The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) were once a promising progressive political force. Or at least they showed some promising signs.
At their peak, particularly in the run up to their inaugural national elections in 2014, they injected much-needed political energy and robustness into South Africa’s political dynamics. Their inflammatory rhetoric was taken lightly in the context of electoral politics.
It was a sort of welcome development to have another entity representing more voices. South Africa certainly needs a plurality of political voices, particularly those purporting to be in tune with youth aspirations. We are, after all, a diverse nation with varying but legitimate interests (not to be confused with racial prejudices) that require representation at the highest level of our politics, including government and Parliament.
But a series of statements by EFF leaders on identity, race, ethnicity, citizenship and language shows a party steeped in racial and ethnic chauvinism. Before he became leader of the EFF, Julius Malema seemed to have set the tone for what was to come when he mocked Minister Naledi Pandor’s English accent. Last year, he apologised for it, saying his comments were a result of young age and as a young person he had a license to make mistakes. On the face of it, some could easily say apology accepted and let life go on. And it did go on.
After he became a leader of the EFF Malema questioned the citizenship and the loyalties of Jacob Zuma’s children. (That the twins have been subjected to the corruption of their father is a separate matter). Malema questioned their patriotism on the basis that they were born in Mozambique and spent a part of their early life in eSwatini Kingdom.
It didn’t occur to Malema that you don’t need to be a Mozambican national or Swati to be captured or to rig a tender or two in a government department in Limpopo. Or is it perhaps okay to do wrong things provided you have South African citizenship by birth and you can speak a South African language?
This indeed seems to be the EFF’s criteria when you consider their criticism of the Reserve Bank for placing VBS Mutual Bank under curatorship. The important thing for the EFF was not the corruption and mismanagement of the bank that would eventually rob depositors of their money. No. The important reason why VBS had to be defended at all cost was that it was run by blacks.
While people were still mulling the implications of Malema’s remarks on Zuma’s children, came the attack on Minister Malusi Gigaba, not on the expected basis regarding allegations of corruption and state capture, but purely on the origins of his mother and father. Where they were born was of major concern to Floyd Shivambu, the EFF deputy president and Member of Parliament, during a portfolio committee meeting not convened to probe citizenship of ministers.
If the Shangaan-speaking Shivambu understood the pain people of his ethnic group have suffered over the years simply because they are Shangaan or allegedly come from Mozambique, he would be more sensitive on matters like this. Or could his conduct be another version of “victims becoming killers”, to paraphrase the intellectual Mahmood Mamdani.
The latest from Shivambu’s nativist politics was his suggestion in Parliament that Ismail Momoniat, deputy director-general at Treasury, was undermining African leaders, including his director-general and minister, in the department. Momoniat, a South African of Indian descendants, was accused of usurping the powers of senior African officials in the department because he thinks he is superior to them.
Momoniat has been defended by sympathetic South Africans keen on demonstrating his struggle credentials. There is, of course, nothing wrong with those who choose to use his struggle credentials in his defence because it represents their understanding of the man, his political loyalties and views.
But, his struggle credentials are not really the issue at stake. The real issue is race. Let’s assume that Shivambu was correct that Momoniat performs too many functions at Treasury. The question then is, who gave him those functions? Would it matter if an African, oh sorry, native South African who speaks a vernacular language performed many tasks?
As a Member of Parliament, Shivambu would be within his right to investigate the extent to which some civil servants across government departments are overloaded with a lot of work while others and their political bosses have very little to do.
As part of his investigation Shivambu could consider sending parliamentary questions to all ministers, inquiring about the responsibilities of officials in their departments and the delegation of duties. Upon receiving answers, he could then draft a private member’s bill, call it the Shivambu clause, that would make it a punishable administrative offence to allow “non-Africans” to have more tasks in their departments relative to Africans, oh sorry, South Africans who can prove the place of birth of their parents.
Multitasking, Shivambu’s unconstitutional private member’s bill would propose, would be determined by race. Only South Africans able to prove their place of birth would be allowed to multitask. African leaders who allow “non-Africans” to multitask would be punished severely. They would not be allowed to perform that which is the exclusive preserve of black South Africans whose citizenship has to be scrutinised.
The Shivambu clause would also trigger a constitutional amendment. Section 3 of Chapter One of the Constitution which provides for a “common South African citizenship” would be amended. This amendment would pave the way for a future government led by Shivambu to strip the citizenship of those suspected to have parents who are not originally South African. This provision might also help the EFF government to “cut the throat of whiteness” when necessary.
In that way, the building blocks of the Nativist Republic of South Africa would be firmly in place and the promise of non-racialism in the Constitution will be set aside. It sounds like an impossible nightmare. Until it happens.
– Mkhabela is a political analyst with the Department of Political Sciences at the University of South Africa.
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