Elections Analysis: The Economic Freedom Fighters

Sanja Bornman

By Sanja Bornman 

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EEF) was officially founded on 17 August 2013. Even in the run-up to its registration with the IEC, barely a day has gone by without some mention of the new-comer political party or its “commander in chief” and enfant terrible of South Africans politics, Julius Malema, in the press. There is plenty of controversy and red berets to go around, and love ‘em or hate ‘em, the EFF has certainly made a splash.

But, all knee-jerk reactions to the EFF aside, is this a party that you should vote for if you are a woman, and you value your rights? Is this a party that believes in women’s equality? What are its plans for making women’s equality a lived reality in South Africa, and are those plans any good? Most importantly, is this a party that walks the women’s rights talk?

1.       What is the EEF?

The EFF describes itself as:

… a radical and militant economic emancipation movement that brings together revolutionary, fearless, radical, and militant activists, workers’ movements, nongovernmental organisations, community-based organisations and lobby groups under the umbrella of pursuing the struggle for economic emancipation.”

With a “Commander in Chief”, a “Central Command Team” and members referred to as “fighters”, this party does a lot of fighting talk. Its manifesto and polices, and the speeches of its leaders contain a substantial amount of militaristic jargon. In a recent article, Siphokazi Magadla posits that the EFF heralds the “return of the warrior citizen”, which in turn means that the EFF “continues to privilege military power as signalling ‘real’ transformative power.”

An article in the City Press briefly described the way the EFF’s militarism is playing out in its recent physical presence at voter registration stations. There was marching, military boots, and in some cases, guns – although the latter is not “nationally sanctioned”.

A common position among feminists is that militarism is not only bad for women, but bad for everyone. Prominent academic and feminist, Cynthia Enloe, has long grappled with militarism and has written several books on the matter examining the global efforts of feminist groups to contest militarization.  In fact, the theme of the annual Sixteen Days of Activism Campaign in 2013 is “From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Let’s Challenge Militarism and End Violence Against Women!” One of this year’s key campaign focuses is violence perpetrated by state actors, or state actors who use the threat or act of violence to maintain or attain power.

Confusingly, the EFF leadership has stated that the EFF is “militant, but not militaristic.” Suffice to say that perhaps the extent of the difference between the two, in the case of the EFF, is difficult to assess at this nascent stage of the party.

2.       Gender parity in leadership structures

While having 50% women in party leadership by no means guarantees a party that is responsive to women’s issues, nor a party that actively seeks gender equality in any meaningful way, the Constitution calls for positive action to attain gender equality throughout society. It follows that substantive gender equality must also be attained in political decision-making structures – a notion that would, regardless of personal opinions, be supported by domestic legislation, as well as South Africa’s international law obligations.

The EFF leadership structure, or rather, its “Central Command Team”, consists of 20 individuals. Of the 20 national leaders, only five are women.

On the bright side (kinda), the women leaders are mostly leading in portfolios that are traditionally the ambit of men. Mandisa Makhesini, heads up the Gender portfolio. Tebogo Mokwele heads up Land and Agrarian Reform, Natasha Louw is responsible for Mining and Mineral Resources, while Leigh-Ann Mathys looks after Finance, Fundraising and Resource Management, and Pumza Ntobonuwana heads up Justice.

At a provincial level, the “command team” doesn’t look much better, with only 2 out of 18 leaders being women.

This is pretty poor performance in the category of gender parity. It indirectly sends the message that the EFF does not consider gender parity to be particularly important, or useful, regardless of what our laws might say.

3.       The women’s rights “talk” – the EFF manifesto and policies

The EFF’s stated Aims and Objectives include, but are not limited to:

To establish and sustain a society that cherishes revolutionary cultural values and to create conditions for total political and economic emancipation, prosperity and equitable distribution of wealth of the nation.

  • To oppose resolutely, tribalism, regionalism, religious and cultural intolerance.

  • To oppose oppression of women and the oppression of all other gendered persons (sic)

  • To oppose patriarchy, sexism, and homophobia and any cultural or religious practices that promotes the oppression of anyone, women in particular.”

The aims and objectives are brilliant from a gender rights point of view and get the EFF off to a great start in the policy category. One cannot be entirely sure what is meant by “gendered” persons, because we are all gendered, which might lead one to question the EFF’s understanding of the term. Semantics aside though, one gets the idea, and the idea is great one.

Next up is the EFF Manifesto, which expressly recognises a past in which South Africa “discriminated and oppressed the black majority. It discriminated and oppressed women (sic).”  It contains a separate clause dealing with what the EFF refers to as the “Gender and Sexuality Question.” This clause states the following:

“The EFF is against the oppression of anyone based on their gender, gender expression, or sexual orientation, meaning that we are against patriarchy, sexism, and homophobia in all of its manifestations. We are also against tribalism and religious and cultural intolerance. We oppose any cultural or religious practices that promote the oppression of anyone, especially groups that have been historically oppressed by such practices.

