Bedevilled by factions will EFF follow path of COPE?

VIOLENT scenes of street fighting among members of the EFF since its first national elective conference last December could easily heighten speculation that the party will end up imploding like the other ANC breakaway before it, the Congress of the People.

However, ideas about an implosion are not supported by facts.

The EFF has a lot more going for it than COPE, including reasonably legitimate branch structures and organisational protocol, and it is unlikely to suffer major setbacks as a result of infighting. Unlike COPE, the EFF’s centre of gravity is its commander-in-chief, Julius Malema.

COPE battled with factions aligned to two strong leaders in their own right – Mosiuoa Lekota and Mbhazima Shilowa. The individuals opposing Malema were relatively unknown before their foray into politics on an EFF ticket. Before any consensus was reached over the party’s constitution and policies, the battles in COPE reached the courts.

The EFF’s policies and constitution were in place before its congress and cemented when the party elected new leaders last December in Mangaung.

The EFF, formed in December 2013, has become the closest alternative for disgruntled traditional ANC voters in places where the official opposition, the DA, finds itself hamstrung by its structural limitations. Last month Malema’s supporters clashed with party MP Andile Mngxitama in the streets of Cape Town after he tried to brief the media about the alleged financial irregularities in the party. A week later, tight security prevented a similar clash at a briefing in Johannesburg. Mngxitama was seen as favouring EFF MP Khanysile Litchfield-Tshabalala to become Malema’s deputy at the party’s elective conference in December. Had she won, she would have been in pole position to succeed Malema.

But Malema preferred his old friend and ally Floyd Shivambu for the post. Both Mngxitama and Litchfield-Tshabalala are scholars of black consciousness ideology and pan-Africanism. Litchfield-Tshabalala is also a former member of the ANC’s military wing, uMkhonto weSizwe, together with ousted EFF founding leader and MP Mpho Ramakatsa. Adding former liberation soldier and EFF MP Lucky Twala into the picture completes the foursome of rebel MPs who have challenged Malema’s authority.

Their immediate dilemma, however, is that none of them came to the EFF with a significant constituency, except for Ramakatsa, who enjoys some support in the Free State. Though Mngxitama is an asset to the EFF – so much so that Malema’s group tried to bring him back into the fold – he lacks a sizable constituency. Essentially, the EFF’s Mangaung national conference was a contest between a tag team of former soldiers and black consciousness proponents against the youth leaguers who were with Malema and Shivambu before the duo were kicked out from the ANC and its youth wing. The current internal wrangling in the EFF at a national level anyway, is an extension of that clash of ideas. Political analyst Anthony Butler says though the EFF and COPE were both formed by losing factions in ANC conferences, the EFF is unlikely to face paralysis like COPE. He says the competition between Shilowa and Lekota, both with “similar stature and political experience”, made it difficult for COPE to find compromises. Butler says “the rebels are relatively inexperienced and very ideological”.

However, both Malema and Shivambu have scored an own goal in that they are known for their flamboyant lifestyles and expensive tastes. Public displays of opulence may not always square up with what’s expected of self-proclaimed revolutionary leaders. Mngxitama and his group are convinced that potential irregularities in the EFF’s finances are likely to come back and bite both Malema and Shivambu. Mngxitama told a media briefing last month that evidence, including that of an assassination plot against him and Ramakatsa, will be revealed when upcoming court processes unfold. Until then, unsubstantiated allegations are unlikely to loosen Malema’s grip on the EFF.

Meanwhile in the Eastern Cape the picture appears to have a slightly different texture. The party is deeply and violently divided although the cause of the friction could be financial rather than ideological although this is not entirely clear. Last week the party’s legislature leader Themba Wele – one of two EFF MPLs in Bhisho – was served with a letter of suspension for allegedly breaching organisational disciplinary code. It was also noted that his “unbecoming behaviour has been observed for sometime”. He was also accused of creating a parallel structure in the Eastern Cape and appointing a secretary without permission from the top. He had “developed arrogance which we do not know where it comes from. His behaviour lately is defiant and uncalled for. He forgets he is a party deployee and accounts to the party for anything,” said EFF provincial spokesman Luthando Amos.

Wele however, claims he is being “persecuted” because he started to inquire about legislature funds, which he claims had gone missing and had been “misused by some in the provincial and national leadership”. Wele has written to legislature speaker Noxolo Kiviet asking the institution to investigate how EFF funds are being used. Wele was once a close ally of Malema but was relieved of the leadership of the province at a special meeting chaired by Malema in Mthatha last year.

Tensions in the province escalated so badly at the end of last month that two EFF leaders face charges of malicious damage to property after being involved in a fist fight with a fellow member Andile Gqitani at the legislature. Provincial coordinator Simcelile Rubela and convenor Vuyisile Schoeman were arrested for allegedly having a punch up with a fellow member, Andile Gqitani, an ally of Wele. Whether the party structures in the Eastern Cape have sufficient substance to overcome these challenges remains to be seen. Setumo Stone writes for Business Day and the Financial Mail. Asanda Nini is the Dispatch’s Bhisho correspondent