While launch champagne flowed for the few, the Economic Freedom Fighters insisted it was opposed to elitism at the top.
The body language on the podium at the launch of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) in Marikana last Sunday revealed some of the subtle internal contradictions in the party.
Marikana mineworker and EFF member Xolani Nzuza, one of last year’s strike leaders, sat just off the stage for most of the proceedings, perhaps holding on to his outsider status. At the back of the stage, where party leaders without seats lined up, black consciousness theorist Andile Mngxitama, who is also the EFF’s head of international relations and in charge of its election manifesto, looked a bit uneasy.
Perhaps he was wincing from Golden Miles Bhudu’s earlier sycophantic performance of Julius Malema’s dismissal of “bloody agent” BBC journalist Jonah Fisher.
After EFF commander-in-chief Malema’s speech, which was not without its moments of self-aggrandisement (“be the Malema in your street … factory … school”), Floyd Shivambu, a party commissar, raised a glass of bubbly to propose a toast to the new party. “Those without glasses, you can raise your fists,” he told the crowd.
Was this a sign of things to come? State resources (well, cheap sparkling wine for the time being) in the hands of the few and tightly clenched fists for those for whom the struggle continues? A case of human-rights activists cosying up to power, and chiefs willing to prostrate themselves, as if to an omniscient diety.
Although there was plenty of pomp and ceremony to keep the attendant masses jubilant, the discovery of banners that described revolution as the preserve of cold killing machines “motivated by pure hate” begs the question of how solidly constituted EFF structures are.
Is it a case of like attracting like, or has Malema merely become the rallying point of everybody from the ideologically astute to the disaffiliated, disaffected and politically destitute?
Also, what could the likes of Nzuza, after leading a strike like that at Marikana, hope to gain from a booming politician who, at least on Sunday, spoke as though he had all the answers?
“Marikana workers are the most politicised group of people in South Africa today,” said Mngxitama this week. “They were at the forefront of sacrifices to alter the apartheid workplace and the level of wages that we can now begin to talk about. They were ahead of everyone.
“We’re banking not so much on loyalty expressed as support, but on the idea of the interest of the worker. Those workers have been very consistent, very brave and the EFF is going to support that. Also, the idea of worker independence is an important one. Trade unions must be independent from political parties while they support the political project of the party.”
He said the party would continue to offer practical support to the miners, either through the campaign Citizens 4 Marikana, or by ensuring that the call for wages of R12 500 a month “would find expression in the party’s election manifesto”.
As to whether posters proclaiming revolution as the product of hate signified the amount of groundwork yet to be done, Mngxitama said the party had spent two weeks in the Rustenburg area and the sentiments expressed on some of the banners could be read as people reacting to their everyday humiliation, albeit in ways not sanctioned by the EFF.
Describing the basic character of the organisation, Mngxitama said it was “Fanonian and Sankarist. To us, it is important that the leadership does not live wealthily at the expense of the poor. The EFF says public servants and politicians should use public facilities. If Malema goes to Parliament, he’ll be forced to use public services. That’s our commitment. Judge us on the application of our policy.”
Mngxitama said it was disingenuous to expect a party to have rock-solid structures in its infancy, but he didn’t “think that anybody could fail to understand our cardinal points on land, on nationalisation”.
The movement’s priorities include the abolishment of tenders, free quality services, protected industrial development, development of the African economy and accountable government.
On party leadership, he said: “We are three months into taking membership. Who must elect who? As far as I know, [leadership issues] are not a complaint from within the EFF.”
Mngxitama said talented people were being recruited, deployed and assigned to temporary structures.
The pecking order outlined
The Economic Freedom Fighter’s constitution states that the central command team (CCT), the highest organ of the party, will consist of 14 people elected at a national assembly and another 20 people. These will include the chairperson and secretary of each province’s provincial command team, and one member each from the women’s command and youth command. There are also regional and branch command teams.
A branch, the constitution says, should consist of no less than 100 members. Under exceptional circumstances, that figure can be reduced to no less than 40 members. Its command team will consists of a “top five” and no more than 10 members. The smallest grouping of branch members, a cell, should contain a minimum of four people.
“Ministers” in the CCT are “commissars”. Floyd Shivambu, for example, is the commissar responsible for political education, policy and research.
The party’s national people’s assembly will convene every five years.