Earlier this year, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) called on matric graduates to simply arrive at universities to register at the door. It is important to understand that these calls are not designed to help, but rather aim to create chaos.
The method proclaimed is completely at odds with universities’ enrollment methods due to the advent of the internet. The call is obviously ridiculous and would cause utter chaos when students (and I mean actual, accepted students) arrive to register, but this is not by accident. No, in fact, the EFF want chaos.
To explain, consider the position in politics which the EFF occupies. They are a radical far-left (self-proclaimed ‘Marxist-Leninist-Fanonian’) party that originally splintered off from the dominant African National Congress (ANC). The aim of the party was to attract disillusioned ANC voters by propagating left-wing populist policies such as Zimbabwe-style land reform, nationalisation of industry, and various other socialist policies. In doing so, they embody what a populist party is and, so do their tactics: appealing to the working class and the poor, preaching extreme policy changes and campaigning to make a big, visual presence.
With that being said, the EFF only got just over 6% of the vote in the last general election and just over 8% in the last local government election. They don’t govern a single municipality and the most power they have is begrudgingly being part of coalition governments in a few municipalities as well as having a sizable presence in the National Assembly. This is frustration to the party as, without power, little can be done to actually implement the party’s radical agenda. This is why, when populist parties can’t win at the ballot, they take to the streets.
At this point, it is interesting to cast our gaze to Europe.
Most European countries have in the past 10 years seen a gradual rise in right-wing populism. This comes in various forms. Traditionally, the moderate populist parties have gained greater electoral success. Examples include UKIP in Great Britain, The Finns Party in Finland, Partij voor de Vrijheid (PVV) in the Netherlands and Alternitive für Deutschland (AfD) in Germany. All of these parties are Eurosceptic and campaign prominently on issues of immigration and the preservation of national heritage. The PVV came close to being the largest party in the Netherlands in their last election, The Finns Party was recently part of a coalition government in Finland and UKIP still holds a plurality of British seats in the European Parliament. As can be seen in these cases, the populist parties have all gained fairly significant degrees of political success, but notably, they all generally represent a more conservative and nationalist bent on their countries’ politics. All of these parties are moderate enough to have gained large support at the ballot box, but what of the more extreme, far-right parties that exist in Europe? How do they compare to the EFF?
To answer this, one should take the Greek far-right party Golden Dawn as an example. Even by European standards, Golden Dawn is extreme: they are essentially a neo-Nazi party. Their flag resembles a Swastika and their leader, Nikaolos Michaloliakos, is a Holocaust denier. Their members have been accused of crimes against migrant communities in Greece and they often use rhetoric advocating the idea of reclaiming lands previously held under Alexander the Great.
Golden Dawn, like the EFF, has only achieved very minor political fortunes receiving 6-7% in Greek elections, but despite this, they have injected themselves into the Greek political scene through their actions outside the ballot. Golden Dawn are known from their street demonstrations and even violence. Golden Dawn members have often been implicated attacks on migrant communities in Greece and one was even tried for attempted murder. Perhaps one of the most telling moments was when its spokesperson, Ilias Kasidiaris, assaulted an MP of the Communist Party during a live television debate.
This is obviously a very extreme example, and it should be noted that UKIP, AfD, and more mainstream populist parties are lightyears apart from Golden Dawn ideologically. But the general trend in Europe among extreme nationalist parties has been to make a name for themselves on the streets first. Only after that can they compete at the ballot box. That’s why a party with views as extreme as Golden Dawn can get as much as 7% of the Greek vote. The same thing has happened with other street-groups-turned-parties such as Britain’s British National Party, National Front and Britain First as well as the English Defence League. In South Africa, we have our very own Golden Dawn: the Economic Freedom Fighters. A extremist political party that does not yet have enough votes to implement its agenda. The EFF wants chaos because it wants to make a name for itself.
Another interesting comparison to make here is the reaction of the mainstream parties to the rise of the populist right. In Britain, UKIP once posed a very serious threat to the Conservative Party, particularly their Eurosceptic voting base. The tactic employed here has been to lambaste the populists with ad hominem attacks while silently adopting their own policy. David Cameron once called UKIP voters ‘A bunch of fruitcakes, looneys and closet racists’ and yet, in 2015, due to enormous pressure from UKIP, Cameron promised a European Union referendum which ultimately led to Brexit. This worked remarkably well for the Conservatives, as UKIP’s vote share was completely decimated once the EU referendum took place. As party leader Paul Nuttal put it, UKIP was ‘A victim of their own success.’
In the Netherlands, Prime Minister Mark Rutte also faced the prospect of losing votes to the PVV and so adopted a stricter attitude on integration of Muslim migrants in the Netherlands while simultaneously lambasting PVV leader Geert Wilders who had been calling for the same thing.
In the ANC’s last national conference, they have completely outdone David Cameron and Mark Rutte in their adoption of expropriation without compensation, as well as the promise of ‘free’ education. Up until now, these two issues were what the EFF used to differentiate itself from the ANC. If the ANC does indeed carry through with these policies, the EFF will find itself increasingly irrelevant. The only way to counter this is to ramp-up their extremist views and cause chaos in the streets, just like Golden Dawn. It’s all part of their plan, and South Africans should be aware of this.