By Isaac Mpho Mogotsi, 16 October 2013

Isaac Mogotsi says the EFF leader is taking on too much by targeting both Zuma and Zille

The two biggest mountains Julius Malema and his Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) need to crest for them to triumph in the 2014 elections are the much bigger and much longer Mount Jacob Zuma, and the much smaller and much flatter one, Mount Helen Zille. Mount Zuma is as big and long as the Drakensburg Mountain range, whilst Mount Zille is of the size and shape of Table Mountain. Which mountain to scale first is perhaps the toughest strategic challenge before Malema and EFF.

That President Jacob Zuma hails from Kwa Zulu-Natal (KZN), which the Drakensberg Mountains abut, and Zille is based in Cape Town, whose fabled background is Table Mountain, is only accidental to this analogy. So too is the fact that EFF was officially launched last week on the Marikana Koppie, which, compared to the Drakensburg and Table Mountains, looks like an anthill, another analogy which should not be over-interpreted nor over-analyzed, but which may still come to assist EFF if it’s not dismissed out of hand.

But, on second thought, perhaps Malema and his EFF need this mountain analogy to focus and concentrate their minds at the herculean task before them, if they hope to win the 2014 national elections. Because they would really need to literally move the two mountains to stand any chance of defeating either Helen Zille’s Democratic Alliance (DA), and, much, much less plausibly, of defeating the ANC of President Zuma.

A defeat by EFF over the ANC would be nothing short of a complete revolution in South Africa. The defeat of the DA by EFF, for the position of the country’s official parliamentary opposition, would be nothing short of seismic political and parliamentary change, but is not far-fetched, and may even be good for the moribund opposition politics in our country. EFF can reach further into the black, especially youth and unemployed, vote than the DA can ever hope to.

In short, for EFF to be able to defeat the DA in the 2014 national elections, that would signal that there is a much broader and much deeper appetite in the SA society for the EFF’s radical economic policy proposals, or the Zimbabwe option, than we have been made to believe by both the ANC and the DA. By defeating the DA next year for the prestige and privilege of being SA’s official parliamentary opposition, that would affirm the existence of a huge, untapped growth potential for EFF in SA politics and electoral opportunities.

EFF would be in a better position to challenge the ANC for power in subsequent national and local elections (2016, 2019, 2021 and or 2024). A good EFF electoral performance in 2014, by way of defeating the DA, would spell trouble for the DA as a governing party in the Western Cape and other municipalities across the country, whilst allowing EFF to build the necessary juggernaut political machinery and tail-wind momentum sufficient for it to give the ANC a real run for its money in subsequent elections.

This may be directly beneficial for the ANC’s own service delivery record, which could suddenly experience a healthy uptick. Such a win by EFF will bring it closer to the national and parliamentary resources it needs to grow beyond just being a youth protest movement, into a truly national, well-resourced and well-organized modern political party with a cross-generational appeal, and whose views on SA and African issues are sought by locals and visitors alike.

It could well, in practice, render the ANC and its government lame-duck. It would make EFF in practice and theory a government-in-waiting. Such an outcome would be an enormous achievement for a party established only this month. And in the most unlikely scenario of EFF’s electoral victory over the ANC, it would mean that the SA electorate has completely and totally rejected any and everything represented by the CODESA negotiations and the political settlement CODESA gave birth to.

It would literally and fundamentally mean a new day for South Africa, as significant and as powerful as 27 April 1994, and as portent and transformative as 16 June 1976. Such an improbable victory by EFF over the ANC would upend everything we have come to know about SA politics since 1994.

But the failure by EFF to topple the DA from the position of official parliamentary opposition will mean that there is as yet no serious, demonstrable and broad-based national appetite in South Africa, even among the poor urban and rural dwellers, as well as the masses of the unemployed, for radical economic proposals being espoused by EFF.

