My previous column elicited a wide range of public and private responses that have caused me to reflect again on my decision to vote for the EFF in 2014.
Having considered most of these arguments – and more – before stating my intention to vote for the EFF, I think that I owe it to those who have thoughtfully responded to that column and to those who are genuinely wrestling with who to vote for, to address these questions a little more.
1. THE EFF’S ECONOMIC POLICIES WILL RUIN THE COUNTRY.
The ANC and DA have similar economic policies that, for example, emphasize growth as a prerequisite for job creation. However, lessons from our continent which hosts seven of the fastest-growing economies in the world, show that GDP growth does not necessarily translate into better employment prospects or higher development indicators for the citizens of those countries. On the contrary, such growth has often resulted in the (relatively) rich getting wealthier while inequality, job losses and unemployment (direct results of these economic policies) ruin many people’s lives. Inequality and poverty are deepened and thus impact on the economy as we witness daily through regular protest actions, strikes, crime, etc that impact on investment and the volatility of our currency. This is the context for the EFF’s policies on nationalization and land redistribution that will, at the very minimum, contribute to a necessary national debate (perhaps an economic CODESA?) about the best policies to address our key challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality, since the economic policies that we currently have are not working, except for an elite.
2. THE EFF’S MILITANT RACE LANGUAGE MAKES IT IMPOSSIBLE FOR THOSE WHO BELIEVE IN A NON-RACIAL SOCIETY TO VOTE FOR IT
The widely-held view – backed by facts – is that while black people have political power, whites maintain ownership of the key levers of economic power. At least part of the anger vented against the ANC is that “clever whites” have “bought” the ANC’s key leadership and made them turn against the interests of the majority of people. The Diagnostic Study of the National Planning Commission shows that income for both the top 20% and the bottom 20% increased by 45% over an extended period of time, but obviously, this was off substantially different bases, thereby increasing inequality. The “rainbow nation” exists only for a multi-racial elite, while most people who are poor are excluded socially. Until the gap between those who have (many of them white) and those who don’t (overwhelmingly black) is closed, we should expect to have more militant race-based language.
3. IF YOU ARE AGAINST CORRUPTION AND ARE NOT VOTING FOR THE RULING PARTY BECAUSE OF ITS PROMOTION AND DEFENCE OF CORRUPT ACTIVITIES, HOW CAN YOU VOTE FOR A PARTY WHOSE LEADER IS FACING CORRUPTION CHARGES AND WHO CLEARLY OBTAINED MUCH OF HIS WEALTH THROUGH CORRUPT ACTIVITIES?
Corruption is indeed a major scourge of our times. It is indefensible and anyone – including Malema – charged with corruption, should be tried in court and face the consequences, rather than being slapped over the wrists or having charges withdrawn as we have seen on too many occasions.
I – as I’m sure would anyone, including those who will vote for the ANC – would prefer to vote for a party whose leadership was not facing corruption charges or tainted by corruption; that I have chosen to vote for the EFF in such circumstances, reflects the limited options we have available at this time.
Corruption is not only a political and economic issue; it is also an ethical or moral one. In the same way as apartheid was a moral – as well as a political and economic – issue, so inequality and poverty today are not only economic and political challenges, they also represent a deeply moral challenge.
It is by no means a justification or defence of corruption or of the corrupt, but in my view, those who often take the moral high ground on corruption, display much less fervor with regard to the moral challenges of poverty and inequality, mainly because they are generally well off. The policies of the two ruling parties in the country – the ANC and the DA – have not only failed to address the fundamentally moral issues of poverty and inequality, they have actively contributed to these.
The EFF is a vehicle – indeed, an ironic and by no means a perfect one – to foreground the political, economic and moral questions to do with growing inequality and poverty that affect the majority of our citizens.
4. BY VOTING FOR THE EFF, YOU WILL BE EMPOWERING MALEMA WHO IS A RISING TYRANT, A FASCIST, A DEMAGOGUE WHO REVERES MUGABE AND A NON-DEMOCRAT IN THAT HE HAS NOT BEEN ELECTED BY PARTY MEMBERS.
One does not have to be a member to vote for any party, and by voting for a party, one does not necessarily endorse all its policies, practices or utterances of its leadership. From the electoral challenge to his ANC presidency at Mangaung and the jeers he received at Madiba’s memorial, it is clear that many will vote for the ANC while not necessarily endorsing Zuma’s leadership. Similarly, not all who vote for the DA support its black empowerment policies (whatever these may be today), nor necessarily appreciate Zille’s style of leadership.
Mamphele Ramphele has not been elected by party members yet, and COPE only sorted out its leadership issues through an elective conference more than 5 years after its launch.
My basic point – a theme recurrent through most of my arguments – is that the stark and gross inequalities with its attendant unemployment, poverty and social challenges, create the conditions in which militancy, anti-democratic (in a middle class sense) behavior, demagoguery, radical economic proposals, etc take root and are given expression. Our general inclination often is to respond to the symptoms, while caring little for the deep causes of unhappiness in our society.
5. THE EFF IS OPPORTUNISTIC; FOR EXAMPLE, SEE ITS ALLIANCE WITH THE IFP
The EFF is facing criticism from within its own ranks for its apparent electoral alliance with the IFP which “has black blood on its hands”. As I understand it though, the EFF is keen to campaign in Zuma’s heartland and most important electoral base, KwaZulu Natal. Most past elections have seen rising tensions between the IFP and ANC supporters in that province that have led to blood been spilt. I may be wrong, but the meeting between the EFF and the IFP was to anticipate such tensions between the parties and to reach an agreement that the EFF could campaign in the region without the threat of violence from the IFP.
Even if it is some kind of electoral alliance though, how different – or more opportunistic – is this than the very foundations of the Democratic Alliance as an amalgamation of apartheid’s ruling party and the opposition party of the apartheid era? Or the embracing of the leadership of the National Party (now there’s a party with black blood on its hands!) by the ANC, with a former leader of that party serving in the ANC government’s cabinet, and with members of parties in the tricameral parliamentary system now also senior members of the ANC?
6. IF THEY COME INTO POWER, THE EFF WILL DESTROY THE ARTS
This is one of the arguments that I had NOT considered. Perhaps because it is irrational and baseless? This is a case of “giving a dog a bad name….”. Fana Mokoena – a well-known actor – is in the leadership of the EFF, and is unlikely to be there if the EFF is set on “destroying the arts”. The arts and culture sector would do well at this point in our democracy to reflect on where it is located within our society and on whose interests it serves.
7. IF ONE IS VOTING TACTICALLY TO REDUCE SUPPORT FOR THE ANC, WHY NOT VOTE FOR THE DA WITH ITS PROVEN TRACK RECORD?
Even its harshest critics grudgingly concede that the DA has a sound governance record relative to the ANC at national and provincial levels and when using independent indicators such as the reports of the Auditor General. However, the economic policies of the DA are similar to those of the ANC, and inequality, poverty and unemployment are – while below the national averages – very high in a DA-run province and city that pride themselves in their economic and governance records, begging the questions, economic growth and governance for whom?
It is in answer to the latter question that the DA fails dismally for while the electorate in the Western Cape is more than 80% black (in its broad definition) and with more than 50% women, the 11-person provincial cabinet comprises one woman (the premier) and 7 white people. The governing semiotics are just plain wrong and gives credence to Ramaphosa’s crude electioneering when he suggested that people had better vote for the ANC, or the boers will return!
Similarly, the Cape Town’s mayoral committee comprises a majority of white members, despite the electorate here too being overwhelmingly black. The very real perception is that the DA first and foremost promotes and defends the interests of those privileged under apartheid. Many DA supporters cannot understand why it is that black voters – disillusioned by the ANC – nevertheless vote for the ANC. Maybe it’s because the majority of people remember what it was like to live under a white minority government? The DA’s record in the City of Cape Town and in the Western Cape perpetuates white minority rule and as such have given the perfect sticks to the ANC and the EFF with which to beat it. When the DA – with its roots in the National Party and Democratic Party of the apartheid era – appoints a government with nearly two-thirds of its cabinet being white in a province where more than 80% of the electorate is black, can its supporters really wonder why it is that there is such antagonism towards it, such anti-white sentiment, such rising militancy?
In the context of the 2014 elections and with the options available to us (COPE will be punished by the voters rightly for its leadership battles and with rumours of AGANG imploding financially, losing staff, as well as the DA indicating that they are preserving a position on their list for Ramphele, voters would shy away from this option), there is little doubt in my mind that the EFF represents the best option to reduce the electoral power of the ANC, and through its militant language, policies and actions that will indeed threaten the status quo, perhaps force those in power more urgently to address the moral questions of inequality and poverty that, twenty years into our democracy, have worsened the lives of many of our citizens.
We are in a watershed year that will help to change our political landscape for the better. The decision by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) to withdraw its electoral support for the ANC is significant not only because of the potential loss of votes for the ANC, but because of NUMSA’s decision to explore the establishment of a new political party. The manner in which it is going about this at the moment – consulting broadly with all progressive sectors of civil society – may lead to a “bottom up” party with a community base and structure not unlike that of the United Democratic Front.
By the municipal elections in 2016, I would hope that the voting options available to us would be more principled, more democratic, more disciplined, more rooted in communities to take up their struggles on a daily basis than only to use them as voting fodder to serve elite interests.
Voting EFF in 2014 will help to rupture the political status quo towards this end.