Press "Enter" to skip to content

EFF and the return of the warrior citizen

The advent of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) has gained much attention as the first clear reconfiguration of youth politics in post-apartheid South Africa. Much has been discussed about the policies proposed by “Commander-in-Chief” Julius Malema and his commissars, especially those regarding nationalisation and the appropriation of land. While there has been some discussion about the significance of the red beret, there has been little discussion about the significance of the military nature of the language used by the EFF. This language is important in the South African context because it demonstrates the extent to which “peace” in South Africa is evidently militarised peace.

This language arises despite efforts at the national leadership level to move the country away from the battle-centric conceptions of the fight for liberation that influenced, for example, the ANC’s call for a “people’s war” during apartheid. Post-apartheid South Africa however has been symbolised by a different kind of “revolutionary”, one who marches into the site of “combat” in shiny designer suits — lest we forget, for instance, former president Thabo Mbeki being labelled as the “Gucci revolutionary” of the African Renaissance. This moment in which Malema and company invite South Africans to throw off the designer garments (albeit momentarily) for the “real” uniform of the guerrilla, must therefore be taken seriously.

There has been considerable symbolic recognition of the importance of the armed struggle in the fight against apartheid. At times this has eclipsed the recognition given to the non-militarised forms of struggle, such as the trade union movement, the Black Consciousness Movement or the United Democratic Front, all of which are widely understood to have been more effective modes of struggle. However South Africa’s transition has been less clear in the support given to ordinary military veterans. The transition is cryptically caught between being defined as a peaceful “miracle”, while simultaneously showing a distressing failure to account for the thousands of military veterans who feel they are the excess of democracy. A few years ago Susan Cook made the case that the profile of the South African military veteran presents us with two extremes, and these are “a handful of heroes and patriots like Chris Hani, and the rest — the walking wounded — depressed and violent men [and women] unable to overcome the traumas of combat and the institutions of war”.

In the aftermath of apartheid it appears the beret has been exchanged for the designer suit. In our economic climate this has meant that only a few men and women like the Motsepe’s, Ramphele’s and Ramaphosa’s, are eligible to enter the battlefront against “imperial forces”.

In this context therefore berets are certainly a far cheaper way for ordinary people to join in the battle for economic liberation. The choice of the EFF to replace the suit not with a T-shirt but with a beret tells us the new party’s views of revolution remain restricted in a way that continues to privilege military power as signalling “real” transformative power. The beret places the soldier at the top of the hierarchy in how we think of revolution instead of offering new and interesting ways in which we can think about revolution without emphasising military cultures that we now know to be problematic. We know, for instance, that military language is not comfortable with complexity but relies on binaries of “friend or enemy”.

This language is useful to the extent to which it makes it easier to draw the lines of combat, in this case the white-owned mines, the farms and the banks being the site of combat. The problem with this approach is that due to the penetration of these same places by several Gucci-wearing black “revolutionaries” since 1994, the EFF guerrilla will now have to redefine the “real” enemy and whether ultimately the designer-wearing revolutionary is in “bed” with the larger revolution. It is these complexities that make military language a particularly blunt instrument in accounting for these new ambivalent “threats”.

Stephen Ellis’s book published last year, External Mission: The ANC in Exile 1960-1990, paints a particularly disturbing and piercing picture of the ANC, but it is one example that shows how military language can be used to undermine a commitment to democratic values in situations where cadres are easily eliminated in the battle as “collateral damage”.

This “friend versus enemy” language of the military is severely stretched in this context. The EFF guerrilla entering combat against “enemy agents” known as “white monopoly capital”, located not only in the mines, farms and banks, but all over the world must also at the same time reconcile with some blacks whose livelihoods are intimately attached to the workings of white monopoly capital. Unlike the 1980s when the black majority was incited into making the state ungovernable, it would be pretentious to assume that such language captures the intricacies of this political moment even though black people still for the most part remain outside of the mainstream economy. This particular context has far more layers to it which demands a nuanced understanding that does not rely too heavily on binaries. At the outset it matters that the government is no longer a “hippo”-driving Boer, but is now largely run by blacks.

The manifesto of the EFF concludes awkwardly by making a special appeal to the security forces that they are not the enemy. This is because the rebirth of the warrior citizen sets up a scenario where the self-appointed commanders in chief have placed themselves in a situation where they have to re-assure the current security forces that the EFF guerrilla is not seeking to replace the existing soldier. This is one of the examples that speak to the complicated nature of the military language used by the EFF and the operational “battleground” they find themselves in.

The return to the warrior citizen is also interesting and concerning because feminists have long argued that the military has a “profound dependency on maleness”. When at this time the men of EFF call us to battle, we must wonder what this implies for the relationships between men and women.

