'Some of us have no space in EFF'

No compromise: Malaika wa Azania, a founding member of the Economic Freedom Fighters, quit the party. (Paul Greenway)

No compromise: Malaika wa Azania, a founding member of the Economic Freedom Fighters, quit the party. (Paul Greenway)

Soon after the Economic Freedom Fighters was founded by Julius Malema and Floyd Shivambu, the South African Students’ Congress, in its usual provocative manner, released a statement condemning the EFF and hurling all kinds of insults at the movement.

Comrade Floyd decided we should respond and, because he was busy preparing for his exams, the responsibility became mine. It wasn’t difficult. Sasco’s statement was filled with glaring inconsistencies and ideologically baseless assertions that anyone could have deconstructed and exposed for the senselessness they contained.
I responded to Sasco’s infantile arguments and sent the draft to comrades Floyd and Julius for proofreading.

Because I was busy with other EFF work, when the statement was returned to me, I didn’t read it in depth but quickly glanced over it before giving it the green light for publication on social network sites.

When I logged into Facebook an hour or two later, I found I’d been tagged by comrade Floyd on the statement. There were hundreds of comments and shares. While I didn’t get to read them all, I was stunned by the statement itself.

What I’d written as a reasonable response to an unreasonable statement had been transformed into something decorated with insults and puerile ranting divorced from substance.

The comrades had edited the statement I’d written to include their own personal attacks on Sasco and had taken unnecessary swipes at the ANC leadership.

I was livid, not only because of the unwarranted editing of the initial statement but also because I didn’t want to dismiss what was clearly becoming par for the course: the attacking of the congress movement that was finding expression on any given platform.

It was as if, as the EFF, we were incapable of selling ourselves to people without mentioning and insulting the leadership of the ruling party. It was on the evening of June 19 that I decided the buck had to stop. I loved the EFF but I wasn’t willing to compromise my own values of respect and reasonability at the altar of being favoured by either comrade Julius or comrade Floyd. I sent the following email to them:

Dear comrades

I am writing this email to address an issue that I feel begs to be engaged upon thoroughly between the three of us, as we are the ones responsible for the communication of the EFF with the rest of the population of our country.

While it is true that it is not possible to engage on any political question of the country without mentioning the ruling party, I am vehemently opposed to the tone in which we speak about the ANC, particularly when making reference to the current administration.

I do not believe that it is in any way fruitful or necessary for us to refer to the ANC as ZANC or to make snide remarks about Zulu people. The reality of the situation is that the ANC is not an organisation of [President Jacob] Zuma alone. There are millions of working-class people who are members and supporters of the ANC, many of whom may even disagree with his leadership and politics. But once we release statements that attack Zuma, especially in an insulting manner, we achieve nothing else but mobilising them to defend him.

Furthermore, you must understand that some of us are not in the EFF because we have scores to settle with Zuma, but because we genuinely believe in the struggle for economic freedom.

It is unfair and unprincipled that we should be dragged into your own battles with Zuma, because we neither know about them nor regard them as more important than the cause we have genuinely joined.

Many of us in the EFF are not bitter and angry ANC members, so we cannot be expected to be happy about being represented collectively by statements that are scathing attacks on the persona of the man. Equally, we believe in the importance of mobilising the youth across all racial, tribal and ethnic backgrounds. But once we start making comments like “I expect you to defend Zuma because you are a Zulu”, we are effectively alienating Zulu people from participating in our organisation.

We want to be different from other organisations, and we are. We shall not, therefore, run this organisation like it is a caricature of all the others who are more vocal on insults and quiet on the articulation of their own policies and positions. We cannot, therefore, be spewing venom against an individual as though we have nothing outside of our anger to communicate to the world.

Comrades Julius and Floyd, the two of you must understand right now that EFF is not your organisation. It is not an organisation that exists to serve your own purpose as individuals. It is an organisation that belongs to us young people who are tired of the status quo. We joined it not because we love you, or because we hate Zuma, but because we love this country and we want what is best for it. As Malaika, I refuse to be used to fight political battles of individuals.

I am in the EFF to fight for a cause and that, to me, has nothing to do with settling scores with Zuma. I have expressed my interest in heading the communications department of the organisation. I shall not have my department tainted by what I believe to be insulting and unnecessary. Not by anyone, and that includes the two of you.

I take politics seriously, and I believe we must engage intellectually on issues, not in this way. It serves no purpose of the youth. If this is how things must run, then, comrades, we are not in this for the same reasons and therefore some of us have no space in the EFF.

Malaika Wa Azania

Comrade Floyd didn’t respond to the email, which was rather strange considering I was closer to him than to comrade Julius, and he understood me better. He should have known, and I believe he did, that I was incapable of keeping quiet about what I perceived to be a wrongdoing, no matter who was doing it.

But I soon received a response from comrade Julius. The email was very brief but the point it made was very clear: “You must never talk to me like you are talking to a school boy …”

Malaika Wa Azania is no longer an EFF member. This is an edited extract from her book, Memoirs of a Born Free: Reflections on the Rainbow Nation, published by Jacana

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