The leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), the third largest political party in South Africa, is Julius Malema: A controversial, but popular politician.
Malema has always maintained one primary goal since he founded the EFF in 2013: Ousting President Jacob Zuma from office.
His party has so far failed to present an alternative political path for South Africa and, as a result, Malema’s political future after the eventual end of Zuma’s tenure as president is now being questioned.
Controversy surrounding Malema
The 36-year-old politician, who was once an avid Zuma supporter, turned against the beleaguered president after he was expelled from the governing African National Congress (ANC) in 2012 for allegedly “sowing divisions” within party ranks.
Malema, who often said his “blood is green, black and gold” referring to the colours of the ANC, was distraught about the party diciplinary committee’s decision and blamed Zuma personally for his expulsion.
But the controversy surrounding Malema was not just limited to party politics or his rocky relationship with the president. He has also endured various lawsuits and faced corruption accusations in South Africa.
For example in September 2011, Malema was found guilty of hate speech for singing the apartheid-era struggle song Shoot the Boer. Boer means farmer in Afrikaans.
And a year later, after his expulsion from the ANC, his finances and the extravagant life style he has been enjoying as the president of the party’s youth league, came under scrutiny. There have also been several reports in the South African media about his vast property empire.
A powerful come-back
While many people thought Malema’s political career was practically over, in light of the corruption allegations, his conviction for hate speech and his expulsion from the ANC, he managed to make a powerful come-back in no time.
He founded the EFF in July 2013, and his party managed to claim 25 seats in the 400-seat South African parliament in general elections merely a year later.
What drew attention to the EFF was its public pronouncement on racial issues and its radical economic agenda. The EFF has grown over the years with the organisation now claiming to have over five million members. In the 2016 municipal election the EFF garnered 8.31 percent of the vote, an impressive achievement for a party that was contesting local municipal elections for the first time.
But in parliament the EFF has always been more interested in fighting and damaging Zuma than it has been in forming an effective opposition party.
Since their arrival in parliament, EFF members have disturbed proceedings continously and their anger has been, by and large, directed at the president, who they regularly call on to resign. Some party members have even publically insulted him using vulgar language of a kind rarely employed by those in the public eye.
Failing to introduce an alternative discourse
In the meantime, the EFF is largely seen to have failed in introducing an alternative discourse to the South African parliament, while limiting itself to condemning Zuma for his misdemeanors and indiscretions.
Malema himself is now facing criticism for pursuing a personal agenda in parliament. He stands accused of trying to settle scores with Zuma, rather than using his party’s mandate to pursue the political aspirations of his constituents.
In short, the EFF have so far failed wholesale to deal with sociopolitical challenges affecting ordinary South Africans, many of whom perceived the 2016 municipal elections as a referendum to gauge the popularity of the ANC. Those elections proved that the ANC’s popularity is in rapid decline – Zuma’s party lost control of several major cities in South Africa.
However, the EFF has failed to capitalise on that decline. The percentage of votes secured by the EFF in the 2016 election (8.31) barely surpassed the 6.35 percent the party had previously secured in the 2014 general elections.
Maintaining political relevance
But, notwithstanding his polarising rhetoric, Julius Malema’s political career can still be considered a success story by any standards, even though there are a number of South Africans, particularly white South Africans, who dread the possibility of Malema’s ascendancy to presidency. His off the cuff remarks about whites and his proposal to implement Zimbabwe style “land grab” policies continue to turn people, including many black South Africans, against him.
The chances of the EFF gaining majority in South African national parliament and eventually electing Malema as its president are very remote.
They have failed to present a practical plan to address South Africa’s sociopolitical grievances other than embracing the general broad stroke rhetoric of social justice that was already common parlance for almost all political parties in South Africa.
The only way Malema could be the next president of South Africa is if the EFF merges with the ANC and Malema runs for the presidency on the ANC ticket. It is possible that he is simply using the EFF as a vehicle to maintain his political relevance whilst waiting for Zuma’s departure from the ANC.
Thembisa Fakude is a researcher at the Al Jazeera Center for Studies.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.
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