Andile Mngxitama of the September National Imbizo is part of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), handling the drafting of its election manifesto and its international relations division. He spoke to The Con about Malema’s “decimation of the left” and how it became “childish” to pursue a leftist agenda outside of the EFF.
Why did you align yourself with the EFF at the expense of other things that you had going, like the SNI? It seems like a marriage of convenience.
In politics, you’re always going to look for the possibilities that increase the motion towards your vision. I can’t imagine any political process which has, one way or the other, not been complicated by alliance building, joining up. Lenin is the ultimate revolutionary of the 20th century and he joined up with many people at different times. But the truth is that [EFF commander-in-chief Julius] Malema has decimated the political space that we operate in.
What, by forming EFF?
By appropriating our politics. It became useless and childish to insist on developing a politics outside of the space Malema was operating in, because he had already appropriated our agenda, our politics.
Appropriated from a self-serving point of view?
Not so much
Or courting or what?
Increasingly Malema started speaking a language that was not sustainable within the ANC. For us to join we did not expend too much energy on his motives – why he did what he did. The question was he was doing something we were doing. For me, the intentions of a revolutionary are not that important. What is important is whether the articulation of a project is consistent with the possibility to bring change. The ANC has very good intentions but its actual process fucks up black people.
Robert Mugabe. They say that if you look at his motives, for land redistribution. They say it was for self-serving political interests. So what? I’m interested in if he delivers on the land question. So whatever the reasons that underpin Malema’s articulation of a new project; his fights inside the ANC, their own reactionary politics – it’s not important for us. But when I say he appropriated our politics, I’m saying he was doing it whilst inside the ANC. When the guy said expropriation, some of questioned at a very low level: ‘So you want expropriation so the ANC can buy back the current public resources it’s giving itself?’ You know the ANC is giving itself all these mineral resources and so on. And then he upped the ante, he said “expropriation without compensation.” Once he did that, he closed the possibility of a discursive challenge.
What the EFF is saying on public platforms is that all power belongs to the state. Let’s say they deliver that. I haven’t heard what they say about how the wealth from the mineral resources filters down to the communities where this wealth is?
There is a big discussion right now. There is an election manifesto process also being undertaken and I’m responsible for the team. In the manifesto, nationalisation; ownership of the commanding parts of the state economy makes the state a key player in the economy. There are two contending ideas. The assumption is that it becomes a people’s state, responsive to the needs of the people. Does the state then become the new capitalists, with the possibility to share more the profits and distribute amongst the people? Or does the state increasingly undermine that same capitalist logic by, first of all, ownership. But then you immediately devolve ownership as part of the socialisation of the means of production into communities. In other words, you reinfence ownership; like the Zimbabwean model of immediately reinfencing ownership. Say you take 60%, you nationalise. This is not a foregone conclusion this is a proposition on the table. You would have to say 10% to the community where there is a mine, 10% the workers – some would say 15% to the workers, these matters are not yet resolved. The state take 30%, then you can give private black capital 10 or 5%. You still accept that there is going to be private enterprise contending with state ownership, but you have to reinfence so that there is direct benefit of the community and we don’t depend on the state.
The contestation is that the state can have its own interests which are not the interests of the people. There’s an awareness. The best case scenario is going to be a blend between state ownership and checking accumulation by the political elite that runs the state and devolving ownership to the communities immediately, so that I know that if I come from a platinum rich area, ten percent I own, directly. If I work there, I’m owning another ten percent [these are group scenarios], so it’s escalated. I’m saying that we are going to have this plan, but it’s part of the discussion.
There is an awareness of the dangers of state ownership in an untransformed capitalist state. Nigeria is a good example of that. So we’ve got to as EFF – now remember we claim to be Marxist, Leninist and Fanonian – so we are aware of the pitfalls of accumulation by capital and untransformed states, but also including the post colonial critique of Fanon of the comprador.
Are we going to bring on the new comprador, or are we going to use the state precisely to decimate the compradorian class? You have to understand, this is the level of discussion, but only if it provides, for this conversation, the real sense of having the possibility of political power.
Is there a possibility of having political power outside the ANC?
That is another big attraction to us. You have to understand the power of Malema as a symbolic representation of even the politics that we were dealing with and developing. He was able to subsume those politics, such that any talk of land, is – in the imagination of the people – immediately associated with Malema. Talk of nationalisation is associated with him. Talk of attacking the superstructure of white supremacy is increasingly associated with him. When you listen to him, you’re going to find great difficulty to insist that he is not espousing black consciousness and in fact pan Africanism.
So, I’m arguing that the left space – and the more interesting left space – not the white, sort of ultra-leftist, purist, NGO-level project controlled by white liberals, where NGOs that claim to be left – call them fronts or whatever you want to call them – not at that level. I’m taking about at a level of real politics. You know Lenin talks about… real politics start when you are talking not at the level of thousands but at the level of millions.
Isn’t it taking a softer stance? I mean, for example, doesn’t the EFF recognise the freedom charter which you guys feel is an abomination? How quickly have you come around to this way of thinking?
Have you looked at the seven, non-negotiable cardinal pillars of the EFF? Nowhere does it say [anything about] the Freedom Charter. The Freedom Charter inspired and is reflected somewhat in the founding manifesto, but it is not the foundational proposition. It’s not. But think about it, and I’m going to argue that, that’s why black radicals such as ourselves in the SNI have a difficulty of being outside of the EFF.
When Sobukwe walks out of the ANC, he is arguing that the Freedom Charter sold the birthright of Africans, precisely because of that clause: Africa belongs to all of those who live in it, both black and white.
Biko accepts the same logic of Sobukwe and develops black consciousness. But when you say “expropriation without compensation”, aren’t you collapsing the logic of the charter?
It kind of cancels it out
Well this is the point. We are arguing – those of us that come from black consciousness and Pan African traditions – that that is what the EFF has done. In a way it is very symbolic that our formation assembly was held in Orlando because I think that’s where Sobukwe walked out. The historical problem around African nationalism which led to a split with Sobukwe and the rest has been resolved and there has been a reconciliation back to the Sobukwe proposition.
So you feel that this is a symbolic moment?
It is symbolic but also in terms of policy articulation. The ANC over the past 20 years has been implementing the Freedom Charter. What we’re debating with those who come from the ANC is whether… in its mind, it has been implementing it.
Of course, some argue that it could have gone further. The 20 years of the ANC in power and they’re acceptance of the proposition that the property owned by white people should be bought is part of that very same problem that Sobukwe talked about. If you say the land belongs to all of those who live in it, black and white, you’re creating a problem for yourself and we’ve seen that happen.
Picture by Oupa Nkosi