ANALYSIS: The red berets’ temperature check

Julius Malema will leave Nasrec, where the EFF’s second national people’s assembly will be held, as commander-in-chief.

The EFF, unlike the ANC, which gathered at the same venue in 2017 for its watershed leadership conference, is not facing a defining leadership struggle for the party’s most powerful position.

The question we should be asking ourselves is whether the party will close this gathering weaker or stronger.

Despite what Malema and the other party leaders say, no one is remotely powerful enough to challenge him with a hope of winning.

The central questions we should be focusing on are: Will the party leave Nasrec a stronger or weaker political organisation, and will we see a stronger emergence of dissenting voices?

The real fight could be for the positions below Malema’s. Who will be his number two – will Floyd Shivambu return? Or will the wishes of those pushing for outgoing chairperson Dali Mpofu to replace Shivambu become a reality?

Some of those who keenly watch the party – from within and externally – hope a complete Malema top five will see him surrounded by men and women capable of holding him accountable and counter his blind spots. Critics of the EFF believe Malema is surrounded by too many yes men and women.

But despite all the wishes and outside opinions on what the EFF needs to do, chances are the party will follow its leader’s vision in the direction the party needs to take.

An example of this can be seen in how the party’s leadership has seemingly followed Malema’s line on the effectiveness of the EFF Student Command (EFFSC).

Malema, who speaks of democratic centralism, has always been understood to have a firm grip on the EFF, with some accusing him of ruling with an iron first.

The party’s conference at the weekend will no doubt show if there is fear of Malema in the EFF, and, if it exists, the extent to which the concern will be voiced. Delegates will be acutely aware of what happened to those former members who previously opposed his wishes at the party’s first conference in 2014. The found it to be cold outside the EFF.

Many party members have argued Malema is not feared but merely shown respect because of the position he occupies; even older EFF members say he has every right to scold them as he not only commands the organisation but is constantly protecting it from rebellion.

“There would be no EFF without Malema, it would simply collapse as many just want to see themselves in Parliament, legislatures or as councillors,” one fighter said when I called for his views on the state of the organisation.

In Malema’s own words, the EFF is now intact, much bigger and stronger, but some have raised questions around the party’s policies and positions, saying they are too vague. They argue that it has shifted from being a Marxist-, Leninist- and Fanonian-leaning organisation to one with a more pan-Africanist posture.

But again, even how the party made this move in between these two conferences is baffling to some who say they will never dare to bring this up at conference.

Party insiders say while the so-called “amapiano” faction, which is known to favour Mpofu as deputy president, do not have the backing to cause an upset, they will attempt to send a message to Malema.

Leadership battles and political rhetoric aside, there is the issue of the party’s policies and its structure. The EFF will need to consider its off-shoots – is it time to launch wings for women and the youth? Will its recently maligned EFFSC be collapsed? If the EFFSC stays or new structures are established how much say will they have in the party and how will this impact the leader and central command team’s powers? These are all questions the 4 000 delegates need to deliberate on this weekend.

Another EFF leader said it was just procedure to hold commissions and debate positions the party need to adopt, arguing the decisions around some of the proposals in the discussion documents have already been reached.

And while this insider said the delegates, who are headed to conference, are smart and robust with the likelihood of producing interesting discussions on the state of the country’s third largest party and the posture it needs to adopt, most branches have already submitted their views to their national office.

“We don’t have genuine branches across the board,” one leader told me.

The complaint is that some members at branch level approach critical discussions as if they are friends hanging out, adopting a “lackluster” approach to the party’s politics. The leader questioned whether many members realise the gravity of the responsibility that comes with being the third largest political organisation in the country.

The official said it was for these reasons why they were in support of a proposal that from the third national people’s assembly all members, who want to contest for leadership positions, must have a post-matric qualification.

Questions around the party’s future without Malema at the helm have also been raised, with Mpofu recently saying, during an interview on local radio station Power FM, he would be surprised if Malema runs for a third term as party leader. 

Many in the organisation do not seem to share this position, with a few telling me the EFF could do with 10 to 15 more years with Malema skippering the ship, even dismissing his own personal sagas, which include several legal matters, each at various stages of the criminal justice system.

While the DA and ANC’s messy and at times petty in-fighting has dominated 2019’s political headlines, it is the EFF who will close out the year – will the red berets’ show of unity crack under the spotlight of the country’s media or will Malema’s party be the envy of its two bigger opponents?

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