In South Africa’s platinum belt, life and politics are as hard as the earth on which they are contested: natural resources and poverty are plentiful, and support for the ruling ANC is in short supply following the brutal events at Marikana. In this article, first published in the current issue of the Chimurenga Chronic, Kwanele Sosibo revisits the launch of the Economic Freedom Fighters and confronts the opportunistic benevolence, the rhetoric of revival and the promise of renewal in the land of ‘permanently incomplete’.

More than 50 buses, ranging from vintage Putco-like passenger models to more comfortable, charter-style coaches, are parked parallel to one another just off the main drag connecting Wonderkop hostel to the Marikana koppies. In between some buses are rows of taxis: Quantums, Nyathis and the odd Siyaya.

The vehicles have brought supporters of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) to the party’s launch rally.

To the north, sedans and hatchbacks are arranged in stacked rows facing the direction of the main convening area, with its marquees and main stage.

There are several footpaths on the southern border of Nkanini, where a rubble-strewn, patchy bowl of land, about the size of three football pitches, separates the informal settlement from one of Lonmin’s smelting operations.

At the southern edge of Nkanini, a slightly raised and graded gravel road suggests impending development, or perhaps just the way things are – permanently incomplete.

To the southwest, these footpaths and roads crisscross on the stretch of land where police shot down mineworkers on 16 August 2012, eventually killing 34 people. The paths meander around and behind the koppies to Marikana, where they are eventually interrupted by a railway line that separates the shacks from the money-lending district.

On this sunny spring Sunday, 13 October 2013, the view of this tragically historic open space is obscured by cars and thousands of people dressed in EFF uniforms of red berets, T-shirts, combat caps and pantsula-chic, worker-style overalls known in some townships as dantsani.

It is almost 11am. The koppies themselves are alive with the sounds of toyi-toying and several members of various EFF branches hold banners specifying their respective locations.

A group of about 40 party supporters approaches the eastern edge of the koppie, its members singing “Zuma, walibona thupa?” (“Zuma, can you see your hiding approaching?”). Minutes later, as if by some secret decree, the branch representatives begin to descend the koppie, perhaps anticipating party commander-in-chief Julius Malema’s 12pm arrival.

To ease the wait, there is a programme of fillers. On the main stage a theatre group proclaims Malema’s personal sacrifices, and the will to “follow him every step he takes”. A pastor waffles on incongruously. (Malema will later describe him, Annanius Ralekholela, as “the man who made tent churches fashionable. He is no ordinary person and he’s a member of the EFF.”) Malema arrives in a motorcade flanked by racing bikes and cruisers. It’s some time before he speaks – an interval filled by several scenes of supporters fawning at the feet of Malema the messiah.

A man from the police reservists’ forum says they will be volunteering for the EFF because “when Malema takes over as president, we will work and be permanent employees and not be used like condoms. Our sisters will not be checked from behind while they use their computers. Jackie Selebi didn’t hire the reservists, instead he let drugs into the country.”

A man from the National Transport Movement gets on the stage to talk of thousands of people dismissed by the Passenger Railway Agency of South Africa for fighting for their contractual rights and for addressing corruption.

Xolani Nzuza, a Lonmin mineworker and lynchpin of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), which led the strike at Marikana, is next. He introduces himself as from a place called Bhebheza in Sterkspruit, Eastern Cape. He says, “We were picked up by Juju after we were abandoned by the president of Nkandla. He thought his shares would be endangered and that the Boers were more important.”

The support of mineworkers standing several feet in front of Nzuza, behind metal barriers, is audible.

“Juju came to us despite death threats and organised lawyers for us. Those lawyers, even today, Zuma won’t pay them. This Farlam commission is not the Marikana commission, it’s Zuma’s commission … Juju came here first. Others didn’t know how to come here. We didn’t even know what we were going to eat. We’ve got Juju to thank … even for the way we are going to the court to get Zuma to pay our lawyers’ fees.”

