For about three years now, there have been consistent rumours that some leaders of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and the African National Congress (ANC) have been engaged in on-off discussions about Julius Malema and others in the top echelons of the EFF going back to the ANC.
According to these rumours, President Jacob Zuma has, in response, said something to the effect that such a thing would not happen while he was still alive. Apparently, the President has not been part of these talks or negotiations. Irrespective of the veracity, or otherwise, of these rumours, we must remember that Malema, through his lawyer, made an offer to the appeals committee of the ANC just before he was expelled by the ruling party. In the offer, he beseeched the committee not