The results of the local government elections confirmed what we’ve always suspected: the electorate is not stupid. They cannot be bought and will always have the last laugh and say. The lessons are different for every party. The ruling party’s bloodied nose is the most obvious lesson for all to see. Arrogance doesn’t pay. The DA has learnt that hard work pays off, but there seems to be an unspoken consensus on everyone’s part to ignore what I regard as perhaps the biggest lesson of these elections. The Economic Freedom Fighters(EFF) is the elephant in the room. A growing angry elephant, and the room will soon be too small.
Before branding me an alarmist or an EFF sympathiser, hear me out. In the 2014 national election the newcomers took home up to 25 seats out of 400, yet had an impact on the proceedings in parliament as though it had the same number of seats at the DA, perhaps even more. Yes, yes their tactics were deplorable at times but I bet no single party or event has had so much of an effect on parliament as their tactics did. Even those who swore they would never watch television went and dusted off their black-and-white sets just to view the circus that was parliament. In an unsavoury sort of way, they forced the public protector’s report to take national centre stage. And the voting public listened. The beneficiaries were both the DA and EFF. But in terms of stature, no party grew like the EFF did.
They have increased their 1 169 000 votes in the 2014 national elections by nearly 800 000 in these elections. Granted, they never won a single municipality, but that might be a blessing in disguise for the Fighters, in that they will never have to be tested on what some voters are uneasy with: whether the public purse will be in safe hands given some of their leaders’ track record as officials in the ruling party’s youth league in the past. However, they did emerge as kingmakers, an opportunity they might take or pass up on. They made their point, and will not fade into oblivion like the Copes, Agangs and other offshoots of the ruling party. Increasing their votes by almost 1 million in two years is an amazing feat.
Depending on what the coalition talks spew out, the EFF could actually emerge from these local government elections as the game-changers. But erstwhile German leader Bismarck once said of coalitions: “Coalitions are like German sausages. You don’t want know how they are made.” Having spent some time in a butchery that made sausages, I agree. But either way, the EFF has shown they are made of sterner stuff.
They could actually force not only the ruling party but even those to the right of the ANC to look at that other question seriously: the land issue. If their utterances are anything to go by, the EFF will not be moved on what they consider the stumbling block to social justice in South Africa: the return of the land.
Before frothing at the mouth at the mention of the return of the land, maybe consider a few things. The bulk of the EFF is made up of disenchanted youth who feel that, after two decades at the helm, the ANC has not done enough to lighten the economic burden on the majority of this country. That almost one and a half million of them are willing to put their cross next to the name of a movement whose rallying call is the return of the land should make even the most dismissive of critics sit up and take notice. Remember, these elections actually showed that more than 42% of registered eligible voters chose not to vote.
However you work the maths out, the emergence of the EFF as the voice of the “sidelined” means that a large section of those who chose not to vote may have an unofficial spokesperson in the form of the EFF. More telling is the fact that these are not concentrated in any particular area of South Africa. They EFF managed to get as many votes as they did without capturing a municipality simply because they are all over the country. The potential for the growth of this little elephant in the room is ernomous.
More disturbing though is the continued boasting by some shortsighted analysts that this radical party has been shown not to have considerable support.
It would be very prudent of whoever ends up governing in the metros to consider the EFF a major player, not because of their title as kingmakers, but because of the potential they have to turn things upside down, as they did parliament. I don’t know about you, but I feel the best way to confront the growing discontent is to engage with it and seek solutions, not hurls insults at it because you don’t like it.
What if there was an economic Codesa like some scenario planners have suggested, and that economic Codesa looked at everything to do with social and economic redress that the disenchanted youth is saying are the continued causes of the inequality in this country? In other words, what if the EFF were considered a major player, not simply based on numbers but based on the gravity of their call in the economic arena of this country? What if we used these election results to navigate our way into what is now seen as the murky mix of land reform, social inequality and injustice? I don’t have all the answers but of one thing I’m certain: this growing elephant has the potential to bring the whole house down if not attended to right now.