Golden Miles Bhudu, who once stood in chains on a building ledge across from Luthuli House in support of Malema as he was facing internal disciplinary action from the ANC, steps to the podium to deliver “a message from Biko … The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed … my brothers and sisters, can we not see that we are in bondage?” Without warning, Bhudu gets into character and, almost word for word, re-enacts Malema’s dismissal of Jonah “bloody agent” Fisher. Juju is all smiles.

Next, a “chief” from the Free State takes off what looks like a leopard-skin robe as he announces that he will lay down his chieftainship for Juju. “Ace Magashule said I should get permission to host you, Juju. I would rather abandon my chieftaincy. The house of traditional leaders has been shut down from talking about land.”

General Bantu Holomisa, himself a former ANC leader, is next. “Phantsi ngamasela phantsi” (“Down with criminals, down”), Holomisa shouts, testing his audience. “We would like to welcome EFF into the ranks of opposition politics. Don’t delude yourself into thinking life here is like a bowl of cherries. It’s not, far from it.”

Holomisa makes obvious overtures towards Juju’s party, couched in the rhetoric of alliance-building. The backdrop, he says, is one “where the party that has hindered us is imploding from infighting and corruption. They are so compromised that they can no longer concentrate on service delivery.”

Holomisa goes on a tirade about the Independent Electoral Commission, and how its independence is compromised to such an extent that it can no longer be trusted to manage free and fair elections.

When his paternalism gets the better of him, he goes for the football metaphor. “Listen to me carefully,” he says. “As my boys, don’t close your eyes. Always keep them open and make sure the thieves don’t steal our votes, because they will, seeing how many you are. But I can see that you’ll be a competent striker. You’ll be at number 11, I’ll be at number 6. When I pass you the ball, you must shibobo it all the way to the poles.”

Applause erupts. Is Holomisa submitting to a new pecking order in his platinum belt stronghold or is he just checking the lay of the land, as it were?

Mpho Ramakatsa, an ex-Robben Islander and part of the party’s old guard, declares Malema the people’s president and “one of the best leaders, who ensured that the Youth League influenced politics in the ANC”.

Today, Ramakatsa says, Malema “is commanding an army, an army of highly trained soldiers in red berets ready to listen to marching orders. Holomisa is not welcoming us to politics. We’re a government in waiting.”

Mbuyiseni Ndlozi leads a stirring version of the “national anthem”, Azania.

If there is one thing Malema’s speech tells us, it’s that he has a God complex, and speaks of himself as an omniscient being whose qualities are contagious. His ego is on autopilot, his verbosity in full effect. Today he has a solution and offers refuge to everybody: teachers, waiters, domestic workers, orphans, construction workers, foreigners.

“Petrol attendants, security guards, shopkeepers and sex workers, you occupy a special place in the red heart of the EFF,” he says. This is Malema showing us his softer side. He even takes time to lead a version of the song immortalised by Peter Mokaba, this time rechristening it Kiss the Boer.

Nobody bats an eyelid – it’s another day at the office for the “president-in-waiting”.

As Floyd Shivambu proposes a toast to the infant party, a “fighter” in brown leather pants and a giant white EFF cape revs a Harley Davidson about 25 m from the stage. The crowd wants a piece of his bike, but he shoos his audience away. Shivambu instructs all those without champagne flutes to clench their fists. It is an unfortunate image but the “fighters” don’t seem to mind. Kelly Khumalo is about to go on, but Malema is nowhere to be seen. The koppie turns into something of a beach scene, except the sand is a dull grey and heavy with ore.

EFF campaigning

In the next few days, the EFF tries to build on the capital of the launch. Malema is there when the high court finally rules that lawyers representing the injured and arrested Marikana miners (led by Dali Mpofu) must be subsidised by the state. When Ferial Haffajee, the editor of City Press, pushes her black journalists into a corner, calling them cultural “imperialists” and “traditionalists” and airing the details of an internal strategic meeting on Twitter, Malema and his commissar for international relations, Andile Mngxitama, vent about the “dismissals” (even though no one has been dismissed) and threaten to parachute into Media24.

On 17 October, soon after the scandal breaks, Mngxitama tweets: “Whatever Ferial is fighting it’s not racism. We wait to hear the other side of the story…”. Days later, he’s still on the subject: “City Press is not the only paper where blacks are said to be suffering. ALL papers and media are untransformed! Let’s debate on how to change this!”