It would mean the death of the Zimbabwe option for South Africa, and the consequent and attendant intensification of neo-liberal Kenyafication of South Africa. This will be bad news for EFF, because it would mean it was just an anti-Zuma vengeance vehicle for expelled and bitter former ANC and ANCYL members, without much national political appeal and embeddedness whatsoever. It is hard to see how EFF will be able to surmount such a shattering defeat, and rebuild on it to recreate some prospects for future, greater electoral EFF successe.

Such a defeat for EFF will mean that, in all but name, South Africa has, for the long haul, settled for a dominant two-party political system, with many little political puppies and beagles, cornered by the two dominant parties in a revolving-door political existence, including EFF, and forever sniping at the heels of the two big political parties, the ANC and the DA, without much demonstrable success, but with much all-night harmless barking.

In a nutshell, for EFF to credibly talk about defeating the ANC in future elections, including next year, it should better the DA’s current national electoral support of about 17% and still hope that the DA itself does not gain much further electoral support next year. This in itself, let alone EFF’s more wishful thinking about defeating the ANC next year, is Himalayan ambition for the EFF. But groups of dedicated mountain climbers do claim to be able to climb any high mountain nowadays.

It is simply not possible for EFF to defeat the ANC in next year’s elections, if it cannot first imagine itself becoming the official parliamentary opposition at the expense of Helen Zille and the DA. How does EFF hope to defeat the ANC, when it cannot even show the numbers that can allow it to dislodge the DA as official parliamentary opposition? Only a youthful flight of fancy, on a Limpopo-made broomstick, can visualize such an outcome. Other than through an Arab Spring-style youth revolution, there is simply no way EFF will dislodge the ANC from power next year.

But EFF can rattle the ANC massively in next year’s elections, and rattle it to its foundation at that.

What a good, solid electoral performance by EFF in next year’s national elections may do, by way of becoming the second biggest political party in South Africa, is to so rattle the ANC’s leadership at national and provincial level – meaning so hard and so unexpectantly- that President Zuma will hardly be able to survive the next ANC National General Council (NGC) following after next year’s national elections. Meaning that such a good EFF electoral performance may force the panicky ANC National General Council to consider to recall President Jacob Zuma from office, in a paradoxical reversal of the Pretoria 2005 ANC National General Council’s decision to reject Zuma’s decision to resign as ANC deputy president, following his firing from Cabinet by former President Thabo Mbeki, in the wake of Shabir Shaik’s conviction for corruption.

And this electoral outcome is within EFF’s grasp and realm of electoral possibilities next year, partly because a lot of anti-Zuma forces within the ANC are just waiting for any credible excuse to gang up against Zuma and to send him packing back to iNkandla. That it may be EFF which may provide them with such an excuse is a bitter pill they will be ready to swallow. Does EFF have the requisite organizational muscle – the boots on the ground in every village, township, town and city in South Africa – to do that? I do doubt it.

In practical political terms, such an outcome for EFF, of seeing Zuma once again politically beleaguered by his own ANC’s internal forces post-2014 national elections, may actually be more satisfying, and more important, at a personal level, to Julius Malema and Floyd Shivambu, two of the co-founders of EFF, than even an outright electoral victory over the DA to make EFF the next South African official parliamentary opposition. It would constitute the two’s ultimate revenge against and triumph over their sworn and bitter political nemesis – Jacob Zuma of iNkandla. I think this is a more realistic and attainable goal for EFF in next year’s national elections, than the more improbable aim of electorally toppling the ANC from power.

But will the perfect become the enemy of the good for EFF’s duo, in terms of their electoral strategizing for next year’s national elections? I suspect so, unfortunately.

Malema, Shivambu and EFF’s fixation, and even morbid obsession, with Jacob Zuma’s ANC, or ZANC as they are wont to call it now, and specifically with Zuma himself, coupled with their unchecked hurry to scale the Drakensburg Mountains, even before they reach the Table Mountain and the SA parliamentary princinct, and even before they muster mountain-climbing on the Marikana Koppie, will be their ultimate undoing.

