/ 20 October 2023

VBS findings hinder Floyd Shivambu’s ambitions

Floyd Shivambu. Photo by Delwyn Verasamy

The recent parliamentary findings against Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) deputy president Floyd Shivambu have undermined his standing with party members, some of its provincial leaders in KwaZulu-Natal say.

Parliament’s ethics committee found Shivambu guilty of breaching the MPs’ code of ethical conduct and disclosure by failing to disclose the R180 000 of VBS Mutual Bank money he received from the Sgameka Project, a company owned by his brother Brian, in 2017.

Shivambu has been deployed to KwaZulu-Natal as a team convener, tasked with preparing for next year’s general elections, with a mandate to grab power from the ANC and the Inkatha Freedom Party, which have a stronghold on the province.

The EFF had a successful 2021 local government election in KwaZulu-Natal, following good growth in the 2019 general election, and now has representation in almost all municipalities in the province.

But four provincial leaders who spoke to the Mail & Guardian said the confirmation that Shivambu had benefited from the now-defunct VBS bank had become “too much to brush off” and this could impact the party’s election outcomes.

All this comes in the wake of a strained relationship with provincial leaders over the 2016 local government elections, where Shivambu was accused by former eThekwini ward councillor Mthandeni Zungu of misusing KwaZulu-Natal election funds. 

Now leaders in the region have called on the EFF national leadership to remove Shivambu from the province “for fear of mistrust”.

“We call on national leadership to help us in our quest to have the [deputy president] replaced in the province for we fear that his influence in the region may not be impactful. We have history with him and this VBS issue does not make it easy for us,”  one regional leader said.

Another leader added that the VBS scandal could open the door to rebellion within the party.

“Although our members have high morale and discipline, we fear that the [deputy president]’s situation will enable members to think they can speak against him because the fact of the matter is he is compromised and fighters are learning and are concerned that there is nothing being done to him at national level — not even rebuke,” they said.

EFF spokesperson Sinawo Thambo denied that there was any discontent in the province

“The EFF is doing extremely well in KwaZulu-Natal under the stewardship of the deputy president, building elections structures and recruiting high-profile people such as Linda Sibiya and Magasela Mzobe,” he told the M&G, adding that morale in the party “has never been higher”.

Political analyst Ralph Mathekga said because KwaZulu-Natal was difficult terrain for many political parties, it would be important for them to deploy members who understood the workings of regional politics.

He said it was not unusual for members under a tightly run leadership to revolt, especially if they were not being listened to.

“The idea that we are going to just impose authority in those regions is what leaders are currently failing to understand. 

“A leader can’t stand in front of people and expect them to respect his authority — especially if they themselves are compromised,” Mathekga said.

KwaZulu-Natal is important for the red berets, being one of the provinces where the party has seen significant growth.

Before the 2021 local government vote, the EFF had 59 councillors in KwaZulu-Natal. Afterwards, it had 150 councillors. 

The party now also boasts two deputy mayors, in the uMhlathuze municipality and Zululand district municipality.

In eThekwini Municipality, the EFF tripled its representatives from eight councillors in 2016 to 24 in 2021. This is significant growth, from a mere 4% to just above 10%, making it one of the key players in the municipality.

Shivambu has allegedly been asked by members to run for EFF leader Julius Malema’s position at the party’s elective conference “to allow for healthy contestation processes”.

However, in August, Malema denied that Shivambu intended to challenge him for party leader.

Shivambu has already faced a challenge at one of the party’s branch meetings in Ilembe where drunk members disrupted a meeting that he was chairing.

Speaking to the M&G, EFF provincial chairperson Mongezi Twala said KwaZulu-Natal had thrown its support behind Shivambu and that the members who disrespected him would face the wrath of the party.

According to the rules in the party’s constitution, “any member of the EFF who disrupts organisational meetings, events and programmes has defined himself or herself outside the organisation”.

Twala added that the reason why the party had managed to exist for 10 years was because of its ability to deal with lawlessness and anarchy.

“We’ll take the podium against anyone who undermines the elected leadership,” he said. 

“Worse, the deputy president who is the head of this organisation. Once you attack the head, you’re weakening the organisation, and you’re collapsing the organisation, which we view as treason,” he said.

Twala said the province under the guidance of Shivambu was ahead in its quest to achieve the goal of 800 000 membership registrations.

In 2019 the EFF, which benefitted from the higher voter turnout among first-time voters in the province, was able to increase its number of seats from the two it secured in 2014 to eight, significant growth in a province where it was not expected to do well.

Twala said most of the work had been done by the student wing of the party which, over the years, had been making inroads at several universities and vocational training colleges across the country.

“We have achieved 60% of that goal because of the good numbers that we get of people registered to vote. 

“Many of the registrations come from the student command which is why you see us taking all the universities. All the students that are registered by the student command are also part of the target we were given,” he said.

Asked about Shivambu’s personal campaign for the elective conference, Twala said the party’s focus was on removing the ANC from government and denied that there were factions in the province.

“There are no factions in the party. The only faction we are part of is the EFF, that’s the only faction that we belong to. Any faction that seeks to divide the organisation, we are not part of it and are not interested in it,” he said.