from Africa in Transition

South Africa’s Economic Freedom Fighters Making a Splash

August 05, 2014

Blog Post

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Sub-Saharan Africa

South Africa

Elections and Voting


Politics and Government

Julius Malema’s political party, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), won about 6 percent of the vote in the South Africa’s March national elections. This makes it South Africa’s third largest party, though it remains significantly behind the governing African National Congress (ANC), which won 62 percent of the vote, and the official opposition, the Democratic Alliance, which won 22 percent.

Malema is a perennial bad-boy, though he is only thirty-three years of age. A former head of the ANC Youth League, he was finally expelled from the party because of his refusal to accept party discipline. He then founded the EFF, which is only one year old. His rhetoric is radical, “socialist,” and anti-white. He calls for, among other things, the expropriation of the mines and of all white-owned land—without compensation. He publicly praises Zimbabwe’s strongman president, Robert Mugabe, who expropriated without compensation white-owned property and destroyed the economy of his country for many years. Since entering parliamentary politics, the EFF has followed an unconventional style—its operatives wear a red paramilitary uniform.

Reactions against the EFF have been strongest from the ANC and its Tripartite Alliance partners, the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). The SACP was the first to publically draw a parallel between the EFF and the rise of the Nazi party under Adolf Hitler. This theme was further developed by ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe in July when he delivered the Mandela Legacy Memorial lecture. He said that Malema was a “Hitler in the making.”

EFF radicalism strikes a nerve within the ANC. The EFF is presenting itself as the voice of dispossessed and radicalized township dwellers. The ANC has never been a left-wing party. There has been a void on the left in South African politics, which the EFF has moved to fill.

Young and undisciplined, it remains to be seen whether the EFF will be able to deliver tangible benefits for its constituents. As of now, the outlook is not promising. Meanwhile, the Metal Workers Union, a powerful and wealthy trade union, is considering launching a left-wing political party to contest the 2019 national elections. It is likely to be well-funded and can call on veteran leadership. With such competition for left-wing votes, the EFF may not last long.