The Economic Freedom Fighters’ recent student representative council (SRC) victory at the University of Zululand is part of the party’s bigger plan to boost its overall success in next year’s general elections.
Nontobeko Zulu, an EFF student leader, was elected as SRC president last week in a victory that gave the red berets control of yet another ANC-controlled institution in KwaZulu-Natal. The EFF Students Command has also won SRC elections at the Durban University of Technology, the Mangosuthu University of Technology and the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Westville campus. The organisation is hoping to win elections at the remaining two University of KwaZulu-Natal campuses and gain total control of the institution.
The province was previously regarded as being hostile to Julius Malema’s party, which has been a thorn in former president Jacob Zuma’s side in recent years. The party managed to secure only 1.8% of the vote in the province in the 2014 general elections and 3.46% in the 2016 municipal elections.
KwaZulu-Natal was traditionally a stronghold of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and then the ANC. But political observers have warned that the removal of Zuma as president might decrease the ruling party’s support in the province next year.
Should this happen, it could give parties like the EFF a chance to capitalise on its losses, particularly given the EFF’s recent victories in the province’s tertiary institutions.
This week, Zulu said winning university elections was part of the students command’s 2019 election strategy. “Participating in SRC elections and winning them is one of our strategies because we understand that many young people are in institutions of higher education,” she said.
“We want to ensure that the EFF Students Command participates in student politics in a way that will have a direct link in the general elections next year, by growing the percentage of the EFF and making sure the EFF is in government and leads the country.”
The students command, formed three years ago, has set itself a target of attracting one million youth votes for the party in each province. It has focused on tertiary institutions but the “one-province, one-million votes” strategy will also involve establishing EFF branches at high schools and creating visibility among youths who are not enrolled at any institution.
In an interview with the Mail & Guardian earlier this year, Malema said the EFF’s strategy in KwaZulu-Natal also involved deploying national spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi to the province on a full-time basis to focus on growing the EFF’s footprint there.
Although the ANC and the IFP still dominate the province, Zulu said the two parties were unpopular among the youth, making them no barrier to the EFF’s ambitions.
“The EFF has shown it appeals to people. The EFF has only been in existence for five years and the EFF Students Command for three years and, in a short space of time, we have seen the organisation grow and shifting politics [in South Africa],” Zulu said.
“Yes, KZN [KwaZulu-Natal] has been predominantly governed by the IFP and ANC, but if you consider the impact of student activism on general politics and the current patterns [of EFF SRC victories], we strongly believe we are going to usher in a change,” she added.
EFF secretary general Godrich Gardee has said his party has no interest in drawing an older generation of voters away from the ANC. Instead it seeks to create its own loyal voter base made up predominantly of the youth.
The EFF is targeting more than six million registered voters who, according to the Independent Electoral Commission, are between the ages of 18 and 29. Of this group, more than 200 000 are registered as first-time voters.
Zulu said the ANC’s victories in the province had been delivered by student activism. “If you look at history in KZN, the ANC managed to gain hegemony in the province through students and wining SRC elections. When Sasco [the South African Students Congress] would win SRC elections, those people [Sasco supporters] would align themselves [to the ANC].
“I feel student activism needs to be prioritised because it has been overlooked. Student activism is going to usher in a change because young people have delivered so much to this country. Through student politics we have seen the implementation of free education and that has been the biggest achievement.”