EFF leader Julius Malema
Opinion & Analysis

Julius Malema’s future success still depends on ANC’s electoral fortunes

ALL political parties have to deal with the political landscape they find in a country. Sometimes it’s to their benefit, sometimes it is not.

It is unlikely that Boris Johnson could have been the British prime minister for so long without a historically weak Labour Party.

Bill Clinton may not have won two terms as president of the US if George HW Bush had not been hit by a massive recession that forced him to raise taxes, and had been helped in 1996 by the GOP fielding Bob Dole, who was already well past his political prime.

The same, of course, applies to Julius Malema. While he tries to give the impression of, sometimes quite literally, being above everyone else, he must still deal with political reality.

In real terms, the biggest variable that will determine the future of the EFF is not in fact in their hands. No one (aside from Malema in his fantasies) has suggested that the EFF will be the biggest party in next year’s elections.

Rather, almost every poll predicts that the ANC will still be the largest party after the elections close. The big question remains on whether the ANC itself will want to collaborate with the EFF — this question has dominated much airspace from the commentariat.

If the ANC were to get above 50% in next year’s national elections, it is nearly certain that the EFF would have no rental space in the national government.

It would continue to wield virtually no formal power. If the ANC were to suddenly announce it was ending its working agreements with the EFF, and would never work with them in any form again, Malema’s dreams of running South Africa would be dealt a massive blow.

As the DA has already said it will not work with the EFF, this would signal to voters that the EFF was cut off from virtually every aspect of power in national, provincial and local governments. Equally importantly, it would have no prospect of attaining such power in the short run.

This would reduce the EFF to the regular opposition benches with only the courts to turn to in the hope of changing the course of events. The internal debates within the ANC on working with the EFF matter to the EFF — and these debates themselves are complicated.

It is a symptom of the ANC’s internal fractures that the Gauteng leadership has been able to continue working with the EFF despite the disapproval of senior leaders such as its secretary-general.

The fact that the ANC councillors in two Gauteng metros have elected mayors from minority parties despite a publicly stated policy position that the ANC will not support people from smaller parties is a striking display of this inconsistency.

But it also shows how difficult it is to make predictions about whether the ANC will in fact agree to work with the EFF in 2024. The EFF is also affected by the actions of other parties. Last Saturday, at the EFF’s tenth-anniversary celebrations, Malema sang the song translated as “Kill the Boer, Kill the Farmer”.

While there is nothing illegal in this, it was a deliberate attempt to divide people. It was also an indication, perhaps, that Malema is unable to propose a vision of a united country and seeks political power by stoking divisions and hatred. But he is not the only one using the old dog-whistle trick.

The DA leader, John Steenhuisen, said he would complain to the United Nations Human Rights Committee about Malema’s actions. While it is unlikely that he will have any success at reaching this forum, the real aim was to portray Steenhuisen as the protector of white people.

This is the consequence of speaking only to a particular constituency and pitting that constituency against the others. It is also a consequence of the weakening of the middle. In our politics, the ANC has usually been the “middle”.

The fact that it is unable to dominate the national debate on issues like this is an indication of its weakness.

It is this weakness which is probably the biggest benefit to the EFF, and the fact that there appears to be no prospect of the ANC growing its share of the vote, which gives the EFF some strength. But it is also a consequence of the weakness of other parties.  — —DM

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