role in helping to catapult to the Union Buildings.

“Refuse to vote for a singer and dancer,” he said. “We want a thinker to drive the policy of our country. We do not want an old man who dances like a teenager. Every time he dances, older people look down with shame.

“I apologise for giving you a mediocre non-thinker and non-reader. We must vote for statesmen, we must vote for the restoration of the image of South Africa,” he added.

Malema vowed that Zuma would pay for expelling him from the ANC Youth League.

Even after the local government elections, he demanded Zuma’s ousting as one of the demands to form a coalition with the ANC.

This week, Malema repeated that the EFF would work with the ANC only if Zuma was charged with corruption after the 2019 elections.

Such is the anger with JZ, as Zuma is known.

The red berets have undressed and embarrassed the president in Parliament, and forced his hand to pay R7.8 million for the Nkandla upgrade, in a victory that cemented the EFF’s place in the country’s political landscape.

No man has been subjected to the EFF’s wrath and scorn, or been at the centre of the EFF growth plan like Zuma has.

Tomorrow, Malema’s party will throw a bash in Durban in celebration of its fourth birthday.

This will be taking place four months before Zuma steps down as the ANC president.

And depending on what happens at the ANC’s elective conference, there exists a real possibility that the president might not finish his term at the Union Buildings in 2019.

For Zuma has been the gift that kept on giving to opposition parties, such as the EFF, how will the fighters survive beyond Zuma?

And what are the party’s prospects at the 2019 elections?

To try to predict the EFF’s future, perhaps one needs to draw from its past.

Political analyst Professor Mcebisi Ndletyana says the leadership crisis in the ANC has been a factor that has preoccupied the EFF since its 2013 formation and its 2014 arrival in Parliament.

However, he cautioned that it would be a mistake for anyone to reduce the EFF’s existence solely on its gripe with the president because the party’s policies spoke to a far wider array of issues that resonated with marginalised people, especially black people.

“Since their arrival in Parliament, they have brought to the fore, quite forcefully, some of the uncomfortable issues that the ANC has been hesitant to deal with, especially the issue of land. For the very fact that the EFF, in its electoral debut, was able to get the 6% that it got, it is an indication of the resonance of this message,” Ndletyana said.

The EFF has 25 seats in the National Assembly.

“There will continue to be other issues for the party to highlight, as it is doing now, which goes beyond its fight with the president.”

But it would be foolhardy to believe that the EFF’s decision to celebrate its fourth birthday in Zuma’s home province is not a challenge to the president in his backyard.

In fact, Malema has made it known that the EFF intends growing its membership and voter base in a province known to vote along ethnic Zulu lines.

At the 2014 general elections, the EFF attained a dismal 1.8% of the votes in KwaZulu-Natal – representing two seats in the legislature.

Although the total percentage in KwaZulu-Natal grew to 3.46% in last year’s local government elections, this is hardly a significant showing to prove it’s ready to take on the juggernauts – the ANC and the IFP – which is why the party is celebrating in Durban this week.

Asked whether the EFF would fall by the wayside much like other ANC splinter parties such as the United Democratic Movement (UDM) and Cope, Ndletyana said he did not foresee the EFF dropping voter support at the next elections in 2019.

He said it had a far more stable leadership collective than Cope ever had.

“Cope started showing signs of unravelling before it had even completed a year into its existence.

“Remember, going into the 2009 elections where Cope had been formed in November in the previous year, there were already squabbles over who should be on the ballot paper – whether it should have been Mvume Dandala or it should’ve been Mr (Mosiuoa) Lekota,” he said.

“For a while, there was tension and there was some form of a compromise that Mvume should be the presidential candidate, but Lekota would remain the president of the party, something like that. And that tension led to Mvume leaving the party. Since then, the party has just unravelled.”

Ndletyana said the EFF was in its fourth year and he had yet to witness any leadership instabilities at national level.

“Malema is an unquestioned leader of the party. There has been some level of fracas at provincial levels, but the party was very quick in dealing with that. This is mainly because Malema has experience in dealing with rebellious elements within a party,” he said, alluding to the EFF’s core leadership mainly made up of former Youth League members.

“However, it is likely to resemble the UDM in terms of its leadership structure. The EFF will not survive another leader because it is a patron party built around the charisma of its founding leader,” Ndletyana said.

“Yes, its policies resonate with a lot of people out there, but I think the attraction to the party is more about the charisma of its leader.”

The EFF’s biggest challenge will be to have a presence in almost every street like the ANC or every suburb like the DA.

That the EFF will be the governing party in 2019 appears, at best, a pipe dream.

What is certain, though, is that Malema can once again emerge as a kingmaker that might take the crown away from the ANC in 2019, in much the same way he did help wrestle control of metros from the ruling party.

But for the time being, can the party survive Zuma’s absence?

That remains to be seen.

* George Matlala is Independent Media’s Gauteng politics editor and Khaya Koko is a journalist for The Star.