In Diepsloot, on 18 October, the ANC Youth League and the EFF jockey for position, using the molestation and murder of two toddlers as their prop. There is a media outcry. Despite Malema’s ambitions for vanguardism, right now his “fighters” come across as rudely opportunistic.

Led by a layer of largely middle class youth, with no workerist foundation, the EFF’s connection to Marikana workers rests on the tangible, though uneasy, foundation of Juju’s opportunistic benevolence. He himself admits to this in an interview prior to the party’s launch.

“Politicians are opportunists, all of them,” says Malema. “There is no politician who will see an opportunity and not grab it. The material conditions at the time, they will always inform how you need to react to the situation, and if the conditions in Marikana dictated to us to act the way we acted then so be it. We are happy.”

What Malema does is tap into a network of attainable resources to further a political end. The country’s president simply dithered a moment too long, and never recovered.

But who knows how and why people vote for particular parties and not others? For workers involved in the Lonmin strike, not voting seems to be a protest against the ANC, rather than a show of political affiliation.

“If I don’t choose any party,” says Lonmin mineworker “Bhele” Tholakele Dlunga, “it’s like I’m still under the ANC. Every time I’ve voted, I’ve voted ANC. So if I don’t vote, it’s like I’m still propping up the ANC. Many people didn’t even know Malema’s face until the 16th. He helped us here and there, which is how he can come here and recruit. He paid for transport for us to go to Ga-Rankuwa [where many mineworkers were facing charges related to the strike and subsequent killings] – him and Anda [Bici] … It’s not to say because he did those things we’re going to vote for him, because people have free will.”

Despite Malema’s frankness about his opportunistic response to the Marikana aftermath, Dlunga believes Malema was not there to “canvass, as that time was not a time for doing that. It was like coming to a memorial service – anybody was allowed. Even the ANC came at some point.”

Dlunga prefers we do the interview in the back of a moving car somewhere in Nkanini. The roads are almost impossible to navigate with a sedan. We stop next to a yard where men are passing the time with drinks and a card game. Dlunga is less edgy than usual, but more pensive than relaxed.

He shares some of his thoughts on the party’s politics: “I haven’t been a part of those meetings so I don’t know the ins and outs. The workers at Lonmin haven’t familiarised themselves with those ins and outs. So he is welcome here so he can help us understand those questions that we still have.”

As for Zuma: “When Zuma got his position, he presented a clean face … but as time went on, he showed us his dirty side. We didn’t believe the corruption charges were legitimate, but because of the way he handled Marikana – he didn’t stand up for our rights – we can’t defend his innocence any more.”

Even before the launch, there is fear that the party’s centre doesn’t quite hold. Kenny Kunene, the head of campaigns, withdraws before the first major event since the national assembly held in July. His pockets have holes from carrying the movement, suggests one version. He’s an ill fit, goes another – with wasabi breath and soy sauce on his red shirt. In September – less than a month before the launch – there is a mini exodus to the more upmarket new party, Agang. Pule Matshitshe, the former Gauteng convener and serial political kerb crawler, suggests the EFF is fuelled by ANC-esque cabalism tearing away at the party. As he leaves for Agang, Matshitshe is joined by about 100 members.

Publicity stunt or not, evidence of the EFF as a hydra is visible on the day of the launch. Mngxitama, the figurehead of the September National Imbizo (SNI – a self-described national voluntary people’s movement that eschews the elitist nature of political parties) and self-styled Biko gatekeeper, stands out among his comrades onstage. In the row of comrades behind the cluster of chairs, he looks out of place, absent even. Xolani Nzuza, often seen in United Democratic Movement or African People’s Convention T-shirts at the Marikana Commission, sits on the railings near the staircase, offstage and somewhat alienated.

The enigmatic pastor, Ralekholela, doesn’t flinch when Malema derides Zuma as a man who puts the elderly to shame with his unseemly dancing ability. “When he gets low, people his age look away, and go: ‘yoh’.”

