Ralph Mathekga: How to win friends and influence people, the EFF way

The Economic Freedom Fighters have had a great start to the year. Within a period of two months, the party has already scored two major political victories that would take many other political parties years to achieve.

But the EFF's strategy is bearing fruits in a way that is causing major headaches for other parties in the opposition camp. They can be largely credited for exerting pressure on the ANC to get rid of President Jacob Zuma. Had it not been for the EFF, the ANC would have done what the party has been perfecting over the years; playing dead and pretending as if Zuma was not a problem.

By making it clear that they had no time to listen to another one of Zuma's State of the Nation addresses, the EFF actually helped Cyril Ramaphosa expedite the former president's exit.

The EFF's second quick political victory for the year came in the form of the parliamentary motion on expropriation of land without compensation. This is where the EFF actually baited the ANC on the issue of land expropriation, and the whole thing was just too tasty for the ruling party to avoid taking a bite. 

Hence, Parliament adopted the motion. It is quite a significant development for the EFF. The party has been able to apply major policy influence without having the corresponding numbers in Parliament. With barely 7% of electoral support shown in the 2014 general elections, the EFF has been able to pressurise the ruling ANC – who sits on over 60% of electoral support – to adopt the policy on the expropriation of land.

I have a theory on the effect of the EFF on South African politics: the party is more effective than even the DA on policy direction. It is important to note that its influence on policy dialogue in the country is way disproportional to the level of electoral support that the party has. The EFF is punching way above its weight! The question is: how do they do it?

The strategic position of the EFF is to play all willing political parties, including the major opposition party (the DA) and the governing party (the ANC). The EFF has shown that it can extract maximum political mileage from a relationship with the DA, while simultaneously achieving the same with their relationship with the ANC.

It punished the ANC after the 2016 local government elections by entering into coalitions with the DA in major municipalities (Nelson Mandela Bay, Tshwane, and City of Johannesburg). The DA took the deal from the EFF to run those municipalities. The EFF has always been clear that their relationship with the DA is on a pay-as-you-go basis: it is not a long-term contract. What this means is that the DA always has to top up the relationship by constantly messaging the EFF to ensure the party does not pull out of coalitions. 

Recently though, the DA has been sending "please save me" messages to the EFF, because the DA just can't afford a top-up airtime to call the EFF. The coalition seems to be headed for collapse after the EFF made it clear that it now prefers to receive calls from the ANC, instead of having to respond to the DA's distress calls to save coalitions in Nelson Mandela Bay, for example.

The EFF has played the DA and the ANC to their advantage at different points in time. Through all of it, it has maintained the cardinal rule of politics: there are no permanent enemies or friends.

It is going to be an interesting year for the EFF, as the party seems to be getting used to those weekly victories. This will destabilise the opposition camp and put to test the alliance that has been cobbled together by the opposition under Zuma's administration.  

The EFF seems to be winning, at the expense of the opposition camp.

Ralph Mathekga is a Fellow at the SARChI Chair: African Diplomacy and Foreign Policy at the University of Johannesburg and author of When Zuma Goes

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