The EFF would strive to realise women’s liberation, through a variety of interventions, from education against patriarchy and sexism, to legislation and the close monitoring of the implementation of the same in order to realise women’s empowerment in society, the family and the workplace. The EFF believes that gender-based violence and related antisocial activities are reinforced and even sustained by the deplorable conditions of our people, therefore a key to female emancipation is the emancipation of all. The EFF will emphasise transforming the lives of our people in the ghettos from one of generalised structural violence as a mechanism to end all violence, including violence against women.”

It is wonderfully promising to see the express denunciation not only the oppression of women, but the oppression of all persons on the basis of their gender expression and sexual orientation. It is also encouraging to see a commitment to societal education as a means of dismantling the patriarchy, and the monitoring and evaluation of legislation aimed at achieving equality.

However, a closer look reveals some confusing thinking on the part of the EFF. At first the EFF appears to recognise the need for dismantling the patriarchy, but in the same breath it suggests that ongoing violence against women, sexual minorities and gender non-conforming persons, is due simply to poverty. This reveals the problematic, yet core belief of the EFF: that economic empowerment of all will automatically lead to gender equality and the eradication of patriarchy. Certainly, the economic dependence of women on men reduces their ability to leave violent relationships. However, violence against women happens across all social groups and economic empowerment is not in itself sufficient to eradicate violence.

This vastly over-simplified position is borne out in its actual policy documents, which do not contain any trace of its promised “variety of interventions” to achieve equality specifically for women. As such, the promise of gender equality hovers at the aspiration level, without any concrete policies to ensure delivery.

The EFF has policies in the following areas:

  • Land: where the key approach is expropriation of land without compensation for equitable redistribution.
  • Nationalisation: which would entail the nationalisation of mines, banks and other strategic sectors of the economy, to enable the transfer of wealth from those who currently own it to the people as a whole.
  • State capacity: where state capacity is built up to the extent that the tender process, which is vulnerable to corruption, can be abolished.
  • Housing, health, education and sanitation: where the approach is free primary and secondary education; building massive capacity in state health care and setting up a state pharmaceutical company; improving the quality and size of low-cost state housing through a state housing construction company; and the universal provision of sanitation and abolishment of the bucket system.
  • Industrial development for jobs: where massive protected industrial development will create millions of sustainable jobs, including the introduction of minimum wages in order to close the wage gap between the rich and the poor
  • African Economy: where State-owned enterprises should heavily invest in the infrastructure and industrial development of the African continent
  • Accountable government: which demand that all political parties should be obliged by law to publicly disclose their sources of funds in order to avoid political coup d’états financed by greedy multinational corporations and criminal associations that seek to have access to South Africa’s resources

In all seven of these polices, the words “women”, “woman” or “girl” do not appear once. The EFF polices contain no recognition of the fact that women bear the brunt of poverty in South Africa, and that they are more likely than men to drop out of school in order to care for old or sick family members. The EFF fails to recognise that more women than men are landlessness, and that women’s access to land often depends on men.  There is no recognition of the fact that women are under-represented in the industrial workforce, and that job creation through industrial development would have to entail specific plans removing structural barriers to the inclusion women. The EFF fails to prioritise sexual and reproductive health rights for women, and perhaps most conspicuous by their absence are policies on dealing effectively with our inordinately high levels of violence against women.

In its Women’s Month message, the EFF states that its struggle for land expropriation without compensation and nationalization of mineral resources “centralizes women as beneficiaries”. But where is the evidence in its policies that this is so?

Consequently, despite the fact that the EFF claims to prioritise the eradication of women’s inequality, there is no evidence of how this will be done in its policies. In fact, despite the promising aspects of its Manifesto, its policies are entirely gender-blind, and fail to prioritise women in any way.

4.       The women’s rights “walk” – EFF leadership track record and known associates

Even if one were to give the EFF’s policies and women’s rights “talk” the benefit of the doubt, it is in this category where the EFF falls truly flat.

Firstly, the Commander in Chief’s public positions on violence against women have been egregious enough to land him in court. On 22 January 2009 Julius Malema (who was the ANC Youth League president at the time) addressed 150 Cape Peninsula University of Technology students. He spoke about the woman who had laid rape charges against Jacob Zuma, and said, “(t)hose who had a nice time will wait until the sun comes out, request breakfast and ask for taxi money. In the morning, that lady requested breakfast and taxi money.”

Sonke Gender Justice took Malema to the Equality Court for hate speech in February 2009. His approach to the proceedings, and his public statements throughout, betrayed his lack of understanding of the damaging rape myths his statement was perpetuating. He showed a lack of respect for survivors of sexual violence, and it was clear he did not take the matter seriously. Malema failed to appear personally at the first court date, and in May 2009 Malema told the press that he was entirely unaware of the court case against him, and that he “(didn’t) have time for (the case)”. He tried repeatedly to have the case dismissed. On 15 March 2010, the court found Malema guilty of hate speech and harassment. He was ordered to make an unconditional public apology within two weeks and to pay R50 000 to a centre for abused women within one month. Malema tried to appeal the ruling, but his attorneys failed to file the appeal on time. Only then, 15 months after the ruling, did Malema finally comply with the court order, and apologise to “all women” for his comments. Malema later said Sonke Gender Justice were “mickey mouses”, and that he would not pay the fine “on principle”. It is hard to believe, in the circumstances, that his apology signified any real contrition on his part.

