EFF's rise: When and how will the Empire strike back?

Rhodes>Perspective>2014 Archive

If you had to pose the question who has benefitted the most politically
since the results of our elections in May were announced, there could really
only be one answer. Despite the overwhelming majority for the ANC in that
poll, despite the growth in the DA's number of seats in the National
Assembly, it is surely the Economic Freedom Fighters who have made the most
of the running. If politics is indeed perception, then they are the outright
winners. But for how much longer can they keep this up, and will they really
continue to succeed in framing the questions so successfully?

The transition of Julius Malema from the nation's favourite Young Lion to
guerrilla warfare warrior has been truly fascinating, even though it hasn't
necessarily been a very long road. The Malema who led the ANC Youth League
isn't that different to the Malema who promised to never start his own
party, and then did. However, being commander-in-chief of his own destiny
has allowed him to act with more freedom. And he has used this freedom to
its fullest extent.

Malema has brought Parliament to a standstill, managed to actually force the
Gauteng Provincial Legislature to use violence to remove his cadres, and
been an obstructive force in various committees.

In short, he has used what you could call asymmetric, or guerrilla, warfare.
He has got as far as he has by breaking the rules. By exhibiting behaviour
that has never been seen before in our public forums, he has managed to use
the virtue of shock to make headlines.

However, this is a tactic that surely cannot work forever.

In conflict situations, the biggest successes of guerrilla or even terrorist
organisations are usually their first successes. Because no one knows what
will happen, the shock of that first big event or attack is the greatest.
After one has happened, the shock, while certainly present, is less, well,
shocking. The same is beginning to happen with Malema. No one had seen
someone refusing to leave the National Assembly. The Gauteng Legislature had
never seen armed police forcing its members out. Now we have all seen it,
and we will come to expect it. As a result, the shock value is now much less
valuable than it was before.

This is likely to force Malema and the EFF to consider their next moves. One
of the reasons his tactics have worked so well is that the constituencies
represented by the ANC and the DA would not respect their representatives
acting as the EFF has. This constrains these parties' range of actions,
especially when compared to the EFF's free for all approach. But there are
limits, even for Malema. Every constituency, even his own, has its built-in
limits and he must be careful not to breach them.

At the same time, his political opponents have also behaved in the way they
did because they weren't expecting it and might actually learn from their
own mistakes. National Assembly speaker Baleka Mbete's admission to the
South African National Editors Forum this week that she "lost it" when the
EFF behaved as it did demonstrates how unprepared she was. That won't happen
again. Next time around, she will be expecting this kind of behaviour, and
will probably react differently.

In most political situations, the ANC would have viewed the party with the
second largest number of seats as its biggest threat, and behaved
accordingly. At the moment, it seems the EFF has put it under the most
pressure. As a result, Luthuli House is likely to start looking for ways to
put the EFF under pressure. Considering the political brains trust that it
has, in people such as Gwede Mantashe, Jessie Duarte and of course President
Jacob Zuma himself, one can easily imagine them planning several traps for
Malema. It could help of course that they have intensive experience of him
directly, and thus know what his pressure points are likely to be.

One of the easiest ways to damage Malema is surely to find ways to sabotage
his party. The EFF hasn't yet had a proper national conference. We all know
that conferences are ripe for all sorts of political naughtiness. It would
not be beyond the bounds of imagination to consider that there is a group of
very experienced people ensuring that the outcome of that conference turns
out to be more in the best interests of the ANC, than of the EFF. At the
same time, it must be remembered how vulnerable the EFF actually is. While
the party appears to wear red uniforms when it suits its MPs, the fact is
many would surely find a lifestyle audit quite difficult. Look out for
pictures of EFF MPs working hard for the poor in the poshest nightclubs in
the country, coming soon to a media outlet near you.

And then there is Malema himself. A major problem the EFF could face is what
would it do without a leader. Organisations with elected representatives and
proper structures tend to survive the loss of a supreme leader far better
than organisations with unelected commanders-in-chief. (EFF will hold its
first congress in December 2014) It somehow seemed almost unfair to say
before the elections that the EFF was really a one-person party. But several
months on, it's hard to think of anyone who's really made a strong political
impact, without raising his or her middle finger. It is often forgotten that
Malema faces serious corruption charges. The claim is that he manipulated
provincial government tenders in Limpopo. We may even find that the Limpopo
textbooks scandal is somehow linked to him in the long run. Being accused of
stealing from the poorest of the poor, and denying children education is
unlikely to make his party a viable vote getter long-term.

When guerrilla conflicts start, the establishment forces often change their
tactics. Sometimes that change is effective, sometimes it isn't. But it does
usually put the guerrilla movement under pressure. In politics, like rugby,
pressure matters. And it's in how the EFF responds to this pressure that
will determine whether it can really continue to have an impact.

The strong reliance on Malema obvious charisma could well prove fatal
weakness for the EFF. It is, in a way, about supply lines in a conflict. You
need more than one person, one totem. Without Malema, the party could come
perilously close to becoming an ex-party, to ceasing to exist.

Up until this point the EFF has had it relatively easy. Behave badly, use
shock tactics, and make an impact. And don't start thinking about tomorrow.
It may soon have to think again. DM

Article by:Stephen Grootes.
Article Source: The Daily Maverick