If the former ANC Youth Leaguers keep on pursuing unattainable, but alluring, gargantuan, short-term political objectives, and keep on accumulating huge, successive, but insurmountable, political defeats in the SA political market-place, such as falling to deliver on their newest promise to defeat the ANC in next year national elections, whilst neglecting the more attainable, but prosaic, political objectives, such as defeating the DA, or at least becoming the third biggest SA parliamentary party in less than eight months, which in itself would be a mind-blowing achievement for any new political kid on the block, they are, sooner than they probably expect, going to be in far worse political space than they now reckon possible.

It should be remembered that despite their wild and loud pre-Mangaung promises, they did fail to topple Zuma in Mangaung. In fact, their defeat in Mangaung was so overwhelming, so total, that they ended up, unintentionally, strengthening Zuma’s grip over the ANC. Zuma emerged much stronger after Mangaung than before Mangaung.

Similarly, their miscalculation, based on an unrealistic political calculus, which itself is driven by emotionalism and short-termism regarding next year’s national elections, and motivated by an irrational obsession with wanting Jacob Zuma to be consigned to history’s dustbins in the shortest possible time, will help Zuma to again triumph over them decisively, and to finally consign them, instead, to history’s dustbins, if not to long jail terms. Another commanding, decisive Zuma win in next year’s national elections will silence the emerging and powerful anti-Zuma voices in the ANC post-Mangaung, especially in the ANC’s Gauteng and North West provinces.

This is because ANC and SA president Zuma and his band of fanatical ANC supporters, especially in KZN and Mpumalanga, have reached a very simplistic and compelling political conclusion – in politics, a win, any win, cleans all your scandals, incompetence and non-delivery. As long as it continues to win, the post-Thabo Mbeki ANC will not mind being led even by a drunken donkey covered in ANC colors and muttering inaudible prattle about the National Development Plan (NDP). For, with regard to this post-Mbeki ANC, a win is a win, is a win, is a win. Period. It is into this simplistic and simple-minded conclusion that Malaema and EFF’s unhelpful obsession about, and fixation on, ZANC plays. It is really not about Zuma, stupid. It is about the nature and state of the current post-Mbeki and post-Mangaung ANC. Got it?

For EFF, the target should be Zille’s DA, and not Zuma’s ANC.

The two Zees – Zuma and Zille – cannot be taken on both at once by EFF. EFF simply does not have the resources, tested organizational strength, the visionary talent, the maturity and vitality, the necessary intellectual depth, mature internal political culture, sufficient ideological cohesion and, frankly, even the boots on the ground, to take on the ANC and the DA all at once, other than as staff-riders on a wave of a popular, if not populist, youth revolution breaking out across SA, which thing will not happen next year.

EFF should also learn from the history of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) that the moment you make the ANC your primary enemy and primary focus, and not the structural system keeping blacks and the poor down, you lose significant black support, despite the fact that you may carry impressive struggle credentials and despite the fact that you may have very popular and charismatic leaders in your mist.

A focus on the DA and Helen Zille in next year’s national elections, in line with Julius Malema’s own highly jaundiced view about, and very bitter denunciations of, the DA and Helen Zille, when he was still the ANCYL hell-raising leader, will strike a chord with SA black and non-middle class politics that made him such a formidable young politician in the first place. A focus on the ANC and Zuma will make him come across as merely a bitter and furious young man, like a teenage lover scorned by the ANC.

In this sense, the electoral outcome that should give the EFF the greatest satisfaction is when they can establish themselves as post-apartheid’s first official black parliamentary opposition, and to see Helen Zille and the DA bite the electoral dust at the foot of Table Mountain.

It would be easier for a biblical camel, ridden by a very rich, fatty boom-boom BEE oligarch, to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a Marikana Koppie to suddenly become as big as the Drakensberg Mountains by July next year.

