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EFF campaign illustrates a much bigger problem

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    Nat Quinn

    In what was one of our most popular articles published last year Terence Corrigan examines some elements of the EFF, and sounds a warning that should not be ignored.

    The red-clad activists demanding to examine restaurants’ staff profiles have been condemned from various perspectives as an unjustifiable and illegal intrusion into companies’ labour relations, and the privacy of their staff, and as a sinister appeal to xenophobia.

    The criticism that the EFF has received over this is entirely merited. Its conduct was intimidatory and without any legal sanction.

    This is the pattern that the EFF has set for itself. This is not the first time that the EFF has stepped outside the bounds of the law: its supporters trashed H&M stores in 2018, Clicks outlets in 2020, and as Ferial Haffajee has written, its actions fly in the face of three court orders. And that is in addition to an uncomfortable pattern of personal (sometimes physical) abuse directed at journalists or others who have drawn the EFF’s ire.

    ‘We are highly encouraged that we are singing from the same hymn book and we have our eyes and ears on the ground to inform us when things are not going accordingly’, said EFF leader Julius Malema, signalling that this campaign would continue.

    The conduct of the EFF should concern us all. Its actions are an affront to the country’s constitutional democracy. They represent an unforgivable posture for a party represented in Parliament, and an effective repudiation of the oath its MPs have taken to ‘obey, respect and uphold the Constitution and all other Law of the Republic.’

    The hyperbole and theatre of the EFF attract attention, but the context from which they arise is too often ignored. So are the broader pathologies that they have spawned.

    It should not be forgotten that the EFF was an outgrowth of the African National Congress. Its claim was less that it was an alternative to the ANC, but rather a successor to it, an inheritor of its authentic radicalism.

    There is a strong case to be made that the EFF’s culture was incubated within the ANC. The ANC’s self-conception is that it is the embodiment of society, its goals not merely the implementation of a policy programme but the creation of a new society. Its outlook on politics is characterised by a profound sense of Manichaeism: it is confronted at every turn by shadowy forces with malign intent. Indeed, its experience prior to the transition to democracy was hardly an incubator for democratic rectitude – and its own conduct was frequently no exemplar of this either. Its behaviours ranged from the endemic corruption and authoritarianism in its own ranks, to its involvement in political violence, and to its general intolerance of challengers.

    Ambiguous attitude

    As a result of all of this, the ANC has always evinced an ambiguous attitude to constitutionalism. Don’t misunderstand: the ANC in government can take a good deal of credit for the constitutional order. It has also been willing for the most part to adhere to court rulings, albeit sometimes grudgingly. That Nelson Mandela appeared in court in 1998 to be questioned about the appointment of a commission of inquiry into rugby was of no small symbolic value.

    On the other hand, constitutional democracy implies firm limits to the power and discretion of political power brokers. For a party with a sense of millenarian mission, this sits uneasily.

    Indications of this were well in evidence before the first votes had been cast in 1994. One revealing instance involved the violent disruption of an attempted meeting by the then Democratic Party in Orange Farm. Holding such a meeting was unacceptable, said the ANC, since the DP had ‘vilified the liberation movement.’ The leader of a local ANC-aligned civic group declared that ‘the people will use every tactic to prevent political activity by the (white) parties. They are not going to allow these parties to come to the townships.’ (In this at least, there was some success, since by the admission of the electoral commission, millions of voters lived in no-go areas, in which multi-party politics was not possible.)

    In subsequent years, it is true, violent intimidation has subsided, although it has never vanished, as the occasional strike-related mayhem, political assassination or xenophobic pogroms demonstrate. Let us not forget that the security guards’ strike in 2006 claimed around 57 lives.

    What has not vanished has been the world view that propels this behaviour. Examples of this abound. One might think of the 1997 strategy document that forthrightly committed the ANC to taking control of all ‘levers of power’ in the state and society. Or the address by then President Nelson Mandela to the party congress in Mafeking later in the year, where he came very close to denouncing the ANC’s opponents for treason. Or the sentiments of then party Secretary General Kgalema Motlanthe a year later, that the ANC hoped to achieve a two-thirds majority to enable it to rule ‘unfettered by constraints.’ Or the thesis espoused in a series of 2007 articles in ANC Today entitled ‘A Fundamental Revolutionary Lesson: The Enemy Manoeuvres but it Remains the Enemy’ – which cast political opposition as an assault on South Africa itself, and the existence of the opposition as being on the sufferance of the ANC.

