Dali Mpofu's announcement about quitting the ANC after 33 years of membership brings up interesting questions about the direction of the new left politics in the wake of Marikana.
It was reported on Sunday that Mpofu, who represents more than 270 injured and arrested miners at the Marikana commission of inquiry, threw his weight behind Julius Malema-led Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), a man he was in touch with since criminal proceedings were instituted against the mineworkers after the August 16 2012 massacre.
As the popular narrative goes, Mpofu and his team were roped in to provide legal services for the mineworkers by Malema who had plans of reviving his faltering political career since being thrown out of the ANC.
Mpofu has also been doing Malema's bidding (behind the scenes) way before his announcement was made, helping in attempts at courting crucial leftist individuals to fill out the structure of the organisation.
A quick scan of the stage during the EFF's launch a few weeks ago revealed a somewhat incongruous cast of characters that has, nonetheless, completely altered the post-Marikana political landscape. These include the September National Imbizo's (SNI) Andile Mngxitama, whose rhetorical flourish is becoming distinctly evident in the EFF's turn of phrase.
"Marikana's Meanings, South Africa's Platinum Crisis", a paper put together by Patrick Bond, a professor and director of the KwaZulu-Natal based Centre for Civil Society, states that [by the end of 2012] "no ideologues posed a vision that could rescue South Africa from the intense pressures that seem to be growing stronger each week". These forces of genuine change, writes Bond, were "not properly constituted" by the time 2012 ended.
Perhaps what Bond means is that they did not enjoy popular support, because the fact is that various formations associated with the Democratic Left Front (DLF) became involved on many levels. Some, such as the Democratic Socialist Movement, became involved with strike committees, providing strategic support in the rolling strikes. Others became directly involved after the strikes in efforts to bolster the shell-like Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) torso and workshop workers' committees on labour law.
This is why it made sense for the EFF, for example, to feel out the possibilities of a coalition between the Workers and Socialist Party (the political party formed out of the Democratic Socialist Movement) and other individuals associated with the DLF. With Malema talking big, at some point he was going to have to back that up with action, hence the overtures.
As University of Witwatersrand-based sociology professor Devan Pillay observed, the EFF is not drawn from the ranks of the working class, as such. "It is drawn from the youth and it has no strong footing in the union movement."
Unlike other left-wing formations, the EFF's attitude to Amcu, for example, has been completely uncritical in the hopes of gaining reciprocal support.
"As much as it has dominated talk of a left wing alternative to the ANC, the formation of the EFF seems unlikely to foster wider collaboration among the left," said political analyst Ebrahim Fakir. "Some of the groups organising under the DLF banner might be the socialist groups, but they can often split on the earliest whiff of an ideological difference. They're neither vanguard nor mass-based movements that connect to the grassroots. It feels as if the EFF is [telling the rest of the left]: 'If you made gains bring them, we have more to show [in terms of numbers].' Let's face it, the EFF is a recognisable brand, but we're giving kudos to a guy [Malema] who is sprouting self-evident truths. He's exploiting existing, deep disenchantment.
"The SNI had no programme of benefit to the masses and had no mass appeal, but the fact that it gave ideological background to the EFF is discernible, EFF is essentially becoming a combination of the two."