South Africa’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) is a voice of radical causes, including the expropriation of white-owned land without compensation. It is led by Julius Malema, former head of the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL). Malema later broke with ANC party leader Jacob Zuma and was expelled from the party. He then organized the EFF as a rival party, which won over 6 percent of the vote in the 2014 general elections and more than 8 percent of the vote in the 2016 national municipal elections.
Malema had long been open in his admiration for Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, ninety-two, who in effect seized all of the white-owned land in Zimbabwe without compensation and has followed other radical policies that ruined the economy, the education system, and the rule of law. He did this all in the name of ‘liberation.’ Mugabe became an arch-typical African “big man.” Nevertheless, Mugabe is widely regarded as a ‘liberation hero’ throughout Africa, despite his association with murderous domestic politics. It is credibly said, without definitive proof, that Mugabe has subsidized financially Malema and the EFF.
Hence, the current rhetorical spat and likely definitive break between Malema and the EFF and Mugabe is something of a surprise. Malema and the EFF are calling on Mugabe to leave office. In an official statement, the EFF said “President Mugabe’s occupancy of the position of president is not good for the radical African political program. He is a bastion of the reactionary phenomenon of ‘lead to the death’ that has crippled the image and praxis of post-colonial Africa.” The EFF accuses Mugabe and “the cowards” around him of fomenting a cult of personality, among other bad things.
In response, Zimbabwe’s information minister, Christopher Mushohwe, characterized Malema as “a loud-mouthed Gucci revolutionary” and “a shrunken, talkative joke.” Psychology Maziwisa, a Zimbabwean politician, according to South African media said that Malema was a “little irrelevant man who is trying desperately to gain political mileage in South Africa by insulting a great man in Zimbabwe.”
As Zimbabwe under Mugabe continues its downward spiral, the EFF is clearly seeking to distance itself from its former ally. Whether intended or not, a break with Mugabe will bolster the EFF credibility with at least some South African voters.
But, breaking with Mugabe makes the EFF no less radical than it has been in the past. Some potential investors, foreign and domestic, have feared, without much evidence, that South Africa was going down the same path as Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, and that the EFF was Mugabe’s catspaw. The break between the EFF and Mugabe may mean that they will sleep a bit better at night, even if the EFF leopard has not changed its spots.