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EFF supporters. Picture: SANDILE NDLOVU
EFF supporters. Picture: SANDILE NDLOVU

Nothing agitates me more than the constant references to the EFF in the media as the party of “the Left”.

I say this as someone who considers himself to be a long-standing member of the Left (though several of my comrades may dispute this self-identification). And so I want to weep when a left ascription is bestowed upon the EFF by someone who is on the Left and leads an organisation with strong left-wing origins and traditions.

The source of my aggravation is a recent statement by Cosatu president Zingiswa Losi proposing that should a post-election ANC find that to remain in government it needs to form a coalition with either the EFF or the DA, it should look to the “left” and opt for the EFF.

What makes her believe the EFF is of the Left? That it provides the most entertaining circuses while promising — literally — the earth and more? That it rages on about nationalisation? That it has successfully developed a cult around its leader? 

Socialist the EFF certainly is, but of the national socialist variety circa the 1930s. Wait until, having smashed its way into government on the backs of ANC voters it replaces its performative working-class uniform with real police and military gear. Comrade Losi will contemplate her life under a “left” EFF government from a prison cell!

If you haven’t picked this up already, I believe that under any circumstances an ANC-EFF alliance is the last stop on the road to perdition for the ANC and the country.

What I will concede is that the EFF has the most effective political leader in the country. Whether in demagogic mode or analytical mode, Julius Malema really understands retail politics; he understands that electoral politics is about public communication.

Compare Malema’s approach to public communication with the timid hesitancy of ANC leaders as they attempt to hold their fractured organisation together. Or to the pompous tone of the DA leadership as they communicate publicly, but in reality with their same old fixation on their white and business constituencies.

If the ANC scores 45% or more in the national elections it will be able to purchase the support of a few of the small parties, and it will be business as usual. By which I mean the country will continue to muddle along, rudderless, at least until the next election.

However, if the ANC scores as low in national elections as some polls are predicting it will be confronted with a choice between a coalition with the EFF or with the DA, a real case of Hobson’s choice if ever there was one because much as I abhor the notion of an ANC-EFF coalition government, so too do I understand the Cosatu president’s disquiet at the idea of an ANC-DA coalition.

You have to wonder whether the DA is really in the business of seeking political power. Take its economic policies. While impressive in their comprehensive sweep, they employ every dog-whistle in the book that is guaranteed to alienate the vast majority of black voters.

Affirmative action? No. BEE? No. A wide-ranging wage freeze? Yes. Exemptions from minimum wages? Yes. And while its dislikes are quite specific, the alternatives are at a high level of generality, most beyond the capacity of our incapable state. In the process it manages to alienate organised black business and labour interests.

When this is combined with the reasonable impression that every substantial black leader who managed to rise in the DA ranks is sooner or later ejected, you have a party that has reached the ceiling of its electoral possibilities.

Alienating the unions alone may come with a high price for the country. As the Cosatu president’s expressed preferences indicate, it may well lead to a coalition between the ANC and the EFF, precisely the “doomsday pact” the DA says it is dedicated to preventing.

The DA leadership will respond that all of this reasoning is meaningless because they have made a loud public commitment to never enter into a coalition with the ANC, though it is rumoured that there is some behind-the-scenes discussion to the contrary. I hope this rumour is true. At least it would demonstrate that someone in the DA understands that while revolutions may be won or lost by the Left and the right, elections are won at the centre.

The party will need to come to terms with the need for black leadership. I would vouch that the DA’s inability to accept black leadership of the party will, on its own, prevent a meaningful relationship with any other political party.

The tactical ineptitude of the DA national leadership isn’t cause for celebration. There are some vital lessons it could impart to other parties. It has some excellent representatives. My representative in suburban Johannesburg, Bridget Steer, is everything one could want in a local government representative. Chris Pappas, the DA’s candidate for KwaZulu-Natal provincial leadership, is by all accounts a breath of fresh air in local government, as is apparently Cape Town mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis.

Contrast the quiet dignity with which Mpho Phalatse briefly led Johannesburg with the hapless puppets that have succeeded her. Jack Bloom, the long-standing DA Gauteng health spokesperson, is a more engaged and empathetic spokesperson for the abused consumers of public health in the province than the combined useless MECs for health that have served during his tenure.

But what to do come elections? I’m aware that one reading of this analysis is to vote for the ANC to help give it the 50% plus one vote that will keep the ultra-right EFF out of national power. But I’m not convinced this will achieve anything more than kicking the can down the road.

However, I am certain that I couldn’t live with myself and vote for the Gauteng provincial ANC. It runs one of the most incompetent, corrupt governments in the country. I think maybe I should vote for the provincial DA, but I’m so unimpressed by its national leadership that I don’t think I could cast a vote for it either.

So I think about the small parties, but I want to be persuaded that I’m not simply registering a protest vote or voting for a small self-interested handful of people who are in effect applying for a job. The only small party I’m persuaded is here for the long haul and whose leadership is honest, modest and progressive is Rise Mzansi, a view I have in common with many of my peer group, including a great many of my comrades, old and new.

I don’t believe the stasis in SA politics is going to be resolved until there is a realignment of party politics, one that sees the corrupt and right-wing factions of the ANC coalesce with the EFF; that sees the progressive factions of the DA align with the centrists of the ANC; that sees the small parties gravitate towards and be accepted in their obvious homes. 

The trick is going to be to cast my vote for the party most likely to contribute to this realignment. Again I see Rise Mzansi as the one party that is most open to working with progressives in all parties, though I’m aware of its stated commitment to reject a post-election coalition with the ANC.

I would prefer a position that starts with “it depends...”. Never is a long time in politics.

• Lewis, a former trade unionist, academic, policymaker, regulator and company board member, was a cofounder and director of Corruption Watch.

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