Mngxitama, an erstwhile harsh detractor of Malema, quotes Vladimir Lenin liberally in defending his unholy alliance with the EFF: “There are no morals in politics, only expedience. A scoundrel may be useful to you precisely because he is a scoundrel.”

Only a year before the killings at Marikana, Mngxitama would often deride Malema as the epitome of the comprador conundrum. A year later, Mngxitama is a “disciplined cadre of the EFF” with a “political crush” on a man he once claimed uses words to deceive.

“For us to join, we did not expend too much energy on his motives – why he did what he did,” says Mngxitama casually, somewhere in Melville, late on a rainy Monday.

“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. Robert Mugabe, they say his motives for land redistribution were 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.”

On the SNI’s website, Mngxitama pens a persuasive critique of the movement he urges his comrades to infiltrate or collapse into:

“The forces of accumulation that emerged from the defeat of the Mbeki layer in Polokwane … led to the intensification of lumpen-like accumulation and consumption epitomised by the Zuma Nkandla compound on the one hand and the Kenny Kunene vulgarity on the other. These moves are the two sides of the same lumpen accumulation process …”

Having recognised this, he asks:

“What does the EFF then represent, or how should it be characterised? Whilst the clarion call has what can be called ‘socialist’ rhetoric, in reality it’s a force that can be seen as a radical nationalism like Zanu-PF: it is radical to the extent that it wants to end white monopoly over the economy and society, but reactionary in so far as it does not foreground social change and radical new state form and a socialist reorganisation of the economy.”

And the minimum returns? He concludes:

“When our movements join such a call, they … give themselves a chance to imbue the EFF politics with its radical content … An engagement with the EFF also is a school of doing politics under the pressure of real forces that may at once be working in the same direction, and against each other at the same time on certain other questions. That is the dynamism of political and revolutionary life within the reality of coalitions or fronts.”

It is a convincing argument, but one that some insiders say amounts to a career move by Mngxitama, ultimately fracturing and sinking the SNI.

“The SNI had already been weakened, by the second Imbizo … and they split because of gender issues and mudslinging,” says a comrade who prefers anonymity. “There were two SNI groups on Facebook. I mean, Malema, the things he says are right but he’s no socialist. So, because of his pull, the merger made sense. Andile is for the political science students and Malema is for the people on the ground. I wasn’t a great fan of Malema until I met him. He’s not fascist at all. It all depends on what your politics are.”

As a parting shot, he adds, “It’s the thinkers in the SNI who were in favour of joining the EFF. It’s the thinkers as opposed to those who want us to go back to the PAC days.”

EFF campaigning

In November 2013, the ranks of the EFF were bolstered by Dali Mpofu’s announcement that he had left the ANC, a party he had been a part of for 33 years. Explaining himself, Mpofu was guarded, neurotically so. Asked whether he was at ease with Malema’s perceived motivation for forming the EFF, he answered: “You can never be 100% sure. I do trust the leaders of the EFF. I do trust that they have held those views for a long time. Those who come from the ANC Youth League background … have held those views strongly, and this is based on my interactions with them from within the ANC. Those who come from outside the ANC, the people I know, they have also held those views for a long time. I have no reason to believe that anyone is faking their concern for the country.”

Malema’s foot soldiers are drawn from everywhere in society; from disaffected ward councillors eager to punish the ANC to unemployed, skilled youth, wasting away. Potential energy and sometimes directionless brilliance abound in those who have chosen to suit up in berets and matching blouses. There are some whose first political participation will occur when they vote for the EFF. There are others for whom activism and volunteerism are a way out of oppressive boredom.

We are on a grey, sandy island at the entrance of an Engen filling station. This is eastern Rustenburg, not far from the Impala platinum mine, the epicentre of last year’s epochal strikes. In the streets there are disgruntled former Youth Leaguers, neighbourhood stragglers who should be at home playing mommy, old money types and upstart businessmen – a microcosm. It is less than a week before the November 13 launch and time’s a-wasting.

The cars that will form the convoy arrive vehicle by vehicle. First, it is the silver grey postered Tazz, bearing Malema’s round, saluting figure, packed with fighters, in the preferred parlance. The red, gold and green poster announcing Sunday’s rally is laid against the bonnet. Its passengers are mostly women. A black Yaris. A white Toyota RunX. A VW Polo. A white BMW1 Series hatchback with 2014 election insignia arrives.

