I had the privilege of being one of the founding members of the Economic Freedom Fighters when it was established a month and a half ago. One of my responsibilities in the organisation was to do data capturing of volunteers who wanted to join the economic freedom vehicle. In less than a week of the formation of the EFF, there were over 5 000 volunteers captured on the ever-growing spreadsheet. It was impossible to keep up with the incoming messages and emails of people who wanted to form part of the movement. I spent more than eight hours a day compiling data and receiving phone calls from people all across the country and even some parts of the continent; some to make inquiries about how they could join EFF and others simply to let me know that they were excited about the movement. During the two weeks of being in charge of administrative tasks of the EFF, I spoke to people from across all racial backgrounds, from different classes and strata of society. One thing was clear: our people were hungry for the EFF to get off the ground.
I kept asking myself why so many people were buying into the idea of EFF. Firstly, the people at the forefront of the leadership of the organisation were not angels with shining halos. If anything, they are persona non grata for very many people. Floyd Shivambu, derided as an arrogant person with an exaggerated sense of importance, is not one of the most loved people in our country. He is known to insult people, to use vulgar language to journalists and above all, to have scandals that have to do with his own moral conduct. Julius Malema, the man with a golden tongue, has for many years been derided as a loud mouth with barely enough intellectual capacity to hold a decent debate devoid of any insults and mockery of opposition. Those who have served under him and those who have led with him regard him as a tyrant, a bully who does not take kindly to dissenting views. But besides the characters of the founders of the EFF, history is littered with examples of political organisations formed out of splinters from the ANC, or by former members of the ruling party. In 1959 we had the PAC, then the UDM and most recently, Cope, established shortly after the recalling of former president Thabo Mbeki in 2008. None of these organisations have been able to sustain the little support they enjoyed at birth and today, they have all been reduced to mere caricatures and mockeries. So why, despite all this, does EFF enjoy support?
There is no one reason why the EFF has found the support of so many people, the youth in particular. There are a number of factors that contribute to this reality. The one obvious factor is that our people feel let down and hard done by the ANC. Most of those supporting EFF are former and current members of the ANC who are tired of giving support to an organisation that fails to deliver even the most basic of services, such as sanitation and free education.
Hospitals across the country are under-staffed, the education system is falling apart, levels of poverty and unemployment have increased under the leadership of the ruling party, while those who sit in upper echelons of power live in vulgar opulence. This reality has angered our people who see in the EFF a better alternative than what current opposition has to offer. Another factor is that the politics of EFF are politics that the poor identify with. By prioritising the struggle for land and economic freedom in a country where white monopoly capital has cemented its inhuman face, the EFF is able to touch the hearts of the black majority that is landless, disenfranchised and at the receiving end of structural inequalities. The ANC, once a voice for these people, has over the years assumed a posture that is dangerously excluding of its own constituency.
Policies such as Gear and its continental expression Nepad, such as the NDP, which are not working-class friendly, have repelled in particular the educated middle strata, which has an influence in the thinking of the illiterate and less educated in that it transmits information to them (the middle strata writes in newspapers, gives political analyses on radio, TV and spaces where society converges). And another less explored factor is the impact that the Arab Spring uprisings have had on the consciousness of our people.
Over the past four years, we have witnessed how young people in countries across Africa and the Middle East have dared to take on their own governments. We have witnessed the rise of youth activism in the annihilation of undemocratic regimes. We have witnessed revolts and uprisings that have been people-led, and those at the forefront are young people. This has awakened our own young people, who now realise that they have the power to confront a government once thought to be unshakable. That is precisely what EFF has dared to do: it has dared to look the ANC squarely in the eye and say: We the youth of this country demand economic freedom in our lifetime. And we will lead our own struggle because you have failed us! Prevailing material conditions are on the side of this youth. The SA population is comprised of 60% youth, about three million of which, like me, will be voting for the first time next year.
There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come. If the EFF can take the economic freedom struggle programme to its logical conclusion and do things right, we will have winds of change blowing through our country, destroying the choking stench of neo-liberalism that has permeated our country like coiling miasma. Whether EFF lives or dies, one thing is certain, economic freedom is inevitable. Perhaps, in our lifetime.