OPINION: The EFF, fully loaded
Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema emerged back into public life at a media briefing on Tuesday after an eventful People's Assembly in December, high-security nuptials and then a top-secret honeymoon. Perhaps he might have mellowed. Perhaps his focus might have shifted from the hurly-burly of politics to keeping his new bride content. Not a chance. Malema is back with President Jacob Zuma and the African National Congress (ANC) firmly in his sights. And while there seems to be a change in how the newly elected leadership of the EFF intends to steer the organisation, its game plan is sure to keep its domination of the national agenda.
Julius Malema did attend the EFF's first meeting of its central command team (CCT) for the year. The now democratically elected commander in chief was wrapping up his honeymoon and left the strategic planning for the year to the rest of the EFF leadership. The militant year plan, which includes leading people to seize unoccupied land and putting pressure on President Jacob Zuma to "pay back the money" for Nkandla, was drawn up without Malema's direct input.
The EFF is now a fully-fledged political party, with an elected leadership and formal structures following the December People's Assembly in Mangaung, rather than a posse of people who rallied behind Malema and his deputy Floyd Shivambu after they were expelled from the ANC. A 'war council', made up of the top six leaders, and nine other members of the CTT, will deal with the day-to-day operations of the EFF.
The EFF now also has its own Gwede Mantashe in the form of secretary general Godrich Gardee. Gardee, who became quite a colourful figure in Parliament with his penchant for points of order, will be hands-on in the functioning and administration of the organisation. Malema, seemingly, is now more of a headman, still the face of the party, but dealing with more global issues.
At the ripe old age of 34, he has assumed the role of party elder - revered and feared - even though others in the leadership are older than him.
At a media briefing at the party's Braamfontein headquarters on Tuesday, Malema denied that the EFF was dependent on his charisma and big personality for survival. He said the party was able to function on its own, and therefore he was absent from its first CTT meeting. But Malema is still the main supply of the never-ending fiery quotes and inspirational calls; it is he who determines the line of march.
So while the CTT statement set out that in 2015, "the EFF will make sure that Jacob Zuma pays back the money as instructed by the remedial actions of the Public Protector", it was Malema who was able to define how this would happen.
Thursday, 12 February, is the day of reckoning on "Pay back the money", he says. Zuma will be confronted at the State of the Nation Address (Sona) in Parliament on the question he did not respond to last August: When will he pay compensation for undue benefits he received at Nkandla, as was recommended by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela?
The EFF will not be renting a crowd or bussing people into Parliament to create pandemonium, Malema says. They have 25 MPs who will make their presence felt. Malema already wrote to Speaker Baleka Mbete requesting a special sitting before the Sona to deal with the questions the president had not completed answering. Mbete on Tuesday declined the request, saying the programming committee of Parliament would deal with the scheduling of questions to the president and there was "no reason" to convene a special sitting before the Sona. In a letter responding to Malema's request, Mbete also reminds him that the Sona is a joint sitting of the Houses of Parliament and not a National Assembly sitting. She urged him to desist from confronting Zuma during the Sona.
But Malema said when Zuma stands up to speak, the EFF will rise on a point of order and ask him when he will pay back the money. He says this is not a campaign they intend to give up, and will keep at it for as long as Zuma refuses to answer the question. Shivambu said according to the new parliamentary programme they received, no sitting for questions to the president is scheduled in the first term.
Asked whether they could not hold the matter over until the week after when the Sona will be debated, Malema said the format of the debate allows Zuma to ignore their questions if he chose to. "We don't think the debate on Sona will help us get an answer," Malema said. EFF national chairperson Dali Mpofu said it was also possible that EFF MPs would be ruled out of order during the debate if they raised the Nkandla matter as it would be unrelated to Zuma's speech.
So it seems that the EFF has considered all options and concluded that the best way to make the big splash is to dive in at the Sona. Malema says the issue is not about Nkandla but about corruption and accountability. He says once they win the battle of Nkandla, it would serve as a deterrent as people in government would be afraid that there are consequences for the actions in Parliament if they are involved in corruption.
But this will not be the only issue on which the EFF intends making waves. Their controversial approach to land redistribution will rock the boat once it gets going. The EFF is advocating for the seizure of vacant land by people who are currently landless. Land must be occupied and people must use it for production, Malema says. "This is not a programme of action. It's a way of living," he said.
Because there is likely to be resultant arrests and court action, the EFF is setting up a fund to assist those who get into trouble. "We will establish a solidarity fund to help those wrongly arrested by the murderous regime of ANC," Malema said.
He said the EFF was also against foreign land ownership as all land in the country should be owned by South Africans. Foreign investment should also happen in partnership with South Africans.
The EFF are planning for protests in the mining and financial sector. Malema said the same energy channelled against the state in service delivery protests should be directed at the private sector. Their new interest is the insurance industry, which discriminates against people living with HIV.
But it is not only in South Africa that the EFF intends to assert its presence. The EFF now wants South Africa to be involved in military action in Nigeria to take on Boko Haram, following the mass killings and abductions. After the elections last May, Malema dedicated the EFF win of 1,1 million votes to the 200 girls who had been kidnapped in Nigeria and vowed to get them back. He did not make much headway in that mission but now has the crosshairs set on Boko Haram itself.
He condemned Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan for commenting on the terror attacks in France but failing to act on what was happening in his own country.
Malema also took a swipe against the African Union, saying it was a toothless organisation "led by the wife of the toothless president of South Africa". He says the EFF has been in contact with political organisations in Nigeria regarding the attacks by Boko Haram, and was informed that those were "just killers" that could not be negotiated with. He said there should be the same aggression used against Boko Haram as there had been in Libya to topple Muammar Gaddafi.
Malema said the EFF would raise this issue in Parliament as military intervention in Nigeria was more necessary than South Africa's mission in the Central African Republic.
But it is not all smooth sailing in the EFF itself. They are facing something of an insurrection in the Free State, with a possible breakaway on the cards. It also appears that EFF MP Andile Mngxitama has fallen out with the leadership. The EFF said there would, however, be no purge, and called on their members to close ranks.
Malema, however, put out a harder message, indicating he would not tolerate rebellion in the ranks. They will not be held to ransom by those who failed to be elected into the leadership and they would not allow EFF resources and offices to be used to launch a breakaway party. Those who want to should just leave, he said. Regarding Mngxitama's call that there should not be a purge in the party, Malema said: "We have no time to be diverted by a lizard when we are fighting a crocodile."
The party now wants to prepare for the 2016 and 2019 elections, urging their members to gain qualifications to serve in government posts with "excellence, expertise and correct knowledge". The EFF wants to establish bursary schemes to take their fighters to the "best universities". They will also campaign in areas where they have potential for growth such as KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape, Malema said.
This is the EFF, reconstituted and reloaded. Malema remains large and in charge, but they are building an educated and skilled core to lead their campaigns on various fronts. While their agitation in Parliament is likely to be major news in 2015, there is much more going on beneath the surface.
When you consider what they achieved from June 2013, when Malema and Shivambu came up with the idea of launching a political party, to January 2015, when they are what they call the only "ideological and trend leader in South African politics", you realise this is nothing short of remarkable. The EFF is now gearing to bring on a full-blown firestorm, and South Africa had better be prepared.
This column first appeared on _ Daily Maverick._