Analysis

EFF dress code challenges our failed reconciliation

Bennie Bunsee

Despite talk of reconciliation and non-racialism in SA, the colonial status quo remains in our country.

The EFF's dress code of overalls and maid servants attire is a symbol of that radicalism that challenges our failed reconciliation and non-racial politics. (David Harrison, M&G)

Surely the forced removal of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) from the Gauteng provincial legislature must be one of the most absurd things that occurred recently amidst our contesting political parties. 

It is no exaggeration to say that the EFF stands out from all the other political organisations with a unique brand of politics forged in the crucible of our ongoing disintegration and reorganisation of political parties, a process that is not quite over yet as left, right and centre still formulate their politics.

The EFF is the most recent creation new ideas, forged by the most militant section of South African society – African youth who in the ANC spearheaded radical politics of challenge and transformation to the colonial/apartheid status quo. The group of Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu and Robert Sobukwe was one such assertion. Then came the more radical politics of Sobukwe and his followers to form the Pan-Africanist Congress. And after the post-Sharpeville banning came Steve Biko and the youth’s Black Consciousness Movement.

The emergence of the EFF is another such assertion because, contrary to common thinking, coloniality – the process defined in Latin American politics as the lingering and dominating vestiges of a colonial order constructed under colonial domination – still remains. 

Despite all our talk about reconciliation and non-racialism, the colonial status quo in SA remains in our country, and it will be a long struggle under the conditions of a parliamentary order to overcome it. It will go well into the middle of this century, if not even beyond. 

The call for the removal of Die Stem, and even the insignia of the Afrikaner flag as a national symbol is ongoing and white South Africa and all its pontificating political pundits, supported also by Eurocentric African and black intellectuals, often referred to as “black coconuts” in common political parlance, better wake up to its reality despite the hullabaloo of our miracle democracy and constitutional prescriptions. 

City Press editor-at-large Mondli Makhanya has also called for the scrapping of Die Stem, and he is far from a flaming EFF radical. Xolani Mangcu has fiercely challenged University of Cape Town’s new rules of admission, which does away with affirmative action based on race. Malaiki wa Azania (the name itself is significant) has written in other mainstream media pages of “betrayal” of the real tasks of transformation from the point of view of Pan-Africanism, with the questions of land and language in his discussions. Combing the name Rhodes with Mandela, as it has been done in the naming of South African buildings and scholarships, is commonly condemned as giving credence to a traitorous criminal imperialist whose symbols should be removed as it has been done in Zimbabwe and Zambia. 

The good thing about these radical calls is that they are not yet insurrectionary although it could come to that if not met in a peaceful manner. 

The legacy of Mandela-Desmond Tutu, as Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe claimed in a radio interview favours more the colonialists than the native population of Africans, will not hold into the far future. There is another radical tradition of Pan-Africanism and black consciousness mainly among the youth in what is described by a young EFF member, Mzi Sibeko, as “the two-line struggle in our politics”. 

The negotiated settlement was based on a deep compromise in which the whites came out better, which the whites retained their colonial plunder and loot. 

While the Congress of the People and Agang SA have sunk into the gutters because it had no radical message for the vast majority of African and black people, and Mamphela Ramphele was nothing more than a political prima donna with the same right wing politics as the Democratic Alliance (DA). Was she ever a true black consciousness adherent?

The EFF has emerged with a very radical programme clearly articulated in its manifestos and in a book aptly called The Coming Revolution, launched at the University of Cape Town this week with thousands of youth representatives from the townships in attendance. These radicals will define the future of this country.  

The EFF’s dress code of overalls and maid servants attire is a symbol of that radicalism that challenges our failed reconciliation and non-racial politics. This failure shows itself in the constant attacks on affirmative action, to push it back in various ways, and to sustain the colonial status quo.

EFF bases its ideology on Marxism-Leninism and Fanonism but also embraces the radical politics of Pan-Africanism and black consciousness. Franz Fanon wrote some of the most perspective books on the African revolution, although there are scores of others. 

The 8th Pan African international conference was held in Johannesburg recently and Pan Africanism is the main current of African political renaissance throughout Africa. The EFF’s dress code was to identify with the working class as the leader of the coming revolution. 

We need not discuss here the emancipatory politics of the working class. There are thousands of books written about the working class, and thousand of organisations based on it.  And the working class has its own symbols and working class culture that the EFF is emulating and asserting. 

Marxism itself as an ideology of liberation is making a comeback. Advocate Dali Mpofu, a leader in the EFF, rightly characterises our times as one of the emergence of the world revolution spearheaded by the global working class in each country, black and white. 

The dress code of the EFF in Parliament was to identify with the working class and also a call to the failed centrist ANC-led government to discard its bourgeois lifestyle with flashy cars, palatial homes and banqueting parties. Every time an annual budget is presented there is a big party costing anything from half to a million rands and most of the food goes to waste. This is wastage of public money. One need not mention the endemic corruption in the ANC; theft of public money that will now run into trillions of rands. 

The EFF has also challenged the unnecessary expensive medical system foisted upon them and calling upon parliamentarians to use the public health system. What a shining example it would be if our parliamentarians displayed such modesty.

So the EFF was calling on the parliamentarians to lead a modest life, to identify with the working peoples who are  protesting about their conditions all over the country. One of the chapters of the EFF, the National September Imbizo actually held a demonstration at Parliament calling upon our representatives to use the public services in schools, transport, health, et cetera. The dress code the party displayed in Parliament was in tandem with that demonstration a year ago. It would be interesting to know if a dress code was ever laid down for parliamentarians and what it was. 

If we talk about diversity in our country, what about the diversity of different manners of dressing of the various national groups: the Indian women with their saris, Muslims with their own type of garb and Africans with their traditional styles that they have long lost through the Europeanisation and Westernisation?

We are living under the conditions of a colonial culture and modernity that dominates every aspect of our social and cultural life. It defines the normality of our social relations and is a normality imposed through colonial domination. What if these representatives walked into Parliament with their traditional dressing as an assertion of their national identity? Would they be asked to leave? 

Bourgeois society claims that clothes maketh the man. I believe it is qualities of virtue and goodness that maketh the man. The world’s biggest crooks are dressed in Savile Row suits. Look at the crooks with their off shore accounts and the bankers who robbed their banks of billions. Life is not a fashion parade. It is about living a good life with fellow human beings. It would be very interesting to know how the courts would deal with this matter should the EFF take the legal challenge they are threatening.

I recall sometime ago Mahatma Gandhi was referred to by arch imperialist and racist Winston Churchill, as a “naked fakir”. Gandhi went to round tables conferences in London dressed as a naked fakir. Would he be asked to leave our colonial styled Parliament if he came dressed as a naked fakir? Today, that same naked fakir is going to have a statue built standing in Parliament Square in London, right next to Churchill. This is what I mean that we must be judged by how we lead the good life and not the clothes we wear.

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