🔒 Premium – Dirk Hartford: Malema’s instructions to EFF ‘ground forces’ on the road to 2024

By Dirk Hartford*

On Sunday the EFF “high command” held a 6 000 strong mass meeting of its Gauteng “ground forces” or “fighters” in a jam packed Standard Bank arena in Johannesburg around the theme “2024 is our 1994”. 

If 1994 represented political freedom, the comrades were told, the victory of the Economic Freedom Fighters in 2024 will represent economic freedom. 

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The jubilant but well disciplined meeting was a tour de force for EFF Commander in Chief Julius Malema. He had his Gauteng ground forces – apparently from every ward in Gauteng – eating out of his hand as he spelt our in great detail in a 100 minute address exactly how they should conduct the EFF’s campaign in the run-up to next years election.

This was not the Malema of fisticuffs in Parliament, firing shots at funerals, or kiss the Boer chants. On the contrary. Even as he was whipping his fighters up, sometimes with scant regard for the truth, he was cautioning them firmly on their approach to the masses. 

Humility and respect, no vulgar language, tolerance towards the people and other political parties, wear clean EFF regalia, no drinking or smoking in EFF colours or with voters, always dress up the way you want to be addressed, be clean and smell good, self love and self respect were among his admonishments to the party faithful.

He urged his fighters to go into the field with canvassing sheets and a voters role, to

condemn political violence, not to threaten other political parties or force anyone to support EFF activities and to help the IEC and police/security in all their activities. 

He said the ground forces must go out to help people “and to help genuinely without expecting anything in return”. He asked that they not be involved in the closing down of shops of foreigners, not to spread lies and false rumours, not to campaign under the influence of alcohol and drugs.

The meeting, following close on the heels of the EFF’s massive 10th anniversary marketing extravaganza at FNB stadium, should leave impartial observers in no doubt as to which political party is doing the running in the build-up to next years elections. 

The party is a slick and well-polished and financed political machine centred round the cult of the Commander in Chief. The symbolism of the Supreme Leader dressed in black (fascist black shirts) addressing his rapturous supporters all dressed in red (communist shirts) points to the conundrum at the heart of Malema’s leadership and politics.

He is both-and; a neo-fascist populist dictator and a self-proclaimed economic freedom fighter dressed up in the revolutionary garb of socialists, Fanonists and Africanists. 

Malema runs the EFF with an iron fist and the organisation routinely recalls, fires, suspends and expels fighters who don’t toe the line. Betrayal is Malema’s beta noire and he has repeatedly publicly warned even his most trusted lieutenants to think twice before double crossing him. On Sunday he was at pains to tell fighters that they must cover each others backs at all times.

At the same time pragmatism and opportunism are also hallmarks of the EFF’s modus operandi. 

Despite being the battering ram of the ultimately successful “Zuma must go” campaign, Malema is now extending an olive branch to Zuma in the hope that he will follow his spokesman Mzwanele Manyi and protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane into the ranks of the EFF.

The party is focussed on political power “by any means necessary” and has entered into coalitions with both the DA and the ANC at local and regional level in pursuance of this purpose.

The parties propaganda machine is second to none, with Malema and his key sidekicks Floyd Shivambu and Mbuyeseni Ndlozi at the centre controlling its public persona very carefully. It is well resourced, sophisticated and embedded in popular youth culture and social media. Over 55000 people had watched Malema’s speech within 24 hours of Sundays gathering.

Sunday’s meeting, and its birthday celebration in particular, demonstrated the EFF’s acute sensibility to the art of political theatre and spectacle. In the middle of a 10 hour celebration the packed red stadium, replete with local bigwigs in politics, business, sport and culture and fuelled by performances of top local artists and dj’s, Malema concluded his speech by being elevated phoenix-like, no Hitler-like, in the middle of the ecstatic confetti-soaked stadium. Rise up he exhorted the crowds and Rise Up was the slogan on his black-shirt on Sunday.

Malema is the only person in the country outside of Ramaphosa that believes he will be in control of government after next years election. This singular focus and line of march gives the EFF added advantage against all other contending parties. 

So too does the EFF’s complete dominance among young voters, whether registered or not. If youth are the future then the EFF is indeed the future – if not next year then without a doubt in 2029 on prevailing trends. 

South Africa’s median age is 28. We are a very young country. The EFF is effectively in complete control of politics among the cream of our youth at the Student Representative Councils at our 26 universities nation-wide.

The last thing those who fear an EFF victory should be doing now is exhorting the millions of unregistered and apathetic young voters to register. Old people and potential voters in the diaspora yes, but young voters are going to flock mainly to the EFF.

Small wonder then that three recent polls have all identified the same trends more or less – the DA is just holding its own, the ANC is going down and the EFF is on the up and up. Given that the combined support of these three biggest parties currently account for about 80% of the voters, the real action is all going down there nationally.

At the centre of this block is the ruling ANC. After 30 years in power the oldest “liberation” movement in Africa has transmogrified into a criminal corrupt cabal riven with internal contradictions and conflict, held together only by patronage (including civil service salaries and social security benefits) and the sentimental loyalty of the masses who hang onto the organisation who liberated them long after its sell-by date – especially in the absence of real choices.

The convivial ANC leader and President, Cyril Ramaphosa – effectively also the political representative of the richest clan (Motsepe/Ramaphosa) in Africa – is undoubtedly the best of a very bad bunch of “leaders” around him (Mabuza, Mbalula, Mashatile, Magashule, Mantashe anyone?) BUT will he be able to hold the organisation together ? That is the big question going forward to the elections next year.

The ANC ship is sinking but how fast and how dramatically will it be going down ? Already dyed in the wool erstwhile ANC leaders from the good old days of the liberation struggle have jumped ship – one or two quietly to the DA and a lot more either to the EFF or into the political wilderness where various forms of the latter day United Democratic Front are being reimagined for todays conditions.

When Malema says he will be in control of government next year what he is hoping will happen is not that the EFF will get over 50% of the vote, but that the RET-type forces in the ANC will gather sufficient power under Ramaphosa’s indecisive feet of clay to force whats left of the ANC after the election into a national coalition government with the EFF.  With himself as President or at the very least deputy-President of the country.

As the comrades used to say back in the day when the movement was banned, you ANC nothing yet!

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*Dirk Hartford was the editor of Cosatu News in the 1980s and held prominent positions in South African print and broadcast media after 1994. He is now a freelance journalist.

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