/Mpumelelo Mkhabela: Why Malemas leadership style could choke the EFFs growth

Mpumelelo Mkhabela: Why Malemas leadership style could choke the EFFs growth

2019-11-29 06:00

Malema and the EFF must evolve in part by listening to critics and not rubbishing them or calling them names. The party must begin to reflect the aspirations of all South Africans, writes Mpumelelo Mkhabela.

On
October 27, 2015, South Africa witnessed the biggest march in recent history.
It was led by Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema to the
Johannesburg Stock Exchange where a memorandum was submitted with a list of
demands for economic justice for ordinary workers, among others.

No
single political party has since been able to pull off that kind of march. The
bigger “Zuma must fall” march was a multi-organisational effort.

Among
its successes, the EFF has been a force in mobilising capabilities. Having 10.79%
(44 seats) representation in the National Assembly after the 2019 is another
significant success.

The
party has caught the imagination of students on university and college
campuses. The EFF Student Command has grown tremendously, replacing the once-ubiquitous
ANC-aligned South African Student Congress (Sasco) in many SRCs.

Malema’s
strengths are his oratory skills, disrespect for authority, mobilisation
strategies and ability to thoroughly dominate the party. His anti-corruption
and unconventionally disruptive parliamentary politics found resonance among
South Africans who felt helpless at the height of the Jacob Zuma Nkandla
controversy and Gupta state capture. He gave them a voice.

But
like his erstwhile political nemesis Zuma, Malema had always acted invincible
in the face of alleged wrongdoing. His party was constructed in a way that
would fortify the invincibility from within. As a “commander in chief”
who presides over the EFF’s “war council”, Malema built the party to
project a top-down leadership style.

He
has neither equal nor near-equal. This has made it almost impossible for
anyone in the party leadership to substantially question him and his deputy,
Floyd Shivambu about the reputational harm the VBS and slush fund scandals are
causing the party.

Unlike
Mamphela Ramphele of Agang, who faced a challenge and a disciplinary process
within the party that she had helped establish, it would be a mission for
anyone to challenge Malema on issues, ethics and leadership in party. To a
large extent his dominance of the party is the reason for its success.

It
would have been impossible to grow the EFF without his domineering personality.
In a big way, he is the party personified.

But,
there is a big question mark about the sustainability of this model of
politics. Bantu Holomisa founded the United Democratic Movement (UDM) two
decades ago and immediately secured a respectable electoral support base. But
over time the party has declined while he remained at the helm unchallenged.

The
Reverend Kenneth Meshoe founded the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) and
dominated it even as it declined and stagnated. There seems to be no prospect
of a challenger in this conservative Christian party. Could it be that Meshoe enjoys
anointment from the heavens?

Inkatha
Freedom Party (IFP) founder Mangosuthu Buthelezi dominated the party since its
foundation in 1975. Since the beginning of electoral contests in 1994, to which
the IFP participated as an after-thought, it has risen and declined. Buthelezi’s
overly delayed departure from leadership was not helpful.

Of
course, unlike Buthelezi, Meshoe and Holomisa, Malema has the comparative
advantage of youth.

Divisive
leadership contests in the ANC and the DA have somehow helped the biggest two
parties not to face the risk of immediate terminal decline. At its weakest
point, the ANC retained a clear majority.

Can
Malema sustain EFF growth?

The
question is whether Malema’s leadership style can sustain the party’s growth.
Can it position the EFF as a party with an alternative model to the dominant
leader style experienced by declining parties and the increasingly brutal
succession battles of its main opponents, the ANC and the DA?

How
could Malema’s model render irrelevant all the allegations of undue financial
benefits from VBS, colourfully named slush funds and the criminal charges he
faces related to assaulting of police officer and public discharge of a firearm?

The
success of the EFF thus far shows there is space for their kind of radical,
African nationalist politics. But in a complex society, that kind of space is
considerably insufficient to take Malema to the Union Buildings.

The
EFF might need to tone down on their racial rhetoric and develop accountability
measures for the conduct of its leaders – the latter an understandably
impossible task given the fact that Malema has no challenger within – in order
to draw a bigger support base.

South
Africans enjoy their right to speak out and to protest. Malema is a typical
example of those who thrive by challenging authority. So, although EFF members
might be appreciative of the role Malema has played in constructing a powerful
voice in South African politics, they will soon aspire to challenge his authority
and his conduct when they believe he is compromising the party.

As
the party grows in size and age, allegiance to it might increase at the expense
of Malema the individual. His response could be to either bludgeon internal
critics to silence or embrace critical voices. Either response holds potential risk
or progress depending on execution.

Malema
is already entangled in a debate about possible disbandment of the EFF Student
Command which he regards as having gone astray. It is also suspected he would
prefer some people around him to be ousted at the party’s elective conference
in December.

These
suggest that he believes only he is the centre that can hold the party together
in his preferred command style. There is a risk that if Malema emerges out of the
December conference in a way that further entrenches the idea that everything
is about him and his political/personal desires, those who support the party
out of principle might reconsider their stance.

Malema
and the EFF must evolve in part by listening to critics and not rubbishing them or
calling them names. The party must begin to reflect the aspirations of all South
Africans and offer an alternative route to reach those aspirations.

South
Africans have been through divisions. Most of the divisions should be addressed
instead of being amplified. South Africa’s democracy needs strong, constructive
and nation-building oriented political alternatives.

If
the EFF and its leader don’t evolve in their ideological outlook, what appears
to be a success today might, when reviewed in future, be dismissed as though it
was a mere boom-and-bust scenario.

– Mkhabela is a regular columnist for News24.

** Want to respond to the columnist? Send your letter or article to voices@news24.com with your name, profile picture, contact details and location. We encourage a diversity of voices and views in our readers’ submissions and reserve the right not to publish any and all submissions received.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.