Predictably, just as the EFF wanted, it has received inordinate attention for its spectacularly shocking, but essentially silly, antics at the 2020 opening of parliament and state of the nation address (Sona). Conscious that the focus of this article gives undue attention to the EFF, it is nevertheless worth risking the attention to fully expose the futility and danger inherent in this kind of politics.     

A few days before the opening of parliament the EFF signalled its intention to disrupt proceedings, ostensibly to demand that President Cyril Ramaphosa remove Pravin Gordhan from the cabinet — the same Gordhan they wished to disrupt the 2017 Sona for, to protect him from Jacob Zuma.

2020's Sona was eventually disrupted instead because of the presence of FW de Klerk, the last remaining apartheid president but also its reformer. During the week preceding the Sona, De Klerk gave an interview in which he said that he did not believe apartheid was a crime against humanity. It bears mentioning that this view is De Klerk’s standard stock in trade. This was viewed as a tactical blindsiding of the ANC by the EFF.

The EFF’s Sona disruption was consequently (mis)writ large as a tactical victory, in which the EFF exposed the ANC by forcing it into a moral quandary — to defend De Klerk's presence, especially after he had rehearsed his tired trick of disputing that apartheid was a crime against humanity. After a predictable weekend brouhaha, four days later De Klerk and his foundation retracted their statements and apologised.

Incidentally, De Klerk has apologised for apartheid previously. These apologies did not absolve him of any moral responsibility for apartheid and its excesses. What victory — or virtue — is there in getting him to apologise again? It neither rehabilitates him as a moral agent, nor establishes any further moral principle.

What now? Has the saga advanced SA’s political debate, or aided its development trajectory? It neither establishes ethical principle nor serves any developmental instrumental purpose — other than to centre the EFF in the media. Looking for a discernible public interest rationale behind the EFF's behaviour is akin to seeking reason amid unreason. The EFF strategy is simple, and can be summed up by the “five Ds”: divide, distract, disrupt, destabilise and destroy.

Let’s first dispense with the canard that the EFF’s series of sequential disruptions of institutions is “brilliant high political strategy” (as one commentator lavishly called it). In fact, if anything it has served to impede oversight, retard accountability and undermine effective policy. The EFF’s disruption of Sona based on De Klerk's presence was futile — it neither compelled the ANC to defend De Klerk (he was never under attack), nor was it calibrated to compel De Klerk to commit an act of moral compunction.

De Klerk has previously, in equal measure, both denied that apartheid was a crime against humanity while simultaneously characterising it as “reprehensible” and apologising for it. He has done the same again. Equivocated.

As does the EFF. There is little, if anything, the party is consistent on. It stands for no principle. Lacking a coherent policy framework, it vacillates on all issues, mimicking colonial behaviour through crude racial stereotyping and thriving on social division and organisational fragmentation. Its favourite pastime seems to be the destabilisation of finely crafted indigenous institutions and the post-apartheid democratic governance architecture. But to what end?

The ambitions of its leaders are two-fold. First, to remain immunised from prosecution for a range of criminal acts, and second to ascend to positions of power and influence to commandeer public procurement, tenders and state contracts and influence public spending in ways that channel rents for corrupt predatory ends.

To this end the EFF may find common cause with disgruntled ANC factions in the recidivist anti-Ramaphosa factions of the ANC. Exacerbated by situational alliances with anti-Ramaphosa ANC factions and the enduring manipulation, influence and abuse of the EFF from within sections of the ANC, incentivises anti-reform ANC elements to feed information to the EFF to fight internal ANC battles.

Latching on to the fault lines of social cleavage and division — race, inequality, unemployment and poverty — exploits these genuine concerns as a mask to justify capricious policy and procedural, process, and ultimately institutional debasement, in an essentially fake attempt at retributive, rather than redistributive or restorative justice.

The EFF’s puerile behaviour has exposed the shallowness of its claims to be the ideological inheritors of a “black consciousness” tradition. A “black conscious” party would not be affronted by the inconsequential presence of De Klerk, who was in fact at parliament by virtue of having been deputy president of the republic in Nelson Mandela’s government.

If De Klerk’s presence is really as odious as is claimed, one wonders why the EFF does not raise objections to the presence of Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who stands accused of colluding with, aiding and abetting De Klerk (in particular) and propping up the apartheid system in general. Of course, Buthelezi is a legitimately elected MP, but there is a moral equivalence between De Klerk’s crimes and those Buthelezi is accused of (the late Harry Gwala, ANC KwaZulu-Natal Midlands leader believed them to be a great deal more odious).

The “divide, distract, disrupt, destabilise and destroy” strategy did achieve huge publicity for the EFF, help launch its election campaign and strengthen its hand to bargain for positions of influence with the ANC. If the latter is not achieved it at least destabilises the ANC sufficiently to divide it further. In this the EFF has been aided by an unwitting media establishment, which serves as uncritical stenographers for the EFF, its leaders and its spectacle politics.    

In the long term, this mode of behaviour, especially at parliament, is likely to denude the independence and autonomy of the legislative arm of government. Law and policy-making processes, effective representation and responsiveness, oversight, accountability and support of the constitutional order as a whole will be undermined, which will incentivise and strengthen executive rule and rule of the executive by decree.

This is what Zuma and his supporters were aiming for in trumpeting crude majority rule unconstrained by limits on executive authority, and it is what the EFF’s type of politics is likely to spawn. This is an abiding hallmark of apartheid governance. It is essentially what the EFF mimics, in spite of its furious denials.

• Fakir is director of programmes at the Auwal Socio Economic Research Institute  

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