    ‘Shoot and kill’

    Or consider the comments by former Secretary General of the Congress of South African Trade Unions Zwelinzima Vavi in 2008, on then presidential hopeful Jacob Zuma: ‘Because Jacob Zuma is one of us, and he is one of our leaders, for him, we are prepared to lay our lives (sic) and to shoot and kill.’ This followed similar remarks by Malema, at that time the head of the ANC Youth League.

    When this was taken to the SA Human Rights Commission, Vavi doubled down and the statement – sent out jointly with the commission – confirmed that ‘I was merely stating a principle that comrades should be ready to defend one another and when necessary that may involve killing’; and that ‘I understand that the word “killing” jars some peoples’ sensitivities and that I regret. This does not, however, detract from the general principle that taking up arms is always a possibility, but not under the current conditions.’

    The following year, Cosatu’s 10th National Congress included among its long-term revolutionary demands ‘[abolishing] the bourgeoisie executive, parliamentary and justice system, and [replacing] them with working class state structures.’ The commitment to the Constitution was clearly not a principled one, and one might speculate whether in the push to make this transition, taking up arms and killing would be a ‘possibility.’

    Or perhaps it is illustrated by the widely-commented-upon remarks by Ngoako Ramatlhodi in 2011 that the country’s Constitution represented a ‘compromise tilted heavily in favour of forces against change.’

    President Zuma, for his part, evinced a very shaky grasp of constitutional principles, and an even shakier commitment to them. ‘We [the ANC] have more rights here because we are in a majority. You [opposition] have fewer rights because you are in a minority,’ he declared to an opposition MP in 2012. This from the president of the country with his party still largely behind him.

    Those tempted to dismiss all this as mere rhetoric might do well to remember that rhetoric matters. A revealing vocabulary has evolved to capture the ANC’s stance: ‘transformation’, ‘hegemony’, ‘the national democratic revolution’, ‘the people’ (or ‘our people’, according to race-nationalist taste), ‘cadre deployment’, ‘counter-revolution’. The intention behind framing things in this way is to express and foster a sense of ideological purpose, premised on perpetual conflict as the liberation movement powers ahead in the face of determined opposition.

    This is not a narrative on which constitutional democracy can thrive.

    Not only rhetorical

    Besides, this is not only rhetorical. It has been matched by some very disconcerting action. Thus, when Zuma’s presidency sank into scandal, particularly over lavish expenditure on his private residence, and the Public Protector demanded he pay back some of it, the ANC made it clear that this would not happen.

    Richard Calland – an analyst who might reasonably be described as broadly sympathetic to the ANC – wrote in his 2016 book Make or Break: ‘What the ANC’s attitude revealed was the real and emerging fault line in contemporary South African politics: the ruling party’s growing contempt for the Constitution and its increasingly muscular complaint about counter-majoritarianism.’

    More crucially, the Zondo Commission – along with pressure from the Democratic Alliance – has shone a light onto the ruling party’s counter-constitutional programme of cadre deployment. The minutes of the party’s deployment committee have exposed the fact that a parallel structure of application and recruitment has effectively been created for state bodies, and has even meddled in the appointment of judges. This should shake South Africa to its core.

    It should trouble the country even more that President Ramaphosa, the nominal ‘reformist’, defended this practice before the Commission and indicated that it would remain in place.

    Meanwhile, much has been made of the attack by Radical Economic Transformation champion Lindiwe Sisulu on the judiciary, and by extension the constitutional order as a whole. That these views have been articulated by a sitting cabinet minister is an indication of the crisis in our politics.

    However – as is true of the condemnation of the EFF’s conduct – recognising Sisulu’s conduct as an indication of the crisis fails to reflect the full scale of that crisis.

    For in the disregard for the law and the undermining of the Constitution, there is an unbroken continuity between the ANC and the EFF, between Malema, Sisulu and Ramaphosa. Indeed, one might well ask whether the undermining of South Africa’s institutions does not represent a more profound vandalism than intimidating businesses or trashing their premises… ultimately, they correspond to different points on a sinister continuum.

    The EFF rightly stands condemned. But if South Africa is to enjoy a future as the constitutional democracy to which so many aspire, it is imperative that the full context and lineage of the EFF’s behaviour be properly understood.


    EFF campaign illustrates a much bigger problem – Daily Friend

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