EFF Watch

Did the EFF gain more power than they deserve?

EFF punching above its weight

A careful analysis of the municipal election results on a national basis reveals that the so-called populist Economic Freedom Fighters did not really do all that well, however they have gained hugely in terms of power.

While they came in at the polls, especially in the big metropoles, positioned as holding the balance of power, giving them huge media exposure, at a national level they remain a tiny minority and did much worse than the Democratic Party in terms of growth.

In fact, it looks very unlikely that they will be a serious contender for even the position of official opposition in the next national general election, scheduled for 2019.

Looked at on a national basis, it is clear that a shift towards the middle of the political spectrum has taken place in the country since the general election of 2014. While EFF has increased its percentage share of the votes by just under two percentage points since the 2014 to 8.25%, the DA increased its share by almost 5% to 27.02%.

The EFF also suffers from another weakness at national level in that its support tends to be mainly concentrated in specific regions/provinces. Percentage-wise its support was highest in Limpopo (one of the smaller provinces), but drops to 2.81% in the Western Cape – one of the largest provinces.

From this perspective, something dramatic will have to happen between now and the 2019 election for the party to become even the official opposition in any of the provinces.

However, from another perspective, it has also allowed them to take on the image of a serious player on the national political scene. The EFF’s support is clearly concentrated in some of the bigger metropolitan areas and towns. This made the forming of local governments without its cooperation in those jurisdictions impossible.

Using the local platform nationally

Despite coming in on a distant third place if the figures are calculated on a national basis, the EFF uses its disproportionate power for local balance-of-power positions to project itself as an important player.

In fact, almost without exception, the conditions it put forward for cooperation in the formation of local governments dealt with central and provincial government competencies. These included: appropriation of land without compensation, nationalisation of mines, free education immediately, removal of Die Stem from the national anthem, eradication of e-tolls, no-signing of the nuclear deal; and the removal of President Jacob Zuma as the head of state.

The EFF must have known from the word go that no local government could give undertakings on these matters, but ensures their national agenda remains in the public eye and keeps the pressure on the ANC nationally to move in their direction on these matters.

By offering issue-based ‘alliance’ as a weaker version of a coalition, it ensured its main aim, punishing the ANC by pushing them out of power in high-profile local governments, could be achieved.

Weaknesses of strategy

The biggest danger of this strategy is, however, that it is very unlikely to deliver stable government in the municipalities where it applies. This could saddle the EFF with the image of sabotaging not only service delivery capacity, but also the country’s economy by creating investor uncertainties.

The EFF is also in danger of giving ANC-controlled provincial governments a gap to place these municipalities under administration and enforce a new election there – something that, of the three biggest parties, the EFF is probably the least able to afford from both a cost and an organisational point of view.

For the country, the bad news from this strategy is that there are already signs that the ANC might embark on a more populist policy. After a four-day meeting of its National Executive Committee to assess the election results, the ANC emerged with a plan to refocus its policies in a more populist direction – almost echoing the narrative of the EFF – specifically to restructure budgets to assist the poor and focus on job creation.

For this reason, some analysts are of the opinion that the markets are presently overestimating the positive side of the breaking of the ANC’s stranglehold on political power in the country. Turbulent times might be lying ahead that could terminate the rand’s strong run of late and impact by the end of the year on credit ratings by international rating agencies.

Only certainty

The only certainty coming out of the election results and how they impacted on metropoles like Tshwane (home of the national capital, Pretoria), Johannesburg (the country’s financial and commercial ‘capital’) and Nelson Mandela Bay, is that the country has entered a new phase in its political development.

The 8% decline in the voters’ support for the ANC between 2011 and 2016 represents a fundamental shift in South African politics. It will take at least until the general election of 2019 and beyond before the country settles into a ‘new normal’.

It remains to be seen if the EFF itself will gain some traction as a mainline political party by the time election 2019 comes around, but in the meantime, it is undoubtedly punching well beyond its weight in terms of actual voters’ support – and will do so for the foreseeable future.

by Piet Coetzer

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