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Assessing the red berets, eight years on

This week the Economic Freedom Fighters celebrated eight years since it first launched on the back of leader Julius Malema’s expulsion from the ANC Youth League. 

While many have been appalled by the EFF’s politics of chauvinism, fearing the party wouldn’t toe the democratic line, Malema and co have largely worked within the system and followed the rules. Mostly. It’s a measure of the strength of our election systems and courts that the EFF hasn’t headed up a populist uprising – it last scored just 10.80% of the vote. As the youngest mainstream party it certainly has an outsized influence compared to its share of the vote and has driven conversations like #PayBackTheMoney, #FeesMustFall and #BringBackTheLand in parliament. The “fighters” have loads of energy and should be commended for their focus on education – they’re probably the most educated politicians around – and their brave stance against xenophobia, which hasn’t gone down well with many of their supporters. 

But the party also disappoints too often, mostly in its flip-flopping on crucial issues, and its tendency towards racist, sexist and other deeply problematic statements and politics – not to mention sheer bullying and allegations of corruption. When its members do the hard work of being lawmakers in parliament’s many committees they really shine – Floyd Shivambu’s grasp of corporate tax evasion is impressive. But they don’t do this enough. 

The focus should have been on its achievements this week. Instead, the party was at the centre of an uproar. The party’s Twitter account posted a congratulatory video from DJ Fresh, an accused rapist who has been removed from his 94.7 show over the allegation (which he denies). Feminists within the parties criticised the decision to leave the post up. It was especially disturbing to see followers of the party who reacted to criticism by threatening DJ Fresh’s accuser with rape and violence. Leading feminist activists – some of them, like Simamkele Dlakavu, long-standing members of the party – have publicly denounced the EFF, vowing never to vote for it again. 

This article appeared as part of The Wrap, 29 July 2021. Sign up to receive our weekly updates.