ANALYSIS: Bumpy political ride ahead as EFF declines to join coalitions


South Africa’s radical opposition party the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) will not be going into a coalition with the two biggest parties in the country, the Democratic Alliance (DA) and the governing African National Congress (ANC).

This is an interesting gambit that suggests the party has set its sights on long-term strategy and long-term growth. The EFF received 8.19% of the municipal vote. Its leader Julius Malema has predicted that the ANC will not run the country after the 2019 national election.

Effectively Malema and the party’s leadership are consolidating the gains they have made in framing themselves as an alternative to the ANC ahead of 2019. The party launched in August 2013.

The EFF’s tactical move seals the fate of a number of hung municipalities which now face instability and possible chaos. This is particularly true in Tshwane, Johannesburg and Nelson Mandela Bay.

By refusing to govern local councils in coalitions with the two bigger parties, the EFF is keeping its hands clean. This means that it won’t be associated with any failures in delivering basic services that may beset councils led by fragile coalitions with limited power because of tight margins in the final election outcomes.

Demand for more radical policies

The EFF is sending a strong message to South Africans that it wants to be known as the only political home for radical change.

It has been calling for economic policies that are more radical than those pursued by the ANC. It has demanded the expropriation of land without compensation, and nationalisation of strategic economic sectors.

This also lies behind the EFF’s refusal to enter into a coalition with the DA, which has a more liberal policy outlook.

The EFF seems to be playing a long-term game and is clearly set on correcting the mistakes made by the ANC. This is evident from its message that it is not demanding strategic positions for its members in councils – such as mayor or speaker – from the bigger parties. Added to this is its strong rebuke to members against self-interest and careerism.

By staying on the opposition benches, the EFF will have the option to engage in the robust-to-disruptive style it has pursued in parliament. It will be able to do so without the trappings of incumbency that would have come from being a co-governing party.

South Africans should make no mistake. This is very much a winning formula for the EFF. It has opted to not subject itself to being evaluated as a governing party (yet) in local politics. Rather it has chosen to continue to be seen as a promising alternative.

If it had opted to co-lead with either the ANC or DA it would inevitably have opened itself up to being judged as a governing party. Instead it has chosen not to enter the “ruling party” space, a sensible choice given its relatively weak position.

Such a strategy makes even more sense given that the mooted coalition governments would have been fragile because of the weak margins with which the ANC and the DA are leading in the metros.

Also, by making the kinds of demands the party has made, it is presenting itself as the home of radical politics in the country. In early coalition talks with the two big parties it made a series of radical demands, including the removal of President Jacob Zuma, free education, and 6% expropriation of land without compensation, among others.

Turbulence ahead

And the EFF’s unwillingness to compromise on its demands is aimed at aiding this strategy. It is an attempt at ideological purity in stark contrast to an ANC it accuses of having abandoned the poor.

The issues the EFF is raising strike the right chord with many vulnerable South Africans. Land, as is evident in calls for a national convention, and free education are particularly topical, especially with the younger generation.

There are some demands being made by the EFF which don’t bode well for racial reconciliation in the country. An example is the absurd and somewhat alienating call for the country’s three-part national anthem to be changed by removing the middle section which is drawn from the apartheid-era “Die Stem” (The Voice).

South Africa is in for interesting political times in opposition politics. Coalition governments in the metros could have created a turn towards cooperative opposition, even in parliament. But the failure to agree on coalitions may mean the country is going to see more robust, even disruptive, opposition styles. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

The Conversation

Ongama Mtimka, Lecturer and PhD Candidate, Department of Political & Conflict Studies, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article. Main image: EFF leaders Godrich Gardee, left, Julius Malema and Floyd Shivamvu brief journalists in Alexandra, near Johannesburg. Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko