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Ido Lekota takes a look back at the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) as the politic party celebrates its 10th anniversary.

Ten years ago, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) exploded onto the South African political scene with its launch in Marikana, North West where, a year prior, 34 miners were mowed down by the South African Police during a six-week strike at the Lonmin mine.

Then positioning his party as the champion of the economic freedom of the masses of South Africans who remain poor and excluded from South Africa’s mainstream economy, EFF leader Julius Malema told the public that Marikana was chosen for the launch “because our people died in that place, fighting for economic freedom.”

As the party celebrates its 10th anniversary, it is important to take stock of how effective the party has been in moving towards achieving the mission it has set for itself of improving the quality of life for the majority of South Africans; to whom the dream of a new South Africa remains a mirage.

Like any other political party, the EFF anchored its mission on key policies. These include the expropriation of land without compensation to facilitate the equitable distribution of land; providing quality education; housing and healthcare for all citizens; nationalising the Reserve Bank and establishing a State Bank; nationalising the mines; adopting an import substitution economic model; capacitating the state and abolishing the tender system; and providing free education from early child development stage to first degree.

It is the EFF’s view that there should not be any private ownership of land and all land in South Africa must be under the custodianship of the government. Such land should then be used to provide social housing and develop infrastructure for public and social services.

Individuals or companies who seek to use the land for specific purposes (be it building a private home or a business) must apply for a licence, which should include a lease agreement for the duration of which will be democratically determined.

To ensure that the land redistribution process is transparent, fair, and driven by the public’s participation, the party calls for the establishment of the People’s Land Council. Such a Council should be made up of community and government representatives, Traditional Leaders, as well independent experts.

Putting all land under state custodianship will enable equitable redistribution and also abolish the commodification of what is essentially a national asset designed to equitably serve the interest of all South Africans, avers the EFF.

EFF spokesperson Sinawo Tambo further states that if the EFF comes into power now, the government has no intention of disturbing the existing residential property ownership model, but it is the party’s view that banks should not repossess houses whose owners have paid 80% of their bond.

On the issue of the country’s economic policy being import-substitution driven, the EFF believes that there is a need for the government in power to lead the way in driving the country out of the current extraction-led economy.

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA – JULY 29: EFF Supporters during the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) 10th Anniversary at FNB Stadium on July 29, 2023 in Johannesburg, South Africa. The EFF celebrated their 10-year milestone, also effectively kicking off the party?s campaign ahead of the 2024 general elections. (Photo by Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images via Getty Images)

“South Africa must become a manufacturing-driven economy that utilises its natural resources to produce the much-needed finished goods, thereby making the country not only an exporter of raw material, but also a producer of finished goods that can compete in the international market.”

As part of this economic turn-around drive, the EFF government commits to developing specialised economic zone in various provinces—depending on the province’s natural resources endowment.

Such an approach, the EFF believes, will also go a long way in dealing with the high rate of unemployment in the country.

The party is also of the view that an important step towards resetting the country’s economic trajectory is establishing a State bank and nationalising the Reserve Bank. This is because the current mandate of the Reserve Bank and its strategy of inflation targeting undermines any efforts towards equitable economic participation in the country.

“The Reserve Bank’s current strategy favours the interest of the financial sector at the expense of the people whose quality of life is undermined by the high cost of living in a state of high unemployment.

“Unlike the commercial banks which discriminate according to people’s socio-economic status, the State bank will offer the economically excluded masses economic opportunities. This is because the State bank exists to promote the economic participation of all South Africans and not for profit.”

The EFF also believes that a Sovereign Wealth Fund is one way of alleviating the country’s dependence on Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), which sometimes is used as a bogeyman against developing countries like South Africa when they try to break the economic chains that developed countries normally wrap around them in the name of financial aid and trade exchange.

“We are a debt-ridden country indebted to irresponsible lenders driven by avarice and self-centredness which they sell to couched in their goodwill towards ‘well-run’ countries like ours whose people are facing economic miseries due to their elitist policies.”

The EFF also believes that any economic reset the country needs is also linked to the quality of education the country’s youth is receiving. This, according to the EFF, calls for an overhaul of the education system from early childhood to post-school levels. The first step in this regard, avers EFF, is to have an education system with common standards.

“We must get rid of the IEB system—which creates segregation between the haves and the haves-not. The must be one standard of education with a common peer review mechanism ensuring that a child who goes to a public school in Soweto is getting the same quality of education as a learner who goes to any of the exclusive private schools. This segregation leads to further discrimination when it comes to access to higher education, because historically white universities prefer learners from these exclusive private schools,” explains Thambo.

