/ 24 March 2023

EFF marched but it was no Sri Lanka moment

Malema Eff March
Cantankerous: Julis Malema argues with police at the presidential guest house in Pretoria. Photo: Emmanuel Croset/Getty Images


Like many of my fellow South Africans, I’m grateful to Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema.

Not for attempting — and partially succeeding — to shut the country down, or for the extra day’s public holiday that I couldn’t enjoy because I had to cover the stayaway, but for the two days of uninterrupted electricity supply that miraculously became available on the eve of the protest.

Thanks to the Red Berets, there was no daily consultation of the load-shedding schedule on Sunday — or Monday for that matter — and most importantly, no longer a need to find an alternative venue to watch Arsenal against Crystal Palace.

Whether the increased availability of electricity was an attempt by the state to demobilise the masses in response to Malema, a planned increase in power generation or the result of plugging Minister of Electricity Kgosientsho Ramokgopa into the grid, for a few days at least, me and my appliances had all the power we needed.

I’ll take that.

I’m equally grateful to our minister of tyres, Bheki Cele, for his efforts in ensuring that the 24 000 Goodyears, Continentals and Pirellis that the Fighters had stockpiled in the weeks leading up to Monday’s protests were arrested to prevent them being used as burning barricades.

Cele and his officers appear to be better at incarcerating radials than they are at solving murders; more skilled when it comes to cuffing those cross-plys than at bringing the looters of state coffers to book. 

The “tools of the trade” were removed before the Fighters could light them up.

For once, there was a van available — thousands of them actually, along with water cannons, Nyalas and a whole fleet of helicopters — a far cry from the situation in ward 33 and the rest of KwaZulu-Natal when they were really needed in July 2021.

It appears that regardless of whether the cops do anything to stop potential looting and arson — or an attempted insurrection, for that matter — depends on who it is that’s stealing and burning and trying to overthrow the state.

On Monday, there were as many cops and security guards as EFF members — more actually — when the Fighters gathered at their KwaZulu-Natal provincial office in Bulwer Road at the beginning and end of their march.

The Fighters didn’t stop at the Durban City Hall, the usual end point for most protest marches, which makes sense.

The EFF helped the ANC retain control of the city last year and sits on eThekwini’s executive committee — like the shutdown, a taster of what the party has to offer the governing party if they don’t make the magic 50% in next May’s election and need a coalition partner — so why lay siege to a seat of power one occupies, at least in part?

The Fighters didn’t make it to Phoenix — their apparent destination of choice — which is a good thing because they would have still been walking (it’s 22km as the crow flies) if they hadn’t taken a sharp left up Sandile Thusi Road from the beachfront and headed west.

The blue wall was also there when the Red Berets arrived in Florida Road to try to spoil the long weekend that they had told the punters’ to take to show their support for the call for President Cyril Ramaphosa to step down. It halted their progress and moved them to the left into Currie Road and back towards the office.

It was the same story in Pretoria, where the EFF was joined by the leaders of some smallanyana parties, who decided to jump on the bandwagon and remind us that they still exist when we vote next year, and by the South African Federation of Trade Unions — or at least one of its factions.

The visuals vibed unity in action, but the numbers failed to number — or at least not to the point that they could deliver the Sri Lanka moment government claims the EFF was seeking — as did the frolic in the presidential pool. Malema and his fellow marchers must have needed it after a day of walking in the sun.

Next time, perhaps.

I giggled when I saw Malema — and African Transformation Movement spokesperson Mzwanele Manyi — marching hand in hand with expelled ANC member Carl Niehaus striding their way to the Union Building and the president’s official residence.

It wasn’t just the optics or the irony of the moment.

Comrade Carl’s fingers are notoriously sticky, so how better to keep them from wandering towards one’s back pocket — and wallet — than by intertwining them with one’s own digits?

Superior logic, in action.