The troops assemble – with red berets, T-shirts, canvas sneakers, sunglasses, boeps – munching on kotas, oily chips, washing them down with moderate sips from water bottles. There are girls, student age, active spectators and volunteers simultaneously.

We wait, perhaps an hour or more. The midday sun is unforgiving. The song being played out of the Tazz is cued several times: Asijiki, the rallying cry from the last days of Malema’s Youth League era has been turned into gospel-circuit fare based on a repetitive chorus.

The plan of action is to string the motorcade around a closely knit cluster of Rustenburg townships before a 4pm gathering at Sunrise Park.

An interview request with Mandisa Makhesini, former Free State ANC Youth League deputy secretary and the driver of the black Yaris, is turned down. A fighter in the Western Cape has made disparaging comments about Malema in the press. All interviews have to be vetted by spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi or former MK veteran Mpho Ramakatsa.

I stick to informal banter with Michael Molefi, a Photsaneng ward councillor.

“No one is earning a salary [from the EFF],” he explains.

So how do you survive?

“We are all asking around for money. I could even ask R20 from you, right now. There might be people earning money [from the party] but I don’t know. We’re doing this for free, but people are supporting the EFF. I contributed two cows for the rally.”

The convoy departs some time after a grey X5 arrives. Before I know it, I have three female passengers in the rental car I’m driving, as well as a photographer. Why the girls have left the company of their comrades is not quite clear. I soon find out they’re all from Photsaneng, in the centre of Amplats’ mining complex, a stone’s throw from Marikana.

Lesego, seated next to me, is skinny, with a yellow complexion, probably in her early twenties. She insists we play Asijiki as the car turns left towards Moriting, a section of mostly RDP housing. I dutifully remove Herbie Tsoaeli’s African Time from the CD player.

Moriting is quiet, save for the hooting, the cars snaking around its narrow streets with miniature flags flapping from their windows and Asijiki distorting over the mediocre sound system. Residents stare at the spectacle with bemusement and irritation.

Except for the clip-on flag on the window, no one in the car is dressed in party colours. “Why support Malema?” I ask bluntly, speaking over the music. Lesego’s friend, with twisted, conjoined dreads bulging out of a black combat cap, answers from the back seat.

“He’s intelligent,” she says, her thick features loosening. “He makes his point and sticks to it and doesn’t change it to suit anyone … As far we can see, there’s no improvement in the ANC.”

Our mini flag falls off the vehicle’s rear window, but trapped as we are somewhere in the middle of the motorcade, we don’t do anything about it. The cars cross into the neighbouring Paardekraal, with its cosy, bonded houses. Again, there’s not much enthusiasm or traffic, just mild curiosity. The kids rescue the situation in Sunrise Park, as they energetically run alongside the motorcade, recklessly climbing on to a grey open-top Colt with oversized tyres. We go through extensions 9, then 10, a section bordering shacks. Although disappointed at losing our flag, my passengers lift the mood by teaching me the lyrics to some songs. Some are not strictly within the struggle tradition, more on opaque folkloric middle ground: “uMalema abamazi abakaze bambone” (“They don’t know Malema, he’s a phenomenon”) goes one. There is a more familiar lilt in “Noma besibopha, besidubula siyaya eMarikana” (“In the face of arrests and deaths, we’ll make it to Marikana”).

Most are fixated on Zuma: “Zuma, wayibona thupa?”(“Zuma, can you see your defeat / hiding coming?”), “Zuma, Malema kiyo”(“Malema is it”), “Zuma, asilwinawe silwa namabhunu kodwa mawungafuni sizokushaya” (“Zuma, we’re not fighting with you, we’re fighting the Boers”).

EFF campaigning

By the time we get to KwaZama, a spacious informal settlement, the reception is much more enthusiastic. People ask for T-shirts and berets. There are smiles instead of befuddled looks.

