/ 28 November 2013

EFF supporters fervent but still not registered to vote

Eff Supporters Fervent But Still Not Registered To Vote

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) vigil take two was a damper affair than the first.

The red berets first showed up in their full might for the start of their leader Julius Malema's trial last week. In a raucous celebration ahead of the court proceedings at the time, supporters predicted the trial would be a non-starter and they were right. The trial was postponed to September 2014, giving Malema a clean run at the 2014 general elections, which must be held before July.

But he was back in court on Thursday, with his legal team arguing that charges should be dropped against him. And again nearly 2 000 EFF supporters turned up the night before the trial for Malema's now customary vigil. This time the vigil was held at the more formal Jack Bote community hall in Polokwane's central district, the party's preferred location, a block or two from the high court in Polokwane where Malema would appear in the morning. It was a change from last week's Cosmo Leisure Lodge, far out of the city, where supporters partied the night away on a more isolated plot.

It may have been the change in venue or the half-won victory, but energy ran low at this week's vigil, which was said to run from 6pm to 6am.

"Comrades, are you tired?" Asked one peeved leader when at just midnight, the packed hall struggled to rouse themselves into song.

But energetic or not, they were there filling the 1 000-seater hall and spilling out the sides; red berets nodding low at times but firmly present. A formal programme kicked off at about 11.30pm featuring the EFF's top leadership with the exception of Malema himself, whose speeches are usually reserved for after his trial. Instead the audience was treated to a singing duo followed by talks by various leaders.

'No longer satisfied with the ANC​'
Outside the hall a brave dozen danced around a booming car but mostly those outside waited and watched, gathered around makeshift fires in the chilly Polokwane night.

The logistics of hosting nearly 2 000 supporters overnight may have been considerable, but it turned out accommodation wasn't too much of a problem.

"I'm sleeping in my car," said John Lestetja (27), who had travelled from Johannesburg. "Others will sleep on the grass. Some will wait till tomorrow."

It is a dedication to their cause that sets Malema's supporters apart from the rest. Pushing through a long night during a week day with no shelter and still having reserves to champion him on in court in the morning, was par for the course.

"We are no longer satisfied with the ANC," said one of a jovial group of Capricorn College students. "They are just boring. There was no development."

The group assured the Mail & Guardian that they were not missing classes the next day – exams were over. It was a common refrain from youthful supporters, but not as common as the ones who simply shook their heads when asked if they were missing work the next day. For them, there was no work.

Lost hope finding employment
"The EFF will be good in government … they will create jobs," said Lefa Sebaka (23) from Limpopo, who owns a small motor spares business while his two companions were unemployed.

South Africa's unemployment levels rose to near-record levels in the second quarter of this year, according to Statistics South Africa, with nearly half of those unemployed aged between 15 and 24. The number could be far higher when taking into account those who have lost hope of finding employment.

This is the voting market that Malema and the EFF are appealing to. They offer dynamite potential at the polls for the party, and can inflict serious damage on the ruling ANC's traditional popularity among the poor and working class.

"I was an ANC member but they don't care about us who are poor," said disillusioned Limpopo resident Winnie Mhahlele (52). "They don't care about education here in Limpopo. Look at the textbooks, the failure rates. The ANC only cares about one place that's called Gauteng."

But to secure votes from these supporters, the EFF should get them on the voters roll. Barely six-million 18 to 29 year olds have registered to vote, according to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), with just under 500 000 18 and 19 year olds. This despite the fact that this demographic makes up a major chunk of the population. The EFF may enjoy more vocal youth support than any other political party in South Africa at the moment but they have not succeeded in turning that into potential votes yet.

Shift the numbers
A number of people the M&G spoke to were first time voters who had missed the recent voter registration weekend, and were yet to register to vote. Many failed to understand the importance of registering to vote. 

EFF spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi acknowledged the party must work harder to get their supporters to register to vote.

"We don't have to wait for the registration weekends," he has previously told the M&G, saying the party planned on taking their supporters to local municipal offices as allowed by the IEC any time during office hours.

They will need to co-ordinate a major education drive across the country to shift the numbers in their favour. But they have several months to do it, and if Wednesday's vigil was anything to go by, they won't have any problem drumming up voting commitment from their fervent supporters.