Economic freedom fighters, the enfant terrible of South Africa

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On February 2, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) unveiled its electoral manifesto with the spectacle and fiery rhetoric characteristic of its leader, Julius Malema. This reiterated its positions on land and mine ownership, called for doubling social subsidies (social payments) and increasing spending on educational infrastructure and health care. He addressed traditional leaders, such as tribal leaders, who are powerful among the rural poor. However, the manifesto says little about how these reforms would be funded. On this issue, the rhetoric of the EFF rarely goes beyond “permeating the rich”. Indeed, the manifesto largely ignores the imperative of economic growth.

The EFF receives exaggerated media attention due to its sweeping economic policies and use of anti-white dog whistles and sometimes overtly racist rhetoric. In the 2014 national elections, the party’s first, he won around 6% of the vote, and in the 2016 municipal elections, over 8%. While the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) are in disarray, most observers doubt it will exceed ten percent in the upcoming national elections in May 2019.

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Nonetheless, the ANC sometimes seems terrified of the EFF’s potential to gain hitherto ruling party supporters in black townships and rural areas. The concern is well placed, since the EFF risks increasing its share of the vote to the detriment of the ANC. As a result, the ANC has adopted policies associated with the EFF that are likely to hamper its own efforts to attract foreign investment. In particular, a rallying cry from the EFF was “expropriation without compensation,” a reference to the government’s seizure of farmland and mines belonging to white people. As a result, the ANC supports a constitutional amendment that allegedly makes it easier for the state to confiscate private property. Such rhetoric has the potential to “scare off” private investors, both foreign and domestic, who are seen as necessary to revive the economy. The EFF manifesto is largely cohesive, internally consistent, and bound to appeal to the many black South Africans who are disappointed with the perceived inability of the current government to deliver on its promises.

Poverty in South Africa remains predominantly a black phenomenon, while whites have been doing well since the end of apartheid. Traditionally, the Black Party has been the ruling ANC, although it has always been nominally non-racial. Riddled with corruption and appearing increasingly incompetent, the ANC could well lose votes, even if it should retain its parliamentary majority (it currently holds 62.5% of the seats in the National Assembly). The DA failed to win over the black majority, and it’s hard to see them win much more than the 22.2% of the vote they won in 2015. Therefore, the EFF could to be the only party of the three to increase its share. votes and secure seats in the National Assembly. As for local government, the EFF has already played a kingmaking role in some areas by shifting its support between the ANC and the DA.

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