On Saturday, 29 July the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), celebrated their 10th anniversary with a mass rally of 100 000 supporters at Johannesburg’s FNB stadium. This was an impressive turnout, which shows the party’s mass appeal particularly with the active layers of the youth.
The rally was the culmination of various activities over the week, including a ceremony in Marikana on 26 July, which is the party’s actual founding day. In his address, EFF president Julius Malema said that the Marikana massacre of 16 August 2012, in which police opened fire on striking mine workers, killing 34 and wounding 78, played a decisive role in the formation of the party.
An organisational success
The rally on Saturday was a major success from an organisational standpoint. The majority of the 100,000 attendees came from Gauteng province, which hosted the event, but party members and supporters came from all of the country’s provinces and regions to celebrate, and also to listen to the leadership’s perspectives for the coming period.
The crisis of capitalism has affected South African society deeply over the last period. Its economy is still reeling from the impact of the COVID-19, compounded by the fallout of the war in Ukraine. Then there is the electricity crisis, which flows from the corruption and greed of the capitalist class, as a whole as well as the rising cost of living.
The crisis of capitalism is especially acute in South Africa. It is the vast majority of poor and working-class people who suffer the worst effects of this crisis: mass unemployment, a lack of decent housing, inadequate education, landlessness, and rapidly falling living standards. The root cause of this situation lies in the capitalist system, which is unable to grant even the smallest concessions to the workers and poor.
The crisis in the economy is having a catastrophic impact on living standards. Working-class people are now worse off than they were 10 years ago. Real unemployment stands at 10.2 million people. To this must be added the millions of jobs lost during the lockdown. Precarious workers have been devastated, with 3 million having lost their jobs overnight.
Youth unemployment is the highest in the world. Unemployment levels for young people aged between 15 to 24 stands at 59 percent. More than 8 million of the country’s 20.5 million young people neither have a job, nor are they in education or training. A whole generation has now grown up with this as their reality.
It was particularly these radicalised youths which flocked to the stadium to listen to perspectives of the EFF leadership’s views on these issues.
In a wide ranging speech Malema praised supporters for defying sceptics who had given the organisation little chance of survival 10 years ago. He called out the corporate mass media in particular, pointing out, “They said we would never achieve 1 percent of the vote. They said our organisation was formed out of anger and will never last.”
“Today,” he continued, “I look at them walking inside the stadium – what a walk of shame! You disappointed them! You proved them wrong!”
Over the last decade the EFF had grown to one million members, Malema told supporters. Certainly, many thousands of committed activists would have been required to prepare the logistics, transport etc. for such a huge event and make it a success, which clearly cements the EFF’s status as a genuine mass movement.
In his speech, Malema paid tribute to the mine workers killed by police in Marikana: "To the widows of Marikana, who must today know that the sacrifices made by their husbands, sons and brothers of the 16th August 2012 massacre, were not in vain.”
He added: “We are standing here, turning 10 years old in front of the country, the continent, and the world because of those brave mineworkers, who defied the greed and the violence of capitalism and the state.”
Malema also paid tribute to Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, the July 26th movement and the Cuban people whom he credited for inspiring the formation of the EFF:
“While Cuba guided the idea of our organisation, Marikana gave birth to this revolutionary movement.”
He launched a scathing attack on the ANC which he said killed the workers in defence of capital, explaining further that “the former liberation movement has betrayed the struggle for the land and the economy that our ancestors fought and died for.”
Malema went on to outline the key demands of the EFF’s programme for ‘economic freedom in our lifetime’:
“Let us nationalise mines. Let us nationalise banks. We need housing, education, and jobs. We must grow the African economy.”
Further, Malema highlighted the electricity crisis, explaining that corruption was rife in the country and the party planned to deal with it decisively once it got into power after the 2024 general elections.
Faultlines and contradictions
The 10-year celebration is a milestone for the party, which has grown to become the third-biggest party in parliament. Malema and the ‘top 6’ leadership of the EFF have made no secret of their goal to come to power in the upcoming elections in 2024. In this context the rally on Saturday was as much the launch of a campaign as the celebration of past achievements.
The idea that the EFF might come within reach of the government is not completely fanciful either. The ANC is currently polling below 50 percent, and for the first time since the first democratic elections in 1994, the ANC faces the genuine prospect of winning fewer than half of the votes cast. In such a situation, the EFF could be thrust into the position of ‘kingmaker’, particularly if it overtakes the Democratic Alliance (DA) into second place.
However, Saturday’s event also highlighted the contradictions and faultlines, which will only become more apparent with coming events, especially if the EFF comes close to power.
Apart from the event in Marikana and the rally at the FNB stadium, the party also hosted a ‘gala dinner’ at the glamorous Emperor’s Palace venue in Johannesburg on Thursday night, which was attended by wealthy businessmen and affluent people who had paid anything between R250,000 and R1,200,000 each to sit at the table of the leadership of the EFF. One can only imagine what such ‘business leaders’ would like to discuss with them, having paid such a princely sum.
In addition, the party hosted a breakfast meeting on Friday, which was attended by eminent dignitaries and diplomats at the 5-star Sheraton Hotel in Pretoria. Evidently the party wants to present itself as a government in waiting to the international community, but this highlights an important question at the heart of the EFF as a movement: Should it be reaching out to the capitalist nation states of Africa and the world, or to the world working class?
