Dali Mpofu on politics, Marikana and the EFF

If the South African public learned one thing this week, it was what we already knew: that high profile lawyer Dali Mpofu knows how to manipulate a sustained media storm.?

This week, Mpofu made his decision to join the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) public, leaving the ANC after 33 years, and then hogged the media space for the better part of the week.

"I obviously wanted to communicate why, which is what I’ve been doing. I didn’t think that it should necessarily be a secret," he said from his chambers in Sandton. "The mere fact of being involved in politics means you involve other people in your life, as it were."

Mpofu said he hadn’t thought about the role he could play in the new party but could be involved in setting up structures as that was what he had done before and after apartheid. "In the next ten years or so… I see myself participating on the extra-parliamentary side."

Mpofu added that he would assist the party with campaigning for the upcoming elections but "given the constraints of time due to my work, hopefully I can do some targeted stuff rather than the everyday campaigning." He is representing Marikana mineworkers in the Farlam commission of inquiry and last month won a high court funding case.

EFF leader Julius Malema has been open (in an interview with the Mail & Guardian) about his "opportunism" in operating in the post-Marikana space, having beat Jacob Zuma to the punch in speaking to workers in Lonmin’s neighbouring Nkanini informal settlement.

Mpofu was similarly frank in dealing with the perception that the EFF was merely latching onto a ground swell of anti-ANC discontent.

"I’ve never been sure about the motives of any political leader, if I had to get those assurances I wouldn’t have belonged in the ANC," Mpofu added. "I do trust the leaders of the EFF. I do trust that they have held those views for a long time. Those who come from the ANC Youth League background, I know they have held those views strongly, and this is based on my interactions with them from within the ANC."

Political cases
Mpofu said he did not fear a career-limiting backlash for his political decision, even though looking through his recent case files could give one that impression. 

He defended Malema during his disciplinary hearing in the ANC. Prior to Mangaung, Mpofu successfully represented a Free State ANC faction that sought to overturn a provincial elective conference that elected the province’s premier Ace Magashule as provincial chairperson.

More recently, he has represented suspended head of SABC news and current affairs Phil Molefe in a disciplinary hearing related to the airing of an interview with Malema.

Mpofu said: "I think these are just coincidences. The bulk of my work still comes from the sources that it came from. If anything, I’m doing less work now because my schedule is dominated by Marikana. But I’m sure as soon as that is over, it will be back to normal."     

Mpofu has drawn criticism from some sectors for his dogged pursuit of state funding for his clients, the 270 arrested and injured miners from Marikana. Some commentators argued he was trying to make money from the plight off the poor as he had already secured over R2.6-million for his team’s legal costs and yet proceeded to seek funding from the state.

The funding, according to an agreement between Maluleke, Msimang and Associates (the law firm) and the Raith Foundation, was that this money would cover the period between October and December 2012.

"Criticism. You can be criticised even for doing nothing," Mpofu said. "If Zapiro [who depicted Mpofu as a fat cat riding on the backs of his clients] and Nathan Geffen [who accused Mpofu of "taking centre stage" in his bid for funding] can work for eleven months without begin paid a cent then good luck to them. I did, I’ve just done exactly that, so why must I worry?

"If it was a white lawyer who was expected to work for a year without pay and they still have to raise their family, they still have to pay for their chambers, they [my detractors] would understand."

The Legal Aid Board, which has to provide the funding, is appealing the high court ruling.

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