This is a guest post by Jim Sanders, a career, now retired, West Africa watcher for various federal agencies. The views expressed below are his personal views and do not reflect those of his former employers.
In his August 5 post on Julius Malema and South Africa’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), John Campbell concludes that both may be shoved aside by a responsible, left-wing political party, expected to be created by the Metal Workers Union in time to contest the 2019 national elections. As Campbell mentions, this new party is likely to be well funded with veteran leadership. However, what he views as the Metal Workers Union’s strengths—ample funding and veteran leadership—may be the very characteristics that will make any political party it creates unattractive to those now supporting Malema and the EFF.
Dissatisfaction with elites, even if they are “left-wing,” runs deep these days, and not just in South Africa. That is part of the support base that Malema is tapping into. This factor may help to explain why a deeply flawed figure like Malema has been able to achieve such a high profile and so much support from the “dispossessed.” It is highly questionable that a powerful and wealthy trade union with veteran leadership (i.e., old elites) can become the voice of township dwellers. Between the EFF and a party of the “labor aristocracy,” which alternative is likely to be the more attractive to a township dweller? That question is critical because so much analysis comes from people familiar with “the great and the good,” but unfamiliar with those at the bottom of the socioeconomic hierarchy.