The Sunrise Park Primary School gathering is a bit sloppy. Comrades from the Western Cape, Eastern Cape and Nkandla are introduced. There’s the bout of sloganeering. A crowd of about 500 has gathered, many already in red berets and T-shirts. A woman in a red NUM T-shirt sings along to the songs. A number of commissars take to the stage. One talks about the EFF eradicating the scourge of “sex for jobs” and the “ANC’s food parcel” campaigns.

My friends have suddenly become volunteers again, handing out forms for transport to Sunday’s rally. A pretty youngster cons me for my pen and begins signing up attendants.

Sam Shabalala addresses the community, telling them that they are “surrounded by mines, so you have to do something about it. Nationalise the mines so that they can create jobs.” He adds, “But education is important. I went to a meeting and some people asked me what is the role of platinum and nobody knew. So it’s a challenge to you youngsters to go to school and get knowledge.”

Shabalala is tall and imposing, but the crowd thins as he speaks. “We’ll make sure you get treatment that people get in the private hospitals in the public one.” He is speaking in English.

Floyd Shivambu, the commissar for policy development and research, prefaces his talk by vowing to keep it brief. He does.

“The EFF will be the best government ever. It’s 20 years later and we still don’t have access to quality housing … Only an EFF government will make sure that you benefit … All mineworkers will earn a minimum of R12 500 [a month].”

In his speech, Shivambu says “we’re going to make sure…” a lot.

“… People will have quality jobs … create industries for jobs in the platinum belt … 5 000 berets and T-shirts … food … local artists to make sure you enjoy the launch …”

A short while later, Shivambu says that by election time, the ANC policies won’t resonate with the people. This is in response to a question about the ANC’s unwritten vow to box dirty for 2014. Shivambu speaks in catch phrases: “industrialisation”, “beneficiation”, “that will be state-led”, “reviving state-led food economy”.

The party’s policy on nationalisation seems more in flux than fully formed and Shivambu is struggling to articulate it.

“We are arguing for mixed state and community ownership … We want to discontinue private ownership but we’re willing to look at 60% state-owned and 40% private ownership at the initial stage. But private ownership will eventually be phased out.”

A few days earlier, Mngxitama had had another go: “The contestation is that the state can have its own interests that are not the interests of the people. 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.”

It is sunset when the young volunteers ask for a lift back to Photsaneng. Their male comrades are going off to a closed meeting in Marikana. Shivambu and Shabalala exit the schoolyard in matching grey BMWs. The women’s friendliness makes more sense now, at least on one level.

At the garage in Photsaneng, I learn that most of the girls are unemployed mothers. We head to a house where there are mostly women. From there, we go to a nearby bottle store with Lesego and a friend. They’re both apprehensive about being discovered by their boyfriends while walking with strangers.

Back at the house, I strike up a conversation with one of the volunteers. Her name is Phemelo, a striking, orphaned 20-year-old high school graduate who lives with her grandparents.

“I can see the EFF is going to bring changes even before it happens,” she says. “The way he’s speaking, it shows that we’ll get jobs in the mines, because now we have to bribe. You have to sleep with the person to get the job.

“I’ve applied at the Teba office in Phokeng and they say they only accept people who live in Phokeng and they need proof of residence. I finished matric but I don’t have the money to go and study nursing.”

Phemelo describes her grandparents as “politically confused”. “They’re in the ANC. They can see the ANC is stagnant. Still, the parents want us to stick with it.”

Her friend Thato, who is about to go back to university, says maybe Malema will deliver things the ANC didn’t. “But my mom, she just sees a man going around making promises.”

A braai is on the go. The hospitality seems genuine, perhaps a tad overbearing. Some of our hosts want to know if we will be around Rustenburg until the EFF launches. They offer us accommodation if it means we’ll stay. Perhaps feeling threatened by my diverted attention, Lesego and her friend extricate themselves, fleeing with three cans of Savanna Dry.

Julius Malema

In my interview with Malema the next day, he defends his model of state ownership.

“The British themselves, when they came out of war, they took over their economy. It was state control. They took it from private capital to state ownership. The Americans now, recently with the global financial crisis, they took it over and intervened and directed how the automobile industries are going to be run by the state.

“In Zimbabwe, people have taken over the land, and out of being happy from owning the land, they have shocked President Mugabe with a two-thirds majority.”

He displays his open contempt for the left, which he felt should join the EFF.

“Why is the ANC competing with the right? Because there is no competition from the left. We are all dead. They have no principles, no programme, no appeal. There’s no programme to agitate and advance the leftist agenda, except when you are given three minutes at an ANC rally to give a message of support and sit down. That’s when you get to see them. The others are just eating German money. These ones that just got formed now; they are fundraising in Germany, from the left in Germany – the international left – and that’s how they survive. They get money and print new placards and send copies to Germany to say ‘we’re pushing the left agenda in SA’.”

At this point, it is clear that talks between Malema and the Workers and Socialist Party (Wasp) have failed. Although the party has yet to put out a statement attesting to such, Malema’s dismissal is strikingly similar to Gwede Mantashe’s xenophobic utterances dispensed towards the Democratic Socialist Movement, when wooing Amcu was of paramount concern.

But two days after the EFF launch, Wasp releases a statement through spokesperson Mametlwe Sebei: “Their position is nationalisation to bring sectors of the economy into state ownership. That doesn’t solve the problems of the working class. It merely poses the question of who owns the state and who owns the economy.” Mametlwe cites Eskom and its tariff hikes as an example of a state-owned entity throttling the poor into submission.

The gloves are coming off.

“In the EFF’s ideology and style, there’s something inherently intolerant,” said one socialist working with Rustenburg mineworkers. “They believe they’re a gift to the working class, the messiahs with the answer, the party to be joined.”

People pick apart the EFF performances of masculinity, the paramilitary garb, the obsession with Zuma. Others say Wasp is merely bitter at the rejection.

In City Press, Kgalema Motlanthe’s biographer, Ebrahim Harvey, writes:

“Malema and Mngxitama are often inclined to revolutionary phraseology and demagogy. Malema was like that before he was expelled from the ANC and he is like that today. In fact, he seems to be on a mission to be sounding more radical than he was when he led the ANC Youth League. Mngxitama’s perennial conceptual problem is his repeated failure to understand the race-class nexus in South African history, which is often one of the major theoretical weaknesses of African and black nationalism.”

Imraan Buccus, a research fellow at the School of Social Sciences at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, argues that fascism emerges only in times of crisis:

“It is a form of socialism that is wrapped up in hyper-nationalism and is organised through a political authoritarianism under a demagogic leader. It is able to exploit economic and social crises to offer a feeling of belonging and an illusory path to respect. Fascism or national socialism try to rally the working class and the poor behind a politics that is authoritarian.

“A number of young people, mostly middle-class people with limited education, have bought the idea that Malema is some sort of left-wing radical. This is very far from the truth. For one thing, Malema was quite happy to plunder the public purse until he was kicked out of the ANC.”

Mngxitama responds to Buccus in an EFF blog, saying he is overcompensating for his fear of “the African revolution, and therefore seeks white acceptance at the expense of EFF”.

Mngxitama, as the go-to guy for EFF bombast on the fly, comes off a little fatigued here. Instead of countering Buccus’ arguments, he falls back on polarising race rhetoric. He also makes the mistake of failing to recognise other community-based struggles, belittling them as the faceless formations of “thousands” as opposed to “millions”.

Given Malema’s uncertain future, what does the future hold for the EFF? In this regard, political scientist Richard Pithouse offers a compelling analysis:

“Neither popular protest nor successful attempts to capture it automatically translate into progressive politics … However, it is necessary to keep in mind that all political organisations are in a state of constant flux and subject to all kinds of limits and influences. It’s not impossible that the EFF could be changed in significant ways by the popular struggles it is seeking to capture, by the alliances it makes, internal contestation, changes in our broader political landscape or the nature of electoral politics.”

It’s difficult to call Malema’s future or the days ahead for the EFF. The party would be less predictable and perhaps more nuanced and more interesting without a troubled, tainted figurehead. But without his brutish charisma and roguish manner of galvanising and bulldozing all manner of folks into a cohesive whole, will the centre hold?

All photographs by Oupa Nkosi

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