These are not insignificant points, but rather reflect the class contradictions and faultlines and within the organisation. These class contradictions have already expressed themselves in other ways. After the local election in 2016, the ruling ANC for the first time lost its majority in three key metropolitan areas: Johannesburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay.
The EFF used its deciding vote in these areas to form an ‘informal coalition’ with the Democratic Alliance, an all-out capitalist party formed out of the liberal wing of the apartheid state, to get the ANC out. Although this arrangement eventually collapsed, it set a dangerous precedent ahead of the 2024 national elections.
At the rally, Malema raised the goal of winning a majority and taking power without the need for any coalition, but no one considers this likely, even in the EFF. Instead, Malema has explained at other events that his number one priority is to kick the ANC out of power, even if that means entering into an agreement with right-wing parties like the DA and the Zulu nationalist Inkatha Freedom Party.
If the EFF repeats the mistake of working with the class enemy like the DA, and other bourgeois parties on a national level, not only would it represent a fundamental departure from its stated aim of economic liberation for the oppressed people of South Africa, it could also cause a serious crisis within the party itself. Ultimately, the EFF cannot serve both South African workers and South African bosses, whether they are black or white.
Pan-Africanism or socialism?
The class struggle is intensifying in South Africa and what is important for left-wing and working class organisations is to move in the same direction as the revolutionary youth and workers which make up the base. The emergence of forces to the left of the ANC, like the EFF, is a clear manifestation of the radicalisation taking place in South African society.
No other opposition party in the last two decades has made such a sudden and dramatic entrance onto the political arena as the EFF. But the emergence of the EFF has also shown its contradictions.The EFF describes itself as a “radical, leftist, anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist movement with an internationalist outlook anchored by popular grassroots formations and struggle’’. It also states that it “draws inspiration from the broad Marxist-Leninist tradition and Fanonian schools of thought as well as Pan Africanism”.
However, Pan-Africanism rests on different class forces than Marxism, which bases itself firmly and uncompromisingly on the working class and its class viewpoint. The struggle for economic freedom can ultimately only be a struggle to overthrow capitalism, which is fundamentally incompatible with the interests of the African bourgeoisie.
Millions of South African workers have already drawn the conclusion that formal ‘democracy’ is not enough, and that it is necessary to struggle for economic emancipation, full employment, free housing, healthcare and education. But still the majority do not believe the EFF will deliver this, despite these demands being included in its “seven non-negotiable pillars”. Many will rightly be asking, how will the EFF pay for all of these things whilst helping South African business at the same time? The truth is that it cannot. In fact, in every country governments are attacking the workers on all fronts in order to defend capital.
Likewise, the liberation of the African continent from the shackles of imperialism cannot be achieved on the basis of the existing capitalist nation states throughout Africa, which oppress their workers and constantly jostle for power and influence over one another. It is not enough to call for “peace”. The only road to the real liberation of Africa is through the overthrow of all of these states by the working class, and the democratic planning of the economy on a socialist basis.
The raising of both socialism and Pan-Africanism by the EFF’s leadership highlights the underlying contradictions in the party. This is a fault line running throughout the organisation, between a large layer of party activists who seek to overthrow capitalism, and a nationalist wing of the party, which aims only at reforms which elevate the status of the weak black bourgeoisie in South Africa.
If no one is able to present a clear, socialist solution to the crisis in South Africa, which is inseparable from the capitalist system, the struggle of the oppressed for freedom will reach a dead end. In those conditions, nationalism would likely play a poisonous, reactionary role. The potential for this was clearly shown with the scenes of xenophobic violence where poor black South Africans turned on many poor black people mainly from other African countries, killing many.
These heinous acts can be directly attributed to the social conditions experienced by many of the poor. It is also a direct result of the failure of mass organisations of the working class to offer a socialist alternative. The direct consequence was that many saw the source of their plight in the nationality of many foreigners who were also eking out a living on the streets. The EFF has correctly come out against these attacks but its position on African nationalism effectively ensnares itself in ideological confusion, which will eventually be expressed in practice during the course of the struggle itself.
Socialists must be unequivocally opposed to anything which divides the working class. It is true that black South Africans have had to bear the brunt of brutal racial oppression. It is equally true that many black people face racial discrimination to this very day, which must be fought in all its forms. But it is important to understand that all forms of oppression, be it racial, gender or national oppression, has its origins in the division of society into classes. The only way to begin to solve these problems is to change their material roots, unite the working class and fight for socialism.
Socialism is internationalist by its very nature. There cannot be any notion of an “African road to socialism”, separate from the struggle for socialism on all other continents, including Europe and North America. This is because the capitalist system developed as a worldwide system.
Moreover, this has been completely confirmed by what has happened over the last three decades of rule under the ANC. Over the last period some of the most brutal exploitation of the black working class has been happening precisely at the hands of black capitalists such as Cyril Ramaphosa. In fact, Ramaphosa has more shared interests with white and foreign capitalists than he has with black South African workers, as was so tragically but clearly revealed in Marikana in 2012.
The workers of South Africa have more in common with the workers of other countries than they have with black capitalists. Our aim should not be to “create black industrialists”, but to overthrow the rule of the capitalists altogether – black and white. That the EFF has succeeded in rallying so many people around the goal for total economic emancipation is something that all socialists should welcome. But we must have no illusions: The only way to achieve economic freedom is to unite the workers of the world under the banner of solidarity and socialism.