The party’s “gender and sexuality question” says nothing about the need to transform violent masculinities in South Africa. It rather makes the case that economic liberation will deliver both genders, especially women, from present white and black patriarchal tyranny. This framing of gender, which is actually just reduced to the “empowerment” of women while saying very little about the need to seriously reconfigure current masculinities, assumes that economic liberation is the cure for patriarchy. The EFF Women’s Command has been the given the daunting and impossible task of organising and mobilising “women with men if needs be, into ending patriarchy by putting the patriarchal, white-supremacist, capitalist oppression of women to an end”.

Past experiences tell us that gender relations ought to be reconfigured during conflict, not in the aftermath. This means that it is not the aftermath that is important for gender transformation but how the battle is fought. A serious commitment to ending patriarchy will have to mean that both the men and women in the EFF use the “revolution” to re-imagine their femininities and masculinities in a way that allows them to use the battle-site as a place where they already practice gender equality for the post-“war” society. Given the record of the key figures in the new party on gender matters, and the degree to which its militaristic posture is a masculinist posture, this seems highly unlikely.

However it is certainly a real symbolic power in the fact that young people in South Africa are to be called to the “battlefront” in a country where they are often silenced for not having struggle history. The return of the warrior citizen perhaps opens up a space for the young to get their “badge of honour”.

Even so, there is a real need to examine whether the language of the warrior is sufficiently adequate to and comfortable with the complexity of our society for it to offer both urgency and democratic agency, equally available to women and men, in our struggles. We must think seriously about the consequences of reclaiming the “warrior citizen” — because of what it will mean to think ourselves out of soldier mentality both in the midst of the war that has been declared and in its aftermath.



  1. Jared Jared 6 November 2013

    Thanks. I understand the criticism of militarism. But I also question throwing it out completely. Sometimes it may be necessary despite its short-comings. And what do you then make about the use of militarism and a guerilla military by the Zapatistas?

  2. Baz Baz 7 November 2013

    Militarism type government will never work. What we need is a STRONG OPPOSITION and just maybe a WOMAN president that will take no nonsense from any party in parliment and appoint able skilled candidates to run the individual divisions of goevrernment and eventually at rapid speed cause our economy to grow to radicate
    the unemployment in this counrty, giving everyone a good chance to be a responsible for their own lives. Also get the informal settlements with sufficent electricity and clean water and sanitation so they can feel like worthwhile citizens. Of course charge them a minimun fee for electricity or introduce prepaid electrical boxes.
    This will take good planing but MUST BE implimented post haste. Currently, we are hoodwinked by false hope and boring, snoring parlimentarians durind nothing to solve
    our ciritical issues facing our counrty presently.

  3. chacho chacho 7 November 2013

    Not yet uhuru! A luta continua!

  4. Tony Tony 7 November 2013

    Thanks; an interesting and insightful analysis. But have we not seen this somewhere before? In another time or another place would not Malema and his E.F.F be called “fascists”? And while recognising some of the social and economic ills that have given rise to a movement such as this, also remember that similar deplorable circumstances gave impetus to Hitler and his Brownshirts. And from this conclusion ask whether the policies, and possibly more important the capacity and capability to implement them, of the Zuma government are likely to avert South Africa moving down a similar path? A couple of years back Helen Zille stated at a public meeting that the DA’s real opponent was ultimately Julius Malema, not Jacob Zuma who she predicted would make as good a job as her of destroying the ANC. The intervening years and Zuma’s professional attempt at emasculating Malema made this prediction look somewhat fanciful. Now however can we be so sure? Come next May, it is a safe prediction that Julius Malema will either be in jail or in Parliament. If the latter, South Africans may one day wake up to the fact that their real choice was between the DA and the EFF We must pray this day is not too late and that history has not repeated itself again and that in true fascist tradition, that choice has been taken from them – “Sic transit gloria Madiba.”

  5. Zeph Zeph 7 November 2013

    The youth know not what war is. If you want to see the real savage in all of us then go to a war zone. It is terrifying and it will change you forever.

  6. maggielou maggielou 7 November 2013

    It is simple. When Julius Malema mobilised the youth to put Zuma into power, he was the golden boy. Things went wrong and he is vilified. Frankly, with all the grand scale theft and stealing, nepotism and self enrichment and dis-enfranchising of 80% of our people, under no circumstances will I ever vote for such a hypocrtical pary. If the choice is between ANC and EFF, I’ll choose the latter. If Julius brought this democractic thieving dictator into power, Julius can also get rid of him. If that’s the only way, so be it.

  7. Maria Maria 7 November 2013

    A thoughtful, timely reflection, Siphokazi. Few people acknowledge, as you do, the complexity of the South African situation – politically, socially, culturally, psychologically – and to their detriment, because unless one does, you would never understand it. Your analysis initiates a much-needed movement in that direction. It should be clear even to those politicians in the designer clothes that they cannot ignore the poor, the unemployed, the excluded military veterans, the brutalized women and children, forever with impunity, while they eat sushi and drink bubbly behind their security gates. Methinks they’re in for a rude awakening come next May. Malema’s EFF appeals to growing numbers of people who feel dispossessed and betrayed by the ANC’s embrace of neoliberal capitalism, which breaks up social as well as natural ecologies, and promotes crass, ego-centered materialism instead of cultivating a sense of solidarity and community.

