By Verashni Pillay, 13 June 2014

 Economic Freedom Fighters members say regional leaders are being sidelined in favour of former youth leaguers.

Julius Malema, the leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), has come under fire for restructuring his party’s provincial and regional structures, which critics say has sidelined key leaders.

But Malema told the Mail & Guardian that those who are crying foul now were appointed by him in the first place. “We have the power to remove them if we feel they are not performing to our expectations.”

The EFF has never had internal elections, thanks to how rapidly it was formed to contest the 2014 May national election. It is now preparing for its national elective conference, which spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi says will probably take place by the end of the year.

Ahead of the conference, the restructuring has revealed the unhappiness of some within the party over its direction since it came to power with an impressive 6.3% of the vote. The EFF has 25 MPs and several representatives across provincial legislatures.

Gauteng members said this week that hardworking leaders who had been with the organisation from the beginning had been removed from the provincial command team (PCT).

“We just finished now in the Northern Cape, we’re driving to Bloemfontein,” Malema told the M&G late on Wednesday, as he was criss-crossing the country to announce the restructuring to members in various provinces.

“In the Northern Cape we removed the co-ordinator and some members, reducing the PCT to 15. We did the same thing in KwaZulu-Natal [KZN]. In the Free State we removed a co-ordinator and a convenor.”

Organisational restructuring
Ndlozi said the restructuring was “purely organisational” and aimed at improving the overall functioning of the fledgling party’s structures across the board. “We thought 16 people per ­committee is adequate with proper geographic spread and gender balance,” Ndlozi said, adding that some of the PCTs were too large. Malema added that they also looked at the strength of the individuals.

The M&G also spoke to four people from Gauteng and one each from KZN, Northern Cape, the Western Cape and the Free State, all former or current leaders in provincial or regional task teams, who chose to remain anonymous.

They painted a different picture, claiming that leaders who had worked hard within the organisation from the beginning were sidelined in favour of those who had bought their way into Malema’s favour – or who had known him previously.

One former Free State PCT ­member claimed that the province’s convenor was removed to make way for the former chairperson of the ANC Youth League in the region, Kgotso Morapela.

“The [former] provincial convenor worked very hard for this province but he was removed,” they said. “They are calling their youth league family to come and lead here.”

Silencing criticism
Others claimed that those critical of the unexpected direction the party was taking were being silenced.

“We might remove them at conference,” said a member of a regional command team in Gauteng. “Because they know: they changed the mandate. Now they are accepting things from government as parliamentarians: the cars, the houses, the food.”

The EFF public representatives accepting state benefits are the biggest bugbear of those complaining about the direction of the organisation.

Malema and Ndlozi told the M&G that the criticism was misguided because the EFF had always said they would refuse certain benefits only when they were in power and able to improve the quality of state institutions. Ndlozi said: “We believe public representatives should be forced by law to use public services.”

Malema added that critics were being selective and ignoring the fact that the party promised other things, such as abolishing e-tolls, which it could not do until it was in power.

Perks issue
But discontent over the issue of perks has continued to stew in the organisation that is barely a year old.

“From the beginning that was our common understanding: we would use government institutions,” said an active EFF member from KwaZulu-Natal who was at the restructuring meeting.

A former leader in the Free State agreed. “We are now disappointed that they have agreed to take all the package that the capitalists are giving them,” the leader said. “We feel they betrayed what we stand for in the EFF.”

One of the party’s provincial representatives in the Free State, Mandisa Matshikena, defended herself. “The EFF doesn’t say I must go and stay in a shelter,” she told the M&G.

But a regional command team member in the Northern Cape said the party had “sold a product to the voters” and were now doing a ‘U-turn’.

“We knew we were not going to be an overnight government . . . when we said all public reps [representatives] must use public facilities,” the RCT member said. “That is how we sold it to the people of the Northern Cape.”