It is also clear that Malema learned nothing from this experience, and that his understanding of gender-based violence, rape, and rape myths, has not improved over time. A City Press report quoted Malema on rape as recently as 13 October 2013. He told journalists, “(t)hough crime is largely caused by unemployment, poverty and inequality, rape is caused by uncontrollable libido.” This is a ridiculous and profoundly ignorant statement about why rape happens. The statement only serves to perpetuate gender stereotypes and rape myths, by implying that men sometimes just have “uncontrollable” impulses. Malema clearly does not understand that rape is about power.

The EFF leader also does not seem to have much respect for his female political opponents. After refusing to debate Lindiwe Mazibuko, the parliamentary speaker of the DA, he told the press, “I am not going to use our profile to profile her. She is a tea girl for the madam – she must stay there in the kitchen.” During a 2009 fight between him and the “madam” herself, Helen Zille accused Malema of behaving like an immature boy who had not yet entered manhood. His response was that Zille, as a woman, had no right to “speak on men’s issues”. Now, we have all come to expect the racial tone of the exchanges between the DA and Malema, but there is sexism there too. What exactly are “men’s issues” that women have no right to speak of? Is a woman’s place always “in the kitchen”? Most importantly, what does the sexism in Malema’s political retorts suggest about his values as a leader, and in turn, those of his party?

As for the EFF’s known associates and supporters, the picture is bleak. First there is notorious businessman Kenny Kunene. Kunene joined the EFF leadership soon after its formation, and was widely pictured sitting next to Malema in press conferences, wearing a red beret.

Feminists have often slammed Kunene for his public comments, and with good reason. In an article in the Mail & Guardian Faranaaz Parker has suggested that Kunene’s “comments on women and sex are a disturbing trivialisation of sexual violence in a country where rape is a daily occurrence.” Pumla Gqola echoed this view in The City Press. Known as the “Sushi King”, for notoriously eating sushi off the half-naked bodies of women in his Cape Town club ZAR, Kunene blithely tweeted earlier this year that he been “victim of gang rape and loved it”. When taken on by the DA’s Mmusi Mmaimane, he dragged Mmaimane’s wife into the conversation by telling Mmaimane to “focus on ****ing ur wife b4 we do it 4u…  (sic).”  Kunene also publically admitted during a radio interview on Metro FM that while he was a high school English teacher, he had sexual relationships with some of his teenage pupils. He later said in a television interview that “women are easy”.

Given Kunene’s objectification of women, and his deeply sexist views on women, sex and sexual violence, one would not have expected the EFF allow him a leadership position. After all, this is a party with the stated objectives of opposing patriarchy and the oppression of women. Luckily, Kunene resigned from the party’s leadership in August. But then, tellingly, the EFF’s send-off of Kunene could not have been more flattering, and it is clear that the EFF intends to sustain its ties with Kunene. The party issued a statement saying:

“The Central Command Team found him a very great person to work with, and so did many in the rank and file. We were particularly impressed by his charisma, fearlessness, and wisdom to dissect complex challenges… Economic Freedom Fighters will always be welcome to working with him on project (sic)”

It is also extremely hard to believe that the EFF truly opposes homophobia and discrimination on the basis of gender, given its open support for Zimbabwe’s Zanu PF, led by Robert Mugabe. Mugabe’s intolerance and hateful views on homosexuals and gender non-conformity are infamous. And yet, before the Zimbabwean elections earlier this year, the EFF called on all Zimbabweans to re-elect Robert Mugabe as their president. The EFF issued a full statement in this regard, and this statement was published in Zimbabwe’s The Herald, which is government owned.

Mugabe went on to win the election, and in his inaugural speech he “urged young people to ‘damn’ homosexuality in the same way his government does and not to offend nature by engaging in same-sex relationships, (which) destroys nations, apart from it being a filthy, filthy disease.” On this, the EFF has been remained conveniently silent.

5.       Conclusion

In the final analysis, the EFF is no different from your typical political party that makes promises ahead of elections, only to break them afterwards. There is no reasonable basis to believe that the EFF will be true to its paper commitments, which are in any event not brought to life in its policies.

There is no doubt that economic freedom is a part of the puzzle when it comes to gender equality. But is it by no means the whole puzzle. The EFF’s plan to attain gender equality, simply by making sure that everyone is economically well-off (without focussed interventions aimed at women), is vastly oversimplified and demonstrates a poor grasp of structural causes of women’s inequality.

Its policies are gender blind, there is no gender parity in its leadership (which has a terrible gender track record), and the party has forged alliances with well-known sexists and bigots.

The EFF is not a good political option for South African women.




Two senior party officials accused of involvement in gang rape 

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7 thoughts on “Elections Analysis: The Economic Freedom Fighters

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  6. I am very much indebted to Sanja for her detailed analysis on Malema and EFF and agree wholeheartedly on her arguments on behalf of women and others.

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