As the EFF grows, and its parliamentary caucus gets bigger, so the party’s internal tensions and contradictions will increase, just like any other political party. And the glue that holds it all together is Julius Malema – what happens if he ends up neutralised by court action, or internal strife?
After the counting, shouting and tabulating of last week’s elections there is at least a moment to draw breath and start to consider what it all means. The prediction that was made before the elections, that the EFF would see the biggest growth, has turned out to be true. But it is important to properly judge that growth, to get an indication of whether it will be sustained, or if the rate of growth could actually increase in the future. It is also important to examine what challenges could lie in the party’s future. Growth can often lead to growing pains, and Julius Malema may well want to start to work now to avoid some of those, if it is possible to do so.
Judging the increase in support of a political party can be quite complicated. On one level there are simply the raw numbers: the EFF grew its support by 4.44 percentage points. That is growth and that growth should not be taken away from the EFF.
(NB It is, however, important to understand that the party won 8.2% in the 2016 municipal elections, which were driven heavily by national issues – making the jump from the 2014 elections slightly less dramatic – Ed.)
But this growth is off a small base. The EFF was unable to attract 11% of the voters who turned out to cast their ballots for it. Or, as some critics have suggested, the EFF may be the government-in-waiting, but only if you wait a very long time.
Then it could be claimed that the party should be judged by the promises it made before the election. It said it would be a party in government. As the ANC was able to retain Gauteng it has not been able to achieve the leverage that its involvement in any kind of coalition would bring.
In the longer run, this might actually be the more important factor, and the greatest disappointment for the EFF. Malema has been able to use his power in Nelson Mandela Bay to help bring down a DA administration (while also “cutting the throat of whiteness”), while appearing to place important boundaries around the DA mayors of Joburg and Tshwane. If he had been able to be a part of an ANC provincial administration, this kind of power would have become much more important.
While politics is about raw voting power, it is also about influence. It may be the most important takeaway from this election that the EFF has not been placed in a position in which it can exert any influence over the ANC, the governing party.
Another way of judging a party’s influence is through the media attention that it garners. It is common cause among almost everyone that the EFF gets more media attention for its size than almost any other party (apart from the BLF, but this election has put paid to any thoughts of that “party” being taken seriously). However, one of the reasons for that was that it was difficult to quantify, before an election, how much attention should be paid to a political party, because it is difficult to judge how much support that party now has. Now that it is clear that the EFF has less than 11% of the country’s support, it may be that media organisations give it less attention.
Another way of judging the political power of a party is through looking at the structure of the society in which it is campaigning, and examining the size of its potential pool of voters. In this case, youth unemployment is 56%, which means that the pool of people who have every reason to be dissatisfied with the current system is unbearably large. And yet, the EFF seems to have been unable to get overwhelming majority of the votes that are potentially available in its target market.
There are important questions for its officials to ask here. Many of those people did not vote. It might well be that they are simply hard to reach, they may live in rural areas, the fact they do not work means you can only campaign to them where they live, there could be many other reasons as to why they did not vote. But for the EFF to sustain growth in the longer term, it will have to find a way to tap into this vote more fully, especially as that group is only going to grow in the near future.
What cannot be denied about the EFF in this election is that it appears to have formed sustainable structures. This is vital for any political party. To campaign successfully, it’s important to have people on the ground in different parts of the country. This is something the ANC has been able to do very effectively. This is going to be very important for the EFF going forward.
However, with that structure, and with the party’s growth in this election, there are some important and complicated questions.
As more and more people join the party, and as its structures grow, so they will try to take some political power for themselves. The ANC saw this happen as its provinces grew in power from around 2005 onwards (remember how the KZN ANC was so vital to Jacob Zuma at Polokwane, and the emergence of the Premier League ahead of Nasrec?).
The same is likely to happen in the EFF. This is likely to see different constituencies within the EFF beginning to jockey for position. And the people who have managed both the ANC and the DA would advise Malema that this can be very, very difficult to administer.
Usually, political parties create structures and institutions to manage this. They have internal elections and conferences and disciplinary systems and appeal procedures. Some situations that go through these processes can be incredibly contentious, Malema’s own ANC disciplinary hearing that saw him expelled from the ANC took an incredibly long time, and sucked up resources and political energy.
Then there is the Parliamentary caucus of the EFF. It has grown in this election from 25 to 44. This means there will be a lot more red on the floor of the National Assembly. However, it is also likely that this group of people could become more difficult to manage. Of the original 25 EFF MPs from 2014, 15 were expelled or resigned before the 2019 elections. This is a huge number and suggests that there are problems with the running of the caucus. These problems will only increase.
Meanwhile, there is still at least one other big threat looming over the EFF.
Malema is still key to the party, and should something were to happen to his authority, the party is likely to suffer hugely. He is still likely to face corruption charges in the relatively near future. The National Prosecuting Authority is still waiting on a final police report on an investigation stemming from a Public Protector’s report about an engineering company owned by Malema. He was charged in 2012, but the case was withdrawn because of the “ill-health” of his co-accused, who is these days very much alive and well. If the NPA does not start court proceedings in that case soon, it is likely that Solidarity or another body will actually push for a private prosecution to get Malema back in court.
While it is difficult to predict the outcome of that case, it is likely that some evidence of alleged wrong-doing may be made public. At the same time, the VBS Mutual Bank issue is not going away, and the more information about how money changed hands is likely to emerge,pushing NPA further into action.
Both of these issues could result in more problems for the EFF in the future. Malema’s deputy, Floyd Shivambu, was directly involved in the VBS scandal. A legal action based on the VBS scandal could literally leave the party leaderless.
In the meantime, the party is likely to ensure that it appears to be on a roll, that it is building momentum. While the election results show that it has this momentum, it needs to ensure that it is still able to project this image strongly in the future, and not be bogged down in internal issues.