Veteran journalist, Jonathan Katzenellenbogen assesses the national shutdown called for by the EFF, arguing that the exercise was unsuccessful – with security forces maintaining relative order and being seen as supportive of those attempting to go about their daily business. The EFF’s call for allies did not materialise, and the South African Federation of Trade Unions was the only group to support the shutdown. Despite the economy’s poor state, high unemployment, power cuts, and extensive corruption, the EFF’s campaign failed to mobilise the masses, ultimately highlighting the ANC as holding a superior position. Posing the question: has support for the EFF stagnated, and, as a result, will the party struggle to find allies for future campaigns due to the risks of violence and mediocre engagement? This article was first published by Daily Friend, read more below.
Keeping the EFF under pressure
By Jonathan Katzenellenbogen*
The national shutdown called for by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) on Monday did not bring the country to a standstill. In the end it made the EFF look weak and cast the African National Congress (ANC) and the state in a better light. Security forces maintained relative order and were seen to be on the side of those who were inconvenienced by attempts to stop them going about their business.
‘This is the most successful shutdown in the history of shutdowns,’ claimed the EFF Commander-in-Chief, Julius Malema.
There was nothing to bear this out. If anything the day showed that the EFF had failed in its objective and is not as big and powerful as we are often led to believe. As the EFF had chosen a day for the national shutdown when many people would not be at work anyway as they were taking a long weekend break, they could still claim success.
Nevertheless, there is little doubt that many stayed away due to fear and intimidation. Rather than contribute to support for the attempted shutdown, this will just have fuelled resentment toward the EFF. If you can’t get out of a township to feed your family because of burning tyres and red beret protesters, that must engender deep resentment.
On the day the state could more convincingly claim victory as there was nothing like a national shutdown and the security forces were in overall charge throughout the day. With endless power cuts, the ANC knew full well that it could not afford for the state not to be in charge on the day. Power cuts already weaken the ANC’s position, but mass rioting on the street would have shown that it had lost all control.
It was certainly not a repeat of the days of riots and looting across KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng in July 2021.
Had the EFF found allies in its call for a national shutdown who actually came out onto the streets, it might have been a more effective exercise. The South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) supported the shutdown, but the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), its largest affiliate, did not participate. So, the EFF found itself politically isolated. It might be difficult for the EFF to find allies for its campaigns due to the risks of being tarnished by violence and failure.
Despite an economy in the doldrums, record high unemployment, power cuts, extensive corruption, and mass dissatisfaction, the EFF showed itself unable to convince the masses to take to the streets. As an opening to its campaign for next year’s national election, this was a failure. The EFF was seen to be ineffective and weak with nothing to really offer.
What the EFF is good at is putting on constant political theatre in an attempt to mobilise the vote. This attempt at a shutdown was just that, to show it is ready for the campaign by putting on massive street theatre. And, importantly, the television cameras will always give this sort of activity extensive coverage. Time on television is the most valuable element in any campaign.
Play to the cameras
More than any other party, the EFF is able to play to the cameras, and the media fall for this as it provides desperately needed pictures on a slow news day. Another party issuing a long policy document would barely receive a mention, in the absence of pictures. The EFF knows how to leverage a weak position, but this does have its dangers. Monday was a case of overreach in the face of the cameras. EFF tactics are highly risky and it could yet make a big political error.
The EFF is under pressure because its support is not growing fast. It is not picking up support from those it is likely to see as its natural constituency, the mass of unemployed youth. The problem is that most in the 18-29 age group are not registered to vote, and even if they are, many in the younger range of the cohort tend not to vote.
At the national election four years ago the EFF polled a little below 10.8 percent, and at the municipal elections in 2021 its support slipped to 10.3 percent of the vote. Although it polled 15.6 percent in an Institute of Race Relations poll last year, a Brenthurst Foundation poll released last month shows the EFF at 10.7 percent. If EFF support does not substantially rise at next year’s election, the signs must be that its support has been capped.
Then there is the question as to whether many are now tiring of the EFF’s theatrical tactics and threats. There has to be a question in the minds of the electorate as to whether these really do contribute to real solutions to the country’s problems.
Although its support might have peaked, the big uncertainty hanging over next year’s elections is whether or not the ANC and the EFF will form a coalition and rule the country. They have managed to be king makers in coalitions in a number of municipalities across the country. That role as potential king maker will become more important as we enter a period of coalitions at national level. Once in that position, the big scare is that the EFF could do a reverse takeover of the ANC.
Radical and populist policies
In exchange the EFF is bound to demand the coalition adopt radical and populist policies. It is almost certain the country would be taken over the edge as capital flees and the future becomes increasingly unpredictable and dire.
If the ANC requires coalition partners, as seems increasingly likely, the party would rather first approach the smaller parties for support than the EFF. The ANC would have this option of requiring just smaller party support only if it did not need the more than ten percent the EFF might be able to bring.
The ANC will be damaged by any coalition into which it enters as this will be a diminution of its power and patronage. And entering into a coalition with the EFF would mean there would be a strong dilution of its power of patronage, substantially raising the chance of a split. A coalition with the ANC could also damage the EFF. After all, it positions itself against the ANC for not pursuing ‘revolutionary’ policies, and for its corruption.
Should the ANC require a party that can bring more than 10 percent of the vote to a coalition and not want to do a deal with the EFF, its only alternative might be a deal with the DA.
There will always be a radical party in South Africa’s future. The only questions are what sort of levels of support will it achieve, and what will its influence be on a coalition. The best way for other parties to deal with the threat would be to refuse to enter into a coalition with parties such as the EFF, thereby isolating it from power.
In the next year we might find out if this can be done.
*Jonathan Katzenellenbogen is a Johannesburg-based freelance financial journalist. His articles have appeared on DefenceWeb, Politicsweb, as well as in a number of overseas publications. Jonathan has also worked on Business Day and as a TV and radio reporter and newsreader.
The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend, BizNews or the IRR
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