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By Amogelang Mbatha
The Economic Freedom Fighters, South Africa’s second-largest opposition party, is seeking to join forces with the nation’s biggest labor union to take on the ruling African National Congress in next year’s municipal vote.
The EFF sees a similarity in political ideology with the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, the party’s leader, Julius Malema, said in an interview on Wednesday at his party’s headquarters in Johannesburg. No formal talks have been held yet, he said. Numsa, which has 350,000 members, has broken ranks with the labor allies of the ANC and has said it may create a political party of its own.
“If we are divided and don’t have a coherent program, we’ll never emerge against this powerful establishment called capitalism,” Malema, 33, said, dressed in a checked jacket and seated on a red couch, the dominant color of his party’s logo. “It’s important that the left-forces consolidate and confront this monster.”
The ANC, which took power after the end of apartheid in 1994 and is struggling to create jobs in an economy with a 25 percent unemployment rate, will probably lose control in at least four municipalities in next year’s election including the nation’s biggest city, Johannesburg, and its capital, Pretoria, Malema said.
The EFF is concentrating its election campaign in Gauteng, the nation’s richest province that includes the commercial hub of Johannesburg as well as the Ekurhuleni and Tshwane municipalities.
So far its overtures to Numsa have made little progress.
“We have been reaching out to Numsa and trying to show them that we’re interested,” he said. “They have been a very reluctant girl in this process.”
Numsa spokesman Castro Ngobese said by phone that while the union hasn’t had any talks with the EFF, “there is nothing preventing Numsa from meeting with political parties, including the EFF, at a later stage and having discussion on how we can align.”
Malema formed the EFF a year after being expelled from the ANC for insulting senior leaders and bringing the party into disrepute. His party went on to win 6.4 percent of the vote in the May 7 election, while the ANC’s support fell to 62.2 percent nationally and about 10 percentage points to 53.6 percent in Gauteng.
“The ANC will not win Tshwane, Ekurhuleni, Johannesburg and the Nelson Mandela metro,” which includes the coastal city of Port Elizabeth, Malema said. “The problem with the ANC is that it is now led by reckless people who have got no integrity, no honor, who celebrate mediocrity and half the time they are in denial.”
ANC spokesman Zizi Kodwa dismissed Malema’s criticism, adding that the party is “unfazed” by his remarks, which are typical of an opposition party official.
Numsa was expelled last year from the Congress of South African Trade Unions, the ANC’s key labor ally, after it refused to back the ruling party in the election.
The EFF, which wants to expropriate land for the poor, has wreaked havoc in the nation’s Parliament since winning 25 seats of the 400-seat legislature last year. Lawmakers from the party, including Malema, have heckled President Jacob Zuma for failing to answer questions about relating to 215 million rand ($18.7 million) of public spending used to renovate his rural home.
Hostilities peaked on Nov. 13 when riot police were called into the legislature to eject an EFF member who called Zuma a “thief” and refused to withdraw her remark. Several opposition lawmakers were assaulted when they intervened.
The EFF won’t back down until Zuma answers questions in parliament and plans to disrupt his Feb. 12 State of The Nation address, Malema said.
“All we are asking for is for him to be held accountable by Parliament because if Parliament cannot hold the president accountable then it cannot hold anyone accountable,” Malema said. “The dignity of the Parliament has degenerated and been eroded by the ANC majority.”
Malema wants Zuma to respond to recommendations by Thuli Madonsela, the nation’s graft ombudsman, that Zuma repay some of the money spent on his private home in Nkandla, in KwaZulu-Natal province. Zuma has denied ordering the renovations and a panel of ruling party lawmakers cleared him of wrongdoing.
“Any South African who is refusing the EFF’s right to hold the President accountable is celebrating corruption,” Malema said. “Zuma has become a custodian of corruption. Nkandla is an epitome of corruption and that is what we are fighting and we are unapologetic about it.”
Zuma’s office said in an e-mailed statement that it proposed he appear in Parliament on March 11 to answer questions from lawmakers. Before the announcement Malema said that the EFF won’t drop its plans to disrupt Zuma’s Feb. 12 speech unless he comes to parliament before then.