The Economic Freedom Fighters’ (EFF) beleaguered first election process is in the spotlight again, after the party’s North West conference elected two convicted murderers to its executive.
Keobakile “Papiki” Babuile was in jail last weekend when the party’s North West delegates elected him in absentia as secretary of the province. He was sentenced earlier that week to 12 years in jail for murder and conspiracy to murder, after an intense two-month trial.
He was convicted along with five others for killing the ANC’s then regional secretary in the Dr Kenneth Kaunda region, David Chika.
The party’s leadership, however, has insisted that nothing is amiss as Babuile is appealing his conviction. Until that process was exhausted, he was free to be a leader in the organisation, EFF leader Julius Malema told the Mail & Guardian on Tuesday.
“If he is denied, the organisation will relieve him; we won’t even have to ask,” said Malema.
Babuile’s case lays bare the EFF’s complicated history. He was chair of the ANC youth league in the province at the time of the murder, just two days before the start of the ANC’s elective conference began in Mangaung 2012.
It was a tense time politically that divided the ANC, with many in the youth league, like Babuile, pushing aggressively to displace President Jacob Zuma. Their failure led to their ousting from the organisation and the rest is EFF history.
Babuile, a close ally of Malema, was appointed to lead the budding party in the province ahead of the national May poll before internal party elections could be held. He then went on to represent the party in the provincial legislature, where it did so well it became the official opposition, and finally was elected as party secretary on Saturday.
But the murder of Chika, in his house in Alabama, Klerksdorp, has caught up with him.
Babuile was not at the scene of the crime, according to court papers, and has provided an alibi to that effect. He was denied leave to appeal his guilty verdict, but is appealing that decision and hoping to be granted bail so he can take up his new position in the party. His appeal takes issue with various aspects of the court case, particularly the reliance on a single witness, Cynthia Thlako. The appeal maintains that Thlako’s evidence was problematic, noting certain inconsistencies, particularly around the meeting where the murder was allegedly planned.
Malema believes that the judgment was flawed – and that there is a second agenda at play. The accused have repeatedly claimed they were being persecuted for political reasons, a spectre Malema has raised in his own legal battles.
“We cannot sit back when we see an injustice meted against one of our own. There is something going on and we can see it. We are going to help him fight it,” Malema said.
The M&G has previously reported that a mysterious anonymous benefactor funded ousted Gauteng leader Lufuno Gogoro’s court challenge, which will seek to interdict the party’s national conference. And there was a definite alacrity about a number of legal challenges facing Malema once he was ousted from the ruling ANC. But the EFF itself may be guilty of an agenda against its own members who fall out of favour. The party’s first democratic internal elections have been plagued by complaints, chief of which is Gogoro’s, who appears to have been kept out of the Gauteng provincial conference for campaigning on media and social media, according to party spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi but later denied by Malema.
National Prosecuting Authority spokesperson Nathi Mncube said the organisation could only comment “if and when they [Babuile’s lawyers] file”.
It also emerged this week that another member of the North West executive, William Lesole Malefo, was among those convicted for killing Chika.