The Economic Freedom Fighters this weekend saw an overhaul of its top leadership, which is now half female. Only the leader, Julius Malema, and his deputy Floyd Shivambu stayed put – stronger than before – and they gained some interesting new company.
Ambulances pulled into the Nasrec Expo Centre shortly after the Economic Freedom Fighters dispersed, following the election of their top six leadership on the first day of their congress.
It was shortly before midnight, and six women had to be rushed to the clinic on the premises. They were pepper-sprayed in the food queues by their own security, a paramilitary wing of the party, known as the Defenders of the Revolution (DOR). Some delegates said that they blamed the EFF’s newly-elected secretary-general, Marshall Dlamini, for the chaos, while others complained that women specifically were singled out for the abuse. Some in the EFF have floated theories of exploding pepper-spray canisters while the DOR members were told not to speak to journalists.
Secretary-general Marshall Dlamini
Dlamini, the head of the EFF’s security and the person in charge of the DOR, is no stranger to violence. In February 2019, he was charged with assault with the intent to do grievous bodily harm after he hit a plain-clothes policeman in the parliamentary precinct.
The stocky Dlamini was the only one of the top six to be carried to the stage by delegates after the Institute of Election Management Services in Africa’s Terry Tselane announced the uncontested results. It was a victory for the Amatorokisi lobby in the EFF, Julius Malema’s loyalists, who wanted Dlamini to replace Godrich Gardee after he fell out of favour and was accused of not doing enough to grow the EFF.
The EFF election of the top six effectively takes place by an open show of hands, with each candidate needing support from 30% of the delegates from the floor – or 954 hands – to be nominated. During contentious nominations, Malema sat with his arms folded, nudging and winking with a smile, such as when former EFF chairperson Dali Mpofu went up against party deputy president Floyd Shivambu for Shivambu’s position (Malema favoured Shivambu).
Only a few hands went up, some from the Eastern Cape bloc, to show support for Mpofu, while the overwhelming sentiment was in Shivambu’s favour. The set-up of nomination by show of hands is such that one could feel intimidated going against the wishes of those who are watching over the conference. Despite this, Gauteng leader Mandisa Mashego did accept nomination by a student and feminist activist, MP Naledi Chirwa, in a futile attempt to take on Dlamini. Mashego didn’t make the 30% threshold.
Dlamini, who hails from KwaZulu-Natal where he is credited with expanding the EFF’s support base in a difficult province, and whose name has reportedly come up in connection with dubious tenders in Johannesburg and Tshwane, will definitely be the one to watch amongst the new additions. On the morning after on Sunday, Malema went as far as defending the actions of the DOR who “put their lives at risk” to ensure the smooth running of the EFF’s conference. “When it comes to rascals and any agent provocateur, they must deal with it decisively without thinking twice, for the protection of the red flag, the EFF. We are in crisis, people attack our meetings all the time,” Malema told the conference, making it clear that the DOR security marshalls would not be removed. They do manage to ensure that EFF gatherings are remarkably disciplined. They are indeed a far cry from Malema’s ANC Youth League days and the chaotically bare-bummed and chair-hurling congress in 2008, when he was first elected leader. Whereas Malema used chaos in the past to gain power, his hold on the reins now flourishes in an almost militarily ordered environment.
Chairperson Victoria Mente
Three of the four newcomers to the EFF’s top six leadership are women. Victoria Mente, an EFF MP hailing from the Western Cape, was elected chairperson, replacing Dali Mpofu, who declined nomination for this position. Mpofu, whose bid to contest Shivambu for the party’s deputy presidency didn’t make it past the 30 percent mark, declined to contest Mente for this position after he was nominated for it too. Mpofu previously said he wanted to concentrate on his legal work instead. Mente is a “former bodyguard to the Cape Town mayor” (her biography on the People’s Assembly web site doesn’t give any dates for this), after which she was a “barefoot lawyer” in Khayelitsha, volunteering for the Labour Community Advice Media and Education Centre, assisting workers to claim their rights. Mente became an EFF MP in 2014.
Treasurer general Ompile Maotwe
EFF MP Ompile Maotwe, from the North West province, replaced Leigh-Ann Mathys as treasurer-general. Mpumalanga leader Collen Sedibe was seen telling EFF members in a leaked video that Maotwe raised funds for the EFF when it was struggling. Mathys declined to take up her position as MP in May after citing ill-health and she also didn’t contest this position. Former EFF Gauteng treasurer, Maotwe first became an EFF representative as a member of the Gauteng legislature in 2014, and then rose to the national legislature amidst some controversy of another candidate higher up on the list being forced to resign to make space for Maotwe to take up her seat. The candidate, Lungi Gabuza, was eventually expelled from the party after defying orders to resign.
Deputy Secretary-General Poppy Mailola
Tselane strained to hear the unfamiliar name when Poppy Mailola was nominated from the floor, but she got up promptly and clearly said her name: Poppy Raesibe Mailola, and accepted nomination. Mailola, an MP from Mpumalanga, replaces Hlengiwe Hlophe, who is reported to have stepped down voluntarily. Mailola’s name emerged in October after City Press reported Mpumalanga chairperson Sedibe as saying the Nasrec conference would only be a formality, and that the decision on leadership “was accepted by all nine provinces and 53 regions” ahead of the conference. Mailola’s inclusion was part of getting the gender balance on the top six right. Sedibe said there should be a 50-50 balance.
EFF leader Julius Malema and deputy Floyd Shivambu
The top two leaders and long-time collaborators – Malema and Shivambu were expelled at the same time from the ANC Youth League when Malema was its leader and Shivambu the spokesperson – were the only two of the top six to retain their positions. They have also been the subjects of most of the corruption allegations. The allegations were detailed in a number of investigations by publications like the Daily Maverick’s Scorpio itself, but the reports irked the EFF leadership to such an extent that they declined accreditation to some media organisations to cover the party’s second congress, known as the National People’s Assembly, this weekend.
Some EFF members, part of the losing Amapiano faction, earlier anonymously expressed their disquiet about the allegations to City Press, saying they were concerned about the two retaining their positions despite them being linked to scandals such as the VBS Mutual Bank looting and the Johannesburg fleet tender. They said it was ironic that the two would be left in high positions “when they have a cloud of corruption hanging over them.”
A few hours before the leadership election, a leader from the fledgeling Namibian EFF spoke, and asked the crowd to chant with him: “Down corruption down.” After his speech, Shivambu took over and continued with the chant with only a hint of a grin on his lips. It is clear that the new, socialist EFF that emerges from Nasrec will be much the same as the old, except that Malema and Shivambu are now stronger than ever before.