South Africa’s Economic Freedom Fighters: Julius Malema and the Struggle to Continue the Revolution

The African National Congress adopted neo-colonial policies and maintained the deadly economic structure of apartheid that exacerbated white supremacy, inequalities and class divisions in the “new” South Africa. The creation of an opportunistic comprador black class was necessary to maintain a neo apartheid state. The economic survival of these Black actors is inextricably woven to the preservation of white supremacy and global capitalism. As cheeky, white South Africans would arrogantly muse to me during my trips to South Africa, “if we only knew that post-Apartheid South Africa would be this good we would have let Nelson Mandela out of prison long ago.” Mandela’s legacy, in addition to his role as a freedom fighter, political prisoner and the first Black president of South Africa, was to preside over the implementation of neo-apartheid economic policies. The creation of neo-apartheid economic policies produced an artificial construct, namely the black comprador class.

It was this comprador class that was implicated in the Marikana Massacre of platinum mine workers seeking a living wage. Cyril Ramaphosa, one of the leaders of the anti-apartheid struggle demonstrated that this comprador class was trustworthy and would protect white wealth at the expense and lives of the black working class. From the vortex of compromised and sold-out leadership, a new organization, Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) emerged to provide a voice for students, the working class and land dependent populations.

The EFF has unrelentingly exposed the corrupt policies of President Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma (who Julius Malema initially supported) and the African National Congress. Malema has called for the resignation of President Zuma in light of the disclosure of his off-shore thievery of public monies exposed in the Panama papers.

The EFF has not hesitated to expose ANC nepotism in political positions not to speak of institutionalized retaliation that targets political opponents.

Indeed, neo-colonial South Africa has been good to South Africa whites. Whites, who comprise 10% of South Africa’s population, control 80% of one of the wealthiest real estate on the planet. Undeniably, land is the basis of all present and intergenerational wealth, not jobs. South Africa contains a cornucopia of mineral riches. It is the world’s largest producer of gold, diamonds, vanadium, chrome, manganese, platinum and vermiculite. No one voluntarily relinquishes this kind of wealth and the struggle for control of these magnificent resources is yet to be waged. The murders of valiant freedom fighters and the election of Mandela provided a temporary reprieve for white settlers and monopoly capitalism but a new generation of Black activists have determined that the fight for power, land and the future of Black folks in South Africa can no longer be held in abeyance.

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) was founded in 2013 by Julius Malema.

The EFF and Malema have challenged the hegemony of the ANC unlike any other post-apartheid organization. Malema previously served as president of the ANC Youth League from 2008 to 2012. He was expelled from the party in 2012.

Within one year of seeking political office, the EFF has elected 25 members to the National Assembly. It is one of the fastest growing political movements in South Africa. The EFF, a socialist organization fighting for the total implementation of the Freedom Charter, would implement the nationalizations of mines, the banking sector and redistribution of land to the masses without compensation to the settler class that stole both the wealth and land in South Africa. Malema has become the major thorn in the side of the ANC, majority party that transitioned South Africa from one phase of apartheid to another neo-colonial phase of apartheid where the whites are richer than before and the majority of blacks are poorer than ever.

Apartheid leaders and its international US and European partners strategically delayed the release of Mandela until potential competitive uncompromising leaders, such as Steve Biko and Chris Hani had been eliminated. With Biko and Hani gone, international capital had a free reign to implement neo-colonial policies and to create the delusional myth of South Africa as a Rainbow Nation — the parallel of a false post-racial America. The problem with promoting South Africa as a rainbow nation and the US as post-racial is the staggering level of disproportionate poverty and state-sponsored violence to which black communities in both countries suffer.

I witnessed, firsthand the betrayal of the Freedom Charter during the dawn of the Mandela government. As the senior EPA representative to and a negotiator at the Gore-Mbeki Commission, I was told that the “new” South Africa government had agreed to take the Freedom Charter off the table. A more detailed discussion of this matter is provided in No FEAR: A Whistleblower’s Triumph over Corruption and Retaliation at the EPA. It was clear from the vantage point of bilateral relations that discussion of the Freedom Charter was not in the interest of US economic hegemony. The complicity of the executive branch of the new South African government was unmistakable.

Recently, Malema gave an extraordinary presentation at Oxford University in which he outlined the goals and mission of the EFF. In this address, Malema confirmed that EFF could never participate in a coalition with the ANC, which it defines as corrupt and openly in direct conflict with the interest of the Black working class. Malema openly called Cyril Ramaphosa, who the late Nelson Mandela predicted would be the future president of South Africa, a black sell-out. In the halls of the National Assembly, Malema charged Ramaphosa with the blood of striking platinum mineworkers murdered at the Lonmin Mine in Marikana.

During the Oxford address, Malema stopped short of calling Mandela a “sell-out” in response to a question but rather justified Madiba’s policies of “economic apartheid” by saying that Mandela was old when he took office and had taken the revolution as far as he could:

“The deviation from the Freedom Charter was the beginning of selling out the revolution. When Mandela returned from prison he got separated from Winnie Mandela and went to stay in a house of a rich white man, he was looked after by the Oppenheimers….He stayed in one of their houses, they had access to him 24 hours. They told him what he represented would not be achieved, that’s when he turned against himself…The Freedom Charter is the bible of the South African revolution. Any deviation from that is a sellout position.”

The ANC has not sat idly by during these blistering attacks by Malema and has mounted a counter attack against the EFF. Malema has been accused of treason by the ANC. Newly elected EFF members of Parliament and Malema have been violently removed from the chambers of the National Assembly for demanding that the president answer allegations of financial corruption.

Under pressure from the EFF and internal contradictions, the ANC has advanced a new rationale for failed neo-apartheid policies, accusing the US of promoting regime change. However, the EFF is quick to point out the irony in that position since the ANC is advancing neo-liberal economic policies that provide strategic advantages to US and multinational interest over that of South Africa’s Black working class.