  8. PrettyBelinda PrettyBelinda 7 November 2013

    So true @ Zeph. I wonder if the women of wisdom were ever consulted on matters of war

  9. PrettyBelinda PrettyBelinda 7 November 2013

    Leaders, particularly young leaders should be very careful of the infatuation with war.

  10. Kgositsile Mokgosi Kgositsile Mokgosi 8 November 2013

    Most sensible piece I have come across in a long time. It is in fact the desperation of the ANC to be seen as the ‘only’ organisation that ‘liberated’ the country that militarisation has been so propagated. There is not much in the ANC history where they directly got the oppressor against the back wall. From 1912 to 1960 not only were apartheid laws being incrementally promulgated but at no instance did the colonial and apartheid govnt(from 1948) ever consider banning the ANC. The PAC caused a tightening of anti-dissentation laws with the 1960 anti-pass campaign to the extent that it was banned and the ANC had to suffer collateral damage. The fear induced by the oppressors action thereafter was contained by Black Consciousness from 1968. In 1972 the relevance of “non-military” struggle was debated at the SASO conference leading some members not convinced about it to go into exile to join the ANC and participate in the armed struggle. It is history that Biko’s insistence of the relevance of internal non-military struggle ultimately brought apartheid down since the repeal of apartheid laws began in 1978 after 1976 and Biko’s death. Only then did the apartheid architects start talking of “adapt or die”. As the ANC woke up in the 80s the only thing to show was Umkhonto we Sizwe and though it had never captured even 1 square cm of SA it’s imagined might was believable. Impressionable youth want to emulate this myth. Siphokazi’s piece gives hope for brain power to sort…

  11. Sterling Ferguson Sterling Ferguson 10 November 2013

    @Mokgosi, there is an article written by Richard Cumming calls ” A diamond is Forever” in this article he says the same thing you are saying. He says it was PAC that did all of the fighting and the ANC spent most of their times fighting with each others. Richard Cumming was a CIA agency from the US station in Southern Africa and he wrote about his experience to set the record straight. In this article he claims it was the US that installed Mugabe to power in Zim. and it was Andrew Young that pushed for Mugabe to be made president because he was anti-communists. He says in this article that the US was bankrolling the ANC and most of the money disappeared. When PAC held the protest at Sharpville the ANC refused to take part in this protest that led to many people being killed.

  12. Tofolux Tofolux 11 November 2013

    @Siphokazi the role and relevance of eff, is nothing but hot-air and pipe-dreams. This notion of militarism is null and void noting that none of the so-called leaders can claim to have spent one day in the military. Hence why are we giving them any relevance other than to interrogate why they exist and for what reason other than job creation for themselves.
    I however think that this platform should be better used to interrogate the brainwashing of history as portrayed by mockgosi and sterling.

  13. MrK MrK 18 November 2013

    ” However it is certainly a real symbolic power in the fact that young people in South Africa are to be called to the “battlefront” in a country where they are often silenced for not having struggle history. The return of the warrior citizen perhaps opens up a space for the young to get their “badge of honour”. ”

    Wow. Sarcasm. Now if only the DA would address the issues raised by the EFF – land redistribution, mine and bank nationalisation, free education, free healthcare and building infrastructure.

    ” The beret places the soldier at the top of the hierarchy in how we think of revolution instead of offering new and interesting ways in which we can think about revolution without emphasising military cultures that we now know to be problematic. ”

    Ever heard of Hugo Chavez?

  14. francois williams francois williams 25 December 2013

    SA women still doing well compared to USA for example…

  15. S'ma S'ma 22 January 2014

    Wow Siphokazi, indeed a compelling argument you brought forth here. It is just unfortunate that as I see it, Juju and his disgruntled followers from the ANC youth league are driven by rage and the intense need to avenge to the ANC and power. This is evident from their so called economic policies that do not hold water in this day and age. As for the militarization of their struggle, we cannot afford to go back there. Indeed our history has brought forth a number of living and dead unacknowledged physical and psychological casualties in South Africa that to this day are suffering the repercussions of the spade of military violence of the 1980s and the early 1990s. I am not sure as whether one should take EFF serious on militarization of the struggle in the current post-apartheid era, as it seems absolutely irrelevant and self-defeating agenda. I agree with those who seem to believe that Malema’s stance calls for the rude awakening of our dear brothers and sisters in the ruling ANC that our people’s patience is gradually wearing thinner as they continue to live in squalor and abject poverty. The current spade of service delivery protests are evident to this, and on mere observation the red berets are gradually gaining popularity among the youth in poverty stricken communities. Sadly, EFF’s military agenda may provide the helpless, unemployed youth with an alternative agenda with the hope to gain bread and milk. Siphokazi, you have also rightfully situated the challenge of…

Leave a Reply