Of all the anti-President Jacob Zuma props at the Economic Freedom Fighters’ (EFF) final election rally on Sunday, the mannequin legs were the strangest.
Forget the ubiquitous mock cardboard coffins bearing the face of the ANC president and marked “Hamba Kahle Butternut!”. Or even the actual butternuts bearing Zuma’s name.
The pair of pale limbs, which began abruptly at the waist, was seen bopping about in the stands at the Lucas Moripe Stadium in Atteridgeville, Pretoria before the rally began.
On closer inspection one saw the diaper that the disembodied legs wore with the name Zuma emblazoned above.
It meant everything and nothing in these elections. The EFF, out to oust a president renowned for his lack of self-control, who themselves are responsible for a kind of absurdity on a grand scale. Forget disembodied mannequin legs: its leader preaches clean governance while he faces charges of corruption and tax evasion that could see him ousted from Parliament shortly after taking his seat post-elections.
But one thing is for sure, EFF leader Julius Malema will take his seat in Parliament after May 7. The fledging party, a tender six months old, has made incredible inroads across the country. Those who wrote off Malema’s career when he was ousted from the ANC youth league have had to swallow their words.
Yet the EFF, by choosing to have their final rally at the same time as the ANC’s traditional Siyanqoba rally was inviting unflattering comparisons. The ANC has the might of their organisation and established networks – not to mention covert use of state resources – to marshal incredible numbers at this rally, which, as its name implies, is a show of force and victory for the ruling party. The EFF with their far smaller resources and lack of state pull could never compete. It was hard enough getting permission to use the stadium after the City of Tshwane played hardball at first.
But in the end it was a show of force of a different kind. The ANC had the numbers: thousands bused in from several provinces to fill the 95 000-capacity FNB Stadium in Soweto – and then some. But the party’s most die-hard supporters, passionate enough to spend their entire Sunday at a hot rally, left in droves as Zuma began his address. It was a picture of the party’s fate in these elections: they will still bring in the numbers at the polls for a comfortable majority but most party faithfuls are likely to make their mark next to Zuma’s face while holding their nose, telling themselves they’re voting for the party, and not an individual, as the saying goes.
On the flip side, Malema hit the ground running when he opened his mouth. It was five hours after the start time but he held his relatively small audience in the palm of his hand. No one in the 29 000-seater stadium, with a little overflow in the stands, was going to move while Malema held court.
While Zuma stuck rigidly to a poorly written speech, Malema held no notes and spoke directly the audience, moving them from outrage to hilarity with deft skill.
His jokes ran the gamut, from Zuma’s poor showing at his own rally to the woeful fate awaiting artists who dared defy the ANC by supporting the EFF.
“If Senzo is not supporting ANC he will be killed because SABC is in charge of Generations,” joked Malema in his native Pedi, referencing the soapie’s character Senzo Dlomo, as the audience erupted in laughter.
And seemingly in response to recent reports that a post-election alliance isn’t out of the question for the party, Malema was adamant.
“We either win 51% or we are not involved. We will not go into a coalition with the ANC, we will not into a coalition with the [Democratic Alliance]. They are all the same,” he barked at his audience in a marathon speech that covered a variety of topics.
Malema essentially rephrased the party’s policies, stripped of dense policy language and littered with jokes to keep people engaged. The topics touched were wide-ranging: Free education, land expropriation, gender parity, education institutional independence, artistic freedom and the importance of protecting local industries were some of the areas touched on without missing a beat or losing attention.
“We want things to be created here. It must be very expensive to bring a product into South Africa,” he said. “South Africa’s industries must be protected.”
Popular house musician Bucie had preceded Malema’s speech with her hit song Easy to love, pausing during the catch chorus to yell at the audience: “How can you not love a party that is promising you jobs!”
After speaking for over an hour, Malema wrapped up and the EFF party and music performances resumed. But most had seen what they had come for and the stadium quickly emptied. As the audience spilled out into the streets of Atteridgeville, the mannequin legs made one last appearance, bopping in the crowd and into the sunset.