Editorial: We need to talk about the EFF’s wild claims

In a week in which it was confirmed that the economy had contracted in the first quarter of 2018 and the price of petrol went up a whopping 82c a litre, the myth of Ramaphoria — or any expectation that President Cyril Ramaphosa would be a panacea for South Africa’s troubles — was properly dispelled.

It ought to be a moment for opposition parties to assert themselves. But instead, the Democratic Alliance is in a downward spiral and the Economic Freedom Fighters appears to be flailing around, trying to find relevance but just sounding decidedly silly.

When Floyd Shivambu attacked one of the treasury’s deputy directors general, Ismail Momoniat, this week, he invited scrutiny of not just his own knowledge of the way Parliament works and how the treasury corresponds with the finance ministry, but also of the EFF’s own ideologies.

As Eusebius McKaiser points out in the Mail & Guardian this week, the EFF has been treated without much critical analysis since the party was voted into Parliament in 2014.  And research from Media Monitoring Africa has shown that the party does receive a disproportionate amount of media coverage relative to its share of the vote. That’s, of course, thanks to its uncanny ability to stir up controversy and manipulate the news agenda.

So the claim that much of what the EFF says, both as a party and in the statements of its senior leaders, goes unchecked holds some merit. It points to the fact that we have been so consumed by the spectre of Jacob Zuma that opposition parties, and opposing ANC factions, have enjoyed far less scrutiny of their own contradictions.

Shivambu made very serious allegations against Momoniat in Parliament this week. He alleged that Momoniat undermines the leadership not only of his own manager but also of the minister and the deputy minister of finance. We’re not even going to touch on the prejudicial framing of these remarks just yet. As an MP, Shivambu cannot expect to raise such a serious allegation in the public sphere without offering some kind of proof for that statement.

We have, however, unfortunately become accustomed to the EFF leadership making bold claims in public. And because some of what the EFF has previously said comforted pre-existing notions about Zuma as the bad guy in this fairy tale, the party was allowed to continue making these statements. And when some of what the EFF said turned out to be true, it further bolstered its ability to continue making wild claims in the public sphere without offering much in terms of proof.

But now we have Shivambu making serious allegations against a treasury employee, just weeks after Julius Malema stood up in the National Assembly to accuse Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene of being “corrupt as hell” — shortly after Shivambu accused Deputy State Security Minister Ellen Molekane of corruption. He was forced to withdraw his comment about Molekane because he had no evidence to back it up. But Malema’s attack on Nene’s credibility must be noted. What exactly has prompted the EFF leaders’ confrontation of Nene and Momoniat?

And then there’s Shivambu’s own barefaced bigotry. So intent is he on painting Momoniat as a usurper of power and influence, he has entirely miscalculated the acumen and work of the very African black treasury staff he claims to be defending. The EFF desperately needs a new script. 

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