/ 2 September 2023

Past squabbles come back to bite EFF representatives

Safrica Politics Eff
Bearing grudges: Marshall Dlamini. Photo: Phill Magakoe/Getty Images

Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) members who have been forced to resign as public representatives for failing to acquire buses to ferry supporters to FNB Stadium in Johannesburg for the party’s 10th year birthday celebration in July are accusing secretary general Marshall Dlamini of being out to get them over past grudges.

After EFF leader Julius Malema gave a directive that more than 200 public representatives be recalled from their political deployments in parliament, legislatures and municipal councils, many told the Mail & Guardian that they suspected “sabotage” before the party’s third elective conference set for December 2024.

They believed they were being targeted by Dlamini in retaliation for having voted for former Gauteng chairperson Mandisa Mashego for the position of secretary general at the conference in 2019. 

Despite the overwhelming support Dlamini received, the party members said they believed he was “cashing in on an old grudge”.

They also said that Dlamini had colluded with provincial leaders to exclude their names from a list of party members that had made financial contributions towards the acquisition of the buses.

“We have proof that we acquired buses and showed the SG [secretary general] the proof of payment, but they still included us on the list of recalled members,” one MP said. 

MPs Phiwaba Madokwe and Vusi Khoza, who represent the party in the National Assembly, and Brenda Mathevula and Slindile Luthuli, who sit in the National Council of Provinces, are among the public representatives accused of failing to organise buses for the birthday bash. 

The initial list had more than 400 names, but some members were not dismissed after pleading their cases.

Khoza said despite pleading his case, he was still recalled from his post as a legislator.

“I submitted proof that after six months, I only had one bus because that is all I could afford, no one else could assist me. This is despite other members clubbing together to ensure they got assistance,” he said.

A member of the provincial legislature accused provincial party leaders of deliberate sabotage.

“The provincial leadership said there was a directive from the SG to form a bus fund to collectively hire buses. When the buses were booked, despite my payment, I was not allocated any buses. Worse of all, I didn’t receive my money back,” he said.

The M&G has seen records of the payment.

A representative in KwaZulu-Natal said they were not going to step down because they had explained to Dlamini that there was an error and they should not have been included among those targeted for punishment. 

The party member said they were waiting for a disciplinary hearing to argue their case.

Another member from the Mpumalanga legislature said the demotion was a “disrespectful” attempt to force them out, telling the M&G: “They have been trying to get rid of me since 2020, moved me to serve in Gauteng to be watched, without anything to stick.”

At a media briefing on Sunday, Malema defended the removal of the EFF representatives from their positions.

“We thought this was the best political intervention because those comrades were affected by this decision. They will remain with their membership if they so wish,” Malema said.

“Failure to comply with this directive will lead to all of those members being charged and suspended with immediate effect, and the national disciplinary committee will take the process forward.”

Dlamini denied the allegations against him made by the affected members.

“If indeed I had a grudge against them, why would I wait this long to have them removed?” he said. “Those members claiming that it has something to do with 2019 need to admit that they failed to follow a directive. It has nothing to do with the past.”

Members of the provincial legislature Litha Zibula and Bulelwa Dial from the Eastern Cape were among those who managed to be removed from the censure list.

“The (provincial) list has since dropped to 10 and the secretary general has written to those people,” EFF Eastern Cape chairperson Zolile Vena said.

Malema’s actions could be interpreted as a way to enforce discipline in the party, but it might also have the undesired effect of causing divisions within the party just before South Africa’s general elections in 2024, and cause animosity between the leader and his followers, political analyst Omhle Ntshingila said.

“We may see that,” she said. 

“It’s very common for young parties such as the EFF, because they haven’t been around for too long for there to be fragmentation with the parties,” she said.

Although Malema does not have the power to fire his members from parliament, removing them from the party would automatically dissolve their parliamentary membership, constitutional law expert Pierre de Vos noted.

“So while the instruction to resign is not legally enforceable directly, if the elected representatives refuse [to resign], they can be expelled from the party,” he said.

“Ultimately, because your membership of the legislature depends on your main party, the party leader, has the power to remove you [by firing you from the party].”