The EFF is not xenophobic

On 8 January 2022 the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) officially opened the political year in a “Siyabonga Rally” dedicated to the hard work of fighters, ground forces and volunteers of the EFF in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). This was after the vanguard movement registered the only growth in the province of the top three political organisations in South Africa. In the historic result, the EFF grew its party representatives threefold in Ethekwini, bringing the ANC to below 50% for the first time since the advent of democracy.

Of the many progressive proclamations made by the President and Commander In Chief of the EFF, Julius Sello Malema, the EFF programme to perform oversight in South African businesses, in particular restaurants and the hospitality industry in general, appears to have caught the public by surprise. In his address in KZN, the president announced that the EFF would be visiting South African establishments to assess whether local South Africans are being employed in line with labour practises and regulations.

In simple terms, the EFF is arguing that the staff composition of South African businesses ought to accommodate a minimum of 50% local South African citizens, an ideal which is not uncommon in emerging economies that not only want to protect their local markets, but also their local workforce.

Those who have invested their time and energy in misunderstanding and misrepresenting the ideological positions of the EFF have misread this to be a deviation, or as they call it, a “flip-flop” from the initial position of the EFF on the presence of our brothers and sisters from neighbouring African countries. It is not a secret that the EFF has, from its inception, taken a very unpopular position on the unity of Africa. It has consistently condemned the attacks on Africans [from other nations], in South Africa, even when it was unfashionable to do so. 

Those who study political economies across the globe will attest that when a nation faces challenges, especially those related to economic decline, and limited opportunities for livelihoods and unemployment, the first scapegoats are immigrants and/or refugees. In America, Donald Trump blamed all the woes of America on the Mexicans. Germany’s far right populist party the AfD [Alternative for Germany] is mobilising Germans behind a “zero immigration” policy. In the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson of the Conservartive Party, reflecting on the food, petrol and gas crisis, declared that he would not allow “uncontrollable immigration”.

The crude and populist targeting of those who are considered to be foreigners is an easy answer for lazy and gormless leaders to very complex socioeconomic problems. South Africa is no different. With levels of unemployment rising at an exponential rate, especially among the youth, negative economic growth, rampant corruption and misuse of public funds, the lazy finger of populism lurks and some are ready to pin all the socioeconomic problems of South Africa on so-called foreigners.

The EFF has been the only political organisation in South Africa that has decisively and openly denounced this Afrophobic attitude. Let us take, for example, the hospitality industry. The simple and consistent message of the EFF has been that these “foreigners” are not employing themselves. Why then do we point the finger at the vulnerable Africans selling their labour to exploitative business owners? Put differently, the EFF has been arguing that it is the business owners and private capital that have been driving the division between South Africans and their African brothers and sisters. Private capital has been preying on the weak to maximise profit.

A simple example to drive this point home is to imagine a minimum wage legislation which says that workers must not be paid below R25 per hour in South Africa. Let us also say, for argument’s sake, that workers who work on weekends and outside their contracted hours must be paid double. When a greedy business owner approaches a vulnerable Zimbabwean woman who has not yet got the necessary papers to live in South Africa, he knows that he can pay her anything and treat her in the most inhumane manner, and she will not be able to report him to the authorities. The greedy capitalist owner knows that once the woman goes and reports the low wages and inhumane treatment, the poor woman will be asked to provide her identification and run the risk of deportation.

Contrary to popular belief, therefore, illegal immigration benefits business owners more than it does the immigrants themselves. 

It is at this point that we must ask what has been driving the #PutSouthAfricaFirst praise singers up until now? What does #PuttingSouthAfricaFirst look like in their eyes? Is substituting the nationality which is being exploited by private capital putting South Africa first? Is working in the farms, mines and businesses of multinational corporations putting South Africa first? Is South Africa put first when our Central Bank is one of only four central banks in the world privately owned, where the government of South Africa has no official shareholding? 