This untenable situation arises from the commodification of education, which is supposed to be a social service, argues the EFF.

In broad terms, it is the EFF’s view that education—including post-school and tertiary education—should not be seen as a cost to the state but an investment, hence it must be free. It is also the party’s view that the private sector has a key role to play in the funding of post-school and tertiary education.

What funding model is developed must be in sync with the resetting of the economy into a more manufacturing-driven mode, whereby, for example, if there is a university based in the country’s platinum belt, it is also the responsibility of the mining industry in that region to ensure that there is a symbiotic relationship between them and these institutions of higher learning, thereby creating a seamless transition from a university student to an employee in one’s field of specialisation.

For the EFF, education is about acquiring the ability to respond to one’s material and social needs. It is about both skills and consciousness development.

It means, for example, having engineers and architects who understand the social and material conditions of the people for whom they are building houses. It is about, for example, their understanding of the impact of apartheid’s special development on the quality of life of those who live far from centres of economic activity.

The EFF’s political posturing as a party to the left of the ANC (yet born out of the ranks of the ANC) drew variant responses when coming to its motives and credibility.

One of the major criticisms was that the party was populist, with some commentators going as far as calling the EFF right wing while posturing as being socialist.

Other commentators decry the EFF’s relationship or lack thereof with grassroots movements such as Abahlali baseMjondolo and the Amadiba Crisis Committee, which have waged courageous fights against government officials on issues of mass evictions, land rights disputes etc.

A key criticism against the EFF is its lacklustre relationship with the labour movement in the country. Some analysts believe that this vacuum is created by the EFF’s erroneous belief its socialist dream can be attained through the ballot box.

History shows that an effective revolution, as envisaged by the EFF, needs a working-class movement as an ally which will consistently exert pressure for radical change and challenge dominant ideologies through mass mobilisation.

And then there is the issue of the party’s tendency for its violent narrative against those they regard as “the enemies of the revolutions” including the media, whose sins are usually being critical of the Red Berets’ “our way or the highway” approach to building the country into the much-needed people-centred democracy.

Despite its blindspots, the EFF has been punching above its weight when it comes to electoral and parliamentary politics. During its first participation in national elections in 2014, the Red Berets came out as the third largest party after the ANC and the DA in Parliament, winning 25 seats in the National Assembly. The party also became the official opposition in both Limpopo and North West Provincial Legislatures. The ANC lost 15 seats in the National Assembly.

The punching above its weight continued in 2019 when the EFF increased its number of seats in the National Assembly. This happened while both the ANC and the DA lost 19 and 5 seats, respectively.

The increased voter support also happened at the local level during the 2016 and 2021 municipality elections where the EFF won 8.31% and 10.54% (2.23% increase) of the votes, respectively. On the other hand, the ANC voter support in municipalities dropped from 55.7% to 47.5% (8.2% decrease); with the DA dropping from 26.9% of the votes to 21.66% (5.2% decrease). These results led to the EFF becoming a kingmaker in some of the municipalities.

In Parliament, the EFF’s brand of populism with its performative elements—including the uniform and people-centred rhetoric—is having a substantive effect on politics, sparking debate about the political institutions of democratic South Africa and their appropriateness for the country’s current circumstance. This includes the party’s constitutional campaign against the ANC-led National Assembly’s failure to hold former President Jacob Zuma accountable for his involvement in the Nkandla debacle.

This has led also led to the belief that the EFF’s electoral performance is an indication of how the party’s kind of populism can increase representation and become a voice for groups of citizens who do not feel heard by the current political elite; populism can also be a refreshing wake-up call to power-holders, prompting periodic reflections on their conduct and elitism.

As it continues to celebrate its 10th anniversary through various activities, including renovating old-age homes run by civilians in poor communities and hosting parties for the aged, the EFF seems to be using these events as part of its build-up to the 2024, which, according to the party, is an opportunity to become part of the government that will make its mission of delivering economic freedom to the still economically marginalised majority a reality.

What remains is whether the EFF’s brand of populism will attract to the polls the despondent millions of voters who have now lost hope in both the ruling party and the current political dispensation.

Ido Lekota is a media practitioner and an independent socio-political commentator.

The party is also of the view that an important step towards resetting the country’s economic trajectory is establishing a State bank and nationalising the Reserve Bank