If it is wise enough, EFF should really focus all its energies and attention exclusively on the DA and Helen Zille. They should make Helen Zille and the DA the primary target of their electioneering, and not Zuma or the ANC. In any case, the ANC under Jacob Zuma is bound to self-destruct in the next ten years, and in time for the 2024 national elections, unless it can replace Zuma with a more credible and ethically upright leader, such as Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the current AU Commission’s chairman. So, to paraphrase Jacob Zuma himself, why would EFF harp on and waste its time beating a python which is busy chocking itself to death. It is a waste of EFF’s resources and energy.

The ongoing and unstoppable mighty factional fights within the ANC and the Tripartite Alliance will ensure that the ANC brings itself down to its knees, with or without the EFF, and by dint of its own explosive, irresoluble internal contradictions. The deep, philosophical question the EFF should ask itself is whether it really matters that a mighty tree falls in the forest, or whether EFF believes a mighty tree falls in the forest only when EFF is near it, cuts it down and hears it fall. It is a bigger historical process at work within the ANC that EFF may ill-advisedly seek to own or hasten. Like the DA, an EFF that is overly obsessed with and fixated on the ANC and Jacob Zuma will only prolong the historical process of the ANC’s self-destruction and demise under Zuma, because practically all factions in the ANC are strongly united only by their intense animus to either Helen Zille and the DA, or Julius Malema and his EFF.

Nothing else in SA politics unites and animates these ANC factions, otherwise at each other’s throats most of the time, than either Zille or Malema, either the DA or EFF. The very huge turn out for Jacob Zuma’s recent rally at Julius Malema’s own birthplace, Seshego, Limpopo, should have made this point clear to EFF. These two entities, DA and EFF, are the ANC’s “neo-apartheid”, in terms of presenting a transcendent, uniting, external threat, enemy and organizing principle for the ANC, especially during election times.

EFF should also not underestimate the organizationally- and politically-paralyzing effect a huge Zuma defeat has on SA politics and Zuma’s political foes alike. It is really true that people underestimate Zuma at their own peril. It took former President Thabo Mbeki, following his landslide defeat by Zuma at the ANC conference in Polokwane in 2007, almost five years to effectively regain his previous balance and poise within the domestic political scene and public intellectual space.

It may take EFF a much longer time than that to regain their electoral balance and poise after the 2014 elections, if they suffer a similar, massive electoral defeat at the hands of Zuma, in a toe-to-toe electoral battle with the ANC next year. Whilst Mbeki is now splendidly recovering from his Polokwane defeat, largely thanks to his amazing intellectual, organizational and, most importantly, strategic depth, EFF may not survive its first body-blow electoral defeat at the hands of Jacob Zuma next year.

Will Julius Malema and EFF be in a position to moderate their clearly excessive political exuberance, EFF’s policy and ideological hubris, and their youthful impatience to see Zuma politically and electorally defeated? Do they have the required maturity, strategic stamina and organisational foresight to survive their first five years between next year’s elections and the 2019 elections, without going the sad and messy route of COPE post-2009 national elections?

This is the ultimate test for EFF, and not whether they can defeat Zuma or not in next year’s national elections. They clearly will be unable to defeat Zuma next year, whilst reducing the margin of ANC victory will help them exacerbate ANC’s acute and volatile internal contradictions at the expense of Zuma. This realistically should be EFF’s political aim in next year’s national elections. The truly admirable triumph for Julius Malema and Floyd Shivambu is that they could at all lead their new-born party in a contest with the DA and ANC in next year’s national elections. That is achievement enough for them. If they handle matters well and strategically, going forward, they may still one day surprise South Africa and Africa. And possibly surprise even themselves.

But that cannot be next year, however much they may wish that to be the case. To insist otherwise is to give sway within EFF to subjectivism and voluntarism. It is to mistake a wish for a fact. In politics, that is an unpardonable and very costly error. The history of the ANCYL under Julius Malema attests to this truism.

Isaac Mpho Mogotsi is Founder and Executive Chairman of Cedia.

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