It is the EFF which gives the #PutSouthAfricaFirst brigade a new meaning and language. It rescues the discourse from ignorance and narrow nationalism, and gives it a structural bearing and understanding.

Put differently, the EFF exposes the absurdity of chasing away exploited African workers from a factory and or business which is owned by a European and saying nothing about the owner of the factory who owes his loyalty to his mother continent of Europe, not South Africa. 

When the EFF says let us expropriate all South Africa’s land and place it at the hands of a sovereign South African government for equitable redistribution, that is the truest application of putting South Africa first. When the EFF says let us nationalise the Central Bank, mines and all strategic and commanding heights of the economy so that the people of South Africa can participate in the market as owners and not just sellers of cheap labour,  that is the truest application of putting South Africa first.

When the EFF advances and advocates for the industrialisation of the South African economy and the processing of all our raw materials locally, that is the truest application of putting South Africa first. When the EFF rallies society against the privatisation of state owned enterprises such as Eskom, SAA, Denel and Transnet, it is saying that the people of South Africa must take ownership of their electricity, aviation, military technologies, and public transportation.

When the EFF denounces the continued borrowing of the ANC government from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and other European financial institutions, it is warning South Africans that once our country inevitably defaults on these ridiculous loans, these institutions will be at liberty to take our land, ports and any other strategic public goods, and effectively undermine the independence and sovereignty of South Africa.

South Africa is at the mercy of multinational corporations, wealthy families and “foreign investors” who have little regard for the genuine development of South Africa and its people. This became glaringly visible in the years of former president Thabo Mbeki.

When asked why his economy, which was growing, was not creating jobs for South Africans, he reflected that South Africa has abnormal levels of liquidity. In other words, those who possess and have monopolised the wealth of South Africa were, and still are, reluctant to invest in the economy and people of South Africa. 

In very basic terms, liquidity means that these so-called “investors” have a lot of money and cash on hand, but have no urgency to industrialise and build factories, so as to create jobs and grow South Africa’s secondary sector.

What we quickly learn from this is that the wealthy families who control the economy of South Africa have no genuine loyalty to it. This is why many of them are very quick to say that they are leaving South Africa whenever things do not go their way. It is much easier to run away and smuggle cash out of South Africa than it is to smuggle and or run away with factories, business premises and buildings. They would rather hold a lot of cash and liquid assets in the JSE than build a factory, because they cannot carry a factory, put it in a private jet, and fly away with it to their mother continent — Europe. 

These are the structural questions that should concern the #PutSouthAfricaFirst brigade, not the nicknacks and lollipops of Somalian shops. The “foreigners” who must answer are the owners of the banks, mines, restaurants and all commanding heights of the economy. In a word, the “foreigners” who must answer are the owners of the means of production. They are the ones who employ and opportunistically sideline local South Africans so that they may maximise their profits.

It is for this reason that we have insisted, time and again, that what is happening in South Africa is not xenophobia. Xenophobia, in very simple terms, can be understood as the hatred, dislike and or fear of people from other countries: “foreigners”. However, we have never seen Europeans and their many businesses in South Africa being torched and looted under the guise of #PuttingSouthAfricaFirst. All those in the media, academia and government are involved in an intellectual coverup each time they refer to the attacks on black Africans as xenophobia. This is because the anger and hatred is only directed at black “foreigners”.

This has been the view of the EFF since it was formed, and it has never changed, nor has it “flip-flopped”. Only small minds view the oversight visits to various businesses and restaurants across the country as an attack on black “foreigners”. This is precisely because the EFF is not concerned with the vulnerable workers, but those who employ the workers — the greedy owners and bosses. 

It is for this very reason that these visits, which merely represent the actioning of the long-held beliefs of the EFF, should be seen as the EFF throwing a life jacket to the confused and misdirected anger of the #PutSouthAfricaFirst brigade.

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Sihle Lonzi
Sihle Lonzi is studying economics and philosophy at the University of Cape Town. A former UCT SRC member of two terms, he is a member and activist of the EFF Students’ Command. He writes in his personal capacity.

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