Violent scenes of street fighting among members of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) since its first national elective conference last December could easily heighten speculation that the party will end up imploding like the other ANC breakaway before it, the Congress of the People (Cope).
However, such ideas are not supported by facts. The EFF has a lot more going for it than Cope, including reasonably legitimate branch structures and organisational protocol, and it is unlikely to suffer major setbacks as a result of infighting.
Unlike Cope, the EFF’s centre of gravity is its commander-in-chief, Julius Malema. Cope battled with factions aligned to two strong leaders in their own right — Mosiuoa Lekota and Mbhazima Shilowa.
The individuals opposing Malema were relatively unknown before their foray into politics on an EFF ticket.
Before any consensus was reached over the party’s constitution and policies, the battles in Cope reached the courts. The EFF’s policies and constitution were in place before its congress and cemented when the party elected new leaders last December in Mangaung.
The EFF, formed in December 2013, has become the closest alternative for disgruntled traditional ANC voters in places where the official opposition, the DA, finds itself hamstrung by its structural limitations.
Last month Malema’s supporters clashed with party MP Andile Mngxitama in the streets of Cape Town after he tried to brief the media about the alleged financial irregularities in the party. A week later, tight security prevented a similar clash at a briefing in Johannesburg.
Mngxitama was seen as favouring EFF MP Khanyisile Litchfield-Tshabalala to become Malema’s deputy at the party’s elective conference in December.
Had she won, she would have been in pole position to succeed Malema. But Malema preferred his old friend and ally Floyd Shivambu for the post.
Both Mngxitama and Litchfield-Tshabalala are scholars of black consciousness ideology and pan-Africanism. Litchfield-Tshabalala is also a former member of the ANC’s military wing, uMkhonto we Sizwe, together with ousted EFF founding leader and MP Mpho Ramakatsa.
Adding former liberation soldier and EFF MP Lucky Twala into the picture completes the foursome of rebel MPs who have challenged Malema’s authority.
Their immediate dilemma, however, is that none of them came to the EFF with a significant constituency, except for Ramakatsa, who enjoys some support in the Free State.
Though Mngxitama is an asset to the EFF — so much so that Malema’s group tried to bring him back into the fold — he lacks a sizeable constituency.
Essentially, the EFF’s Mangaung national conference was a contest between a tag team of former soldiers and black consciousness proponents against the youth leaguers who were with Malema and Shivambu before the duo were kicked out from the ANC and its youth wing. The current internal wrangling in the EFF is an extension of that clash of ideas.
Political analyst Anthony Butler says though the EFF and Cope were both formed by losing factions in ANC conferences, the EFF is unlikely to face paralysis like Cope. He says the competition between Shilowa and Lekota, both with “similar stature and political experience”, made it difficult for Cope to find compromises.
Butler says “the [EFF] rebels are relatively inexperienced and very ideological”.
However, both Malema and Shivambu have scored an own goal in that they are known for their flamboyant lifestyles and expensive tastes. Public displays of opulence may not always square up with what’s expected of self-proclaimed revolutionary leaders.
Mngxitama and his group are convinced that potential irregularities in the EFF’s finances are likely to come back and bite both Malema and Shivambu.
Mngxitama told a media briefing last month that evidence, including that of an assassination plot against him and Ramakatsa, will be revealed when upcoming court processes unfold. Until then, unsubstantiated allegations are unlikely to loosen Malema’s grip on the EFF.
This article originally appeared in Financial Mail