Mpofu joins EFF: Quo Vadis, Winnie?
On Sunday, in what could have been a carefully placed exclusive, Advocate Dali Mpofu confirmed to the City Press that he was leaving the ANC to join Julius Malema's Economic Freedom Fighters. There will be some who claim this is the start of something bigger, that now that Malema has at least one prominent name joining him, others will follow. Perhaps. But there's one name that could really matter to the future of the EFF. And it's not Dali Mpofu's.
It's a pity, really. Up until this point, it's been one of our favourite put-downs of a political party. Whenever people have talked up the EFF, it's been entertaining to ask them to name one member other than Malema. It's a game that we can no longer play. People will remember Mpofu, and they will remember his history.
Mpofu brings not just some political heft and some serious legal muscle but also some nice headlines about how he's leaving after thirty years with the ANC because of its "paralysis". Mpofu has made a name for himself as the advocate to go to if you have an issue with Luthuli House. And while he hasn't always won, he's certainly been successful enough to be a real thorn in the party's side.
Gwede Mantashe's comment in the City Press that Mpofu was just "formalising" his defection pretty much says it all. Mpofu was of course the person who represented Malema during that disciplinary hearing, and was able to drag it out for month upon month. He followed that up with a moment of sheer embarrassment for Mantashe, by winning, in the Constitutional Court no less, a case that stopped the Free State delegation from voting at the ANC's Mangaung Conference. As the man technically responsible for managing conferences and internal machinery, Mantashe must be well glad to see the back of him. It means that at least those still within the ANC will not be able to use him against the party as easily as they have done so far.
But don't think that everyone in the ANC will be glad. Mpofu hasn't been out in the cold everywhere. Even in his own branch, the famous Saxonwold branch of the ANC, he was given the responsibility of chairing what was supposed to be the disciplinary hearing of Atul Gupta, for using Waterkloof Airforce base as a welcoming mat.
Mpofu also has a certain history in the ANC. It's his back-story that is so interesting, not just his long association with the party. Many sources claim that he has a long, and shall we say, close relationship with Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. He is one of those people who appears in the background of some of the photos of the time, some of them with Nelson Mandela. (The City Press photo-desk knows this; they had a lovely pic of him with Madiba and Winnie in the back yard of Archbishop Tutu's home the day after Mandela was released in 1990).
And of course, Winnie also has her own, and fairly longer (under the circumstances) relationship with Malema.
So then, to the only question that really matters in the Mpofu Defection; will Winnie, the mother of the Struggle, join him?
Can you imagine the difference that would make to the fortunes of the EFF? That would be the development that would make the party suddenly more than just a re-assembled Youth League. It would actually become a proper, senior political party, capable of attracting many disaffected voters and bringing the magical surname outside of the ANC election offering. If winning the Western Cape convinced people that the DA was really a contender, then winning over Winnie would do the same for the EFF. And it would do this in some very interesting ways.
Firstly, can you imagine the rallies? Not just Malema, who brings in a certain entertainment value whenever he speaks, but Winnie. She would really bring in the crowds, in their hundreds of thousands. And don't for a moment think she's lost her touch. She might not speak in public much nowadays, but when she's in the mood, she really can turn a story on its head with one sound bite. Remember, she's been playing this game longer than just about anybody. And the foreign press would be beside themselves; Madiba's ex-wife with Malema. It would be splashed all over the Telegraph like a Labour Party minister on a fox-hunt.
But even if she didn't do the speeches and the rallies, she would bring something else, perhaps even more important. She would play the role of legitimising the EFF. It would mean that everything that comes out of Malema's mouth would suddenly have much more political power, and will sound much more realistic to the depressed masses of South Africa.
Then there's the messaging of all of this. At some point during the next few months, there is going to be a right old tussle over who the "real ANC" is. Obviously Luthuli House owning, you know, the name, the history, the people etc, will claim the full brand ownership and inheritance. But so could many. Agang will say it owns "Liberation" if not "the Struggle", Cope will claim it's now the "non-Zuma" ANC. The DA will claim it's the party of the future and the ANC is the party of the past. And the EFF will claim it's the real ANC, based on the Freedom Charter, and its calls (now interpreted rather differently) for radical policy shift, based on land redistribution and that wonderful system whereby the state controls everything.
The addition of Winnie in Malema's armory would really change the game here. It would be pretty hard for Luthuli House to refute his claim. That's not to say that they wouldn't be able to. But it would simply be much harder.
At this stage, Mpofu and Malema are being very coy about whether this could happen. Mpofu mutters about this being a decision that people must make on their own, Malema just trumpets that he expects other prominent people to join him, but he won't say who, and he won't say when. And trying to get hold of Madikizela-Mandela to comment on the record on this will be as tough as being interviewed by Mac Maharaj.
In the meantime, Luthuli House itself may well be trying to sound Winnie out. But there is another important point to make about all of this. In 2007 Madizela-Mandela was voted number one on the ANC's National Executive Committee (NEC) at Polokwane. In 2009 she was number five on the ANC's Parliamentary list. In 2012 in Mangaung, she was voted to the ANC NEC only because of the enforced gender parity. There is no chance of that happening in these elections. She is completely gone. She is politically nowhere within the ANC. Which leaves us with the question.
What does she have to lose?
_Stephen Grootes is the host of the Midday Report on Talk Radio 702 and 567 CapeTalk, and the Senior Political Correspondent for Eyewitness News. __Grootes is the author of SA Politics Unspun, launched last week. If Winnie does join the EFF, he'll have to revise the book's prediction that it will only get three percent in next year's elections. _ To follow him on Twitter click here.
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This column appeared in _ Daily Maverick_.