/ 23 March 2018

‘The ANC isn’t in charge – we are’

No going back: Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema vows that if the EFF were to fold
EFF leader Julius Malema has called on his supporters to "deal with them decisively" with journalists. (Oupa Nkosi/M&G)

Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema appears to be enjoying his newfound influence over South Africa’s political narrative and has declared his party “in charge” of the country’s policy direction because, he says, the ANC has run out of ideas.

“We’re in charge. We are running the country from behind through ideas because there is an absence of ideas in the ruling party,” Malema told the Mail & Guardian this week.

The EFF’s commander-in-chief believes that, with the current trajectory, his party stands a good chance of winning the 2019 national elections. Or at least doubling its 2014 electoral gains.

“I can guarantee you that there is no way it won’t double its numbers. We expect to win elections; we don’t [expect] to [just] double numbers. But even if we lose elections, there’s no way we will get less than double what we got in 2014,” Malema said.

He said he was not losing any sleep over the “Ramaphosa effect” — which political commentators say will force opposition parties to change their strategies. “The honeymoon is over. It was just excitement … a euphoria which has disappeared now. Ramaphosa has not had any impact. Let’s take the suspension of Tom Moyane as Sars [South African Revenue Service] commissioner; it’s not a ‘wow’ moment. Only fools will say ‘wow’,” Malema said.

He asserted that, despite the EFF’s narrative being the dominant one, people were still saying that opposition parties would be silenced now that Ramaphosa was in charge. “Who’s relevant now? It’s the EFF. A week doesn’t go by without the EFF. We influence even the Ramaphosa administration,” said Malema.

Since the ANC’s change of administration at its December elective conference, the EFF has appeared less antagonistic towards the ruling party and is instead using the ANC’s numbers in Parliament to secure its own policy objectives.

Through an unlikely tag-team with the ANC, the EFF recently pushed through a parliamentary motion to review section 25 of the Constitution, which deals with the expropriation of land.

The party also intends to initiate its own Bill to amend the South African Post Office Act and fast-track the conversion of Postbank into a state bank. Although the ANC has a similar position, it is likely to support the EFF, which has acted more swiftly on the matter in Parliament.

“We are feeding them [the ANC]; we are giving them what needs to happen to better this country, and they’ve got nothing to offer. They are in disarray; they are disorganised; they don’t know what needs to happen. I’m confident that they look up to the EFF to check what could be the possible next [step].”

But Malema’s sudden closeness to the ANC has sparked concerns that he may be driving the EFF back to his former political home. The onetime ANC Youth League leader was banished after the party accused him of sowing division by “portraying the ANC government and its leadership under President [Jacob] Zuma in a negative light”.

In 2013, Malema and other youth league leaders formed the EFF, bringing with them a new wave of politics and a military-style lexicon. They referred to themselves as “fighters”, their leader as a “commander-in-chief” and their headquarters as a “central command centre”.

Malema this week dismissed claims that he was taking the EFF back to the ANC, saying it was the ruling party itself that was now trying to increase its proximity to the EFF and benefit from its policy ideas.

“The ANC has actually moved closer to us; we have not moved closer to the ANC. We gave the ANC conditions [following the 2016 municipal polls] and they have actually implemented 95% of everything we have asked from them.”

These conditions included the ANC supporting expropriation without compensation, removing Zuma as the country’s president and reinstating corruption charges against him, all of which have since happened.

Political commentators have said the ANC’s sudden synergy with the EFF is motivated by a hope that the EFF will deliver the metros of Nelson Mandela Bay, Johannesburg and Tshwane back to the ANC.

Malema confirmed that the new ANC leadership had approached him and other EFF leaders, offering Cabinet positions in exchange for the metros. “Some of them, when they won the conference in December, they said: ‘Guys, we need to find a way of coming together and giving us metros, and some of you must come into Cabinet because we need ideas from young people like yourselves.’

“But we said: ‘No, no, no. There is no metro that you [ANC] are getting here. We don’t want to give you any metro. Zuma must go and there must be a new regime and things must be done properly.’”

Despite the EFF claiming that it has rejected the offer, the governing party has not stopped trying to cosy up to Malema. This month, during the ANC’s voter registration drive, Ramaphosa and his deputy, David Mabuza, called for Malema to return to the ANC, acknowledging the party’s mistake in expelling him.

A year ago, Malema insinuated that he would be amenable to returning to the ANC but only if it collapsed its current form and rebranded with the EFF as a new party.

Now he quickly dismisses any mention of a request for him to “return home”, saying he would rather abandon his political career than ever go back to the ANC.

“There’s no home called the ANC; it’s finished. I’m building a new home here called the EFF. They said it was cold outside the ANC. It looks like it’s cold inside the ANC and they want me back to come and warm up the place for them,” he said.

“If the EFF collapses and it doesn’t work, I’m going back to my home to relax there and look after my children. I can be a political analyst.”

Despite Malema’s assertion that he will never return to the ANC fold, ANC leaders such as elections head Fikile Mbalula and national executive committee member Ronald Lamola have said the EFF and the ANC may yet merge because of their inherent similarities.

The ANC, however, is not the only party that finds itself bowing to the EFF’s pressure on policy. Just a year and seven months ago, the Democratic Alliance found itself basking in a sweet deal with the EFF that saw it win control of three key metros following the 2016 municipal elections. But the love affair came to a quick end after the DA broke what Malema said was a cardinal rule for the EFF: “You offend the land, we cut ties with you.”

Today, DA leader Mmusi Maimane finds himself having to articulate a clear position on land reform on the party’s behalf because of pressure exerted by the EFF. He has also started implementing a “Hands off mayor Trollip” campaign in resistance to the EFF’s plans to remove Nelson Mandela Bay mayor Athol Trollip as “punishment” for the DA’s rejection of expropriating land without compensation.

Because of this decision, the EFF has been accused of running out of political strategy, of being disingenuous and betraying voters by threatening to return power to the ANC in the metro.

In 2016, after the municipal elections, the EFF announced that it would not form any coalition with the ANC, claiming that would be an insult to voters who had rejected the party at the ballot box.

Questioned on the current change in the EFF’s stance, Malema brushed off the criticism, saying his party would not be held to ransom by statements it made in 2016 in the face of a changing political environment.

“We cannot have a situation where, even when the DA offends us, because of what we said in 2016 we remain stuck. We are in politics here; we are not in a church.

“If it means we must lose votes, let it be. We have to take decisions and we have taken a decision.”