Radical opposition party advocating seizure of white-owned farms set to surge in South Africa’s election

When South Africa goes to the polls on Wednesday, only one party looks certain to increase its share of the vote.

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) advocates the seizure of all white-owned farms and the nationalisation of much of the economy.

Its leader Julius Malema frequently indulges in race-baiting rhetoric to advance his cause, once declaring that “we are not calling for the slaughtering of white people — at least for now”.

That a party whose red-bereted followers stage violent protests, ransack shops and threaten journalists is gaining such traction speaks volumes about the scale of disillusionment in South Africa 25 years after the end of white rule.

The EFF has no chance of winning the election. But, should it double its share of the vote to 12 percent, as some polls predict, it will be in a strong position to influence South African politics, possibly pulling the ruling African National Congress onto a more populist trajectory.

Mr Malema, who formed the party after he was expelled from the ANC in 2013, has built his support base on a simple message: the end of apartheid may have brought black South Africans political liberty but it has not brought them “economic freedom”.

In a country ranked in some studies as the most unequal in the world, most of the country’s wealth and much of its privately owned farmland is still under white control. That distortion, he says, is mostly the fault of the whites, who must be forced to surrender wealth because they are not willing to share it.

EFF supporters hold a mock coffin bearing the face of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) President Cyril Ramaphosa - Credit: AFP
EFF supporters hold a mock coffin bearing the face of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) President Cyril Ramaphosa Credit: AFP

“White people, you will no longer eat alone,” he warned, as he addressed his final rally in Johannesburg’s Soweto township on Sunday. “We’re coming to sit at the dinner table and, if you’re refusing us, we’re going to destroy that dinner table. No-one is going to eat.”

Such demagoguery plays well to the EFF’s core, many of whom are young and share Mr Malema’s belief that Nelson Mandela “sold out” black South Africans by being too conciliatory to the white minority.

But others are contemplating casting their ballots for the EFF as a protest, angered by the ANC’s failure to lower unemployment and the astonishing corruption that took place during the presidency of Jacob Zuma between 2009 and 2017.

“It is unbelievable how much they stole,” said Nkululeko Duze, an unemployed man from the Johannesburg township of Alexandra, who says he is thinking of transferring his vote from the ANC to the EFF for the first time.

“Under apartheid there was corruption but at least they got things done. The ANC has been so busy stealing it has no time to get things done.”

Cyril Ramaphosa, who replaced Mr Zuma as president last year, has pledged to revitalise a sclerotic economy and hopes to root out corruption.

His room for manoeuvre, however, could be limited by a poor showing in the election. Some opinion polls suggest the ANC could win as little as 51 percent of the vote, down from 62 percent under Mr Zuma in 2014.

The EFF is unlikely to form the official opposition, with the pro-market Democratic Alliance (DA) likely to come close to the 22 percent it polled in 2014.

In Mmusi Maimane, the DA has a black leader for the first time in its history, the party is still seen as representing the interests of South Africa’s white, Asian and mixed-race minorities and some analysts believe it has reached a “glass ceiling”.

The EFF, however, is far more dangerous to the ANC because it can peel off black South African voters.

Should Wednesday’s election give it momentum, Mr Ramaphosa could be vulnerable to his ANC foes, both from the left of the party, where sympathy for the EFF runs deep, and from Zuma-era holdovers who fear prosecution.

At the very least, they will press him to adopt a more radical approach to the proposed seizure of white-owned farms without compensation. It could even lead to an internal coup against Mr Ramaphosa.

South Africa’s election could, some analysts warn, leave the country with the worst of all worlds: a reformist president too weak to enact reforms, a moderate opposition with little influence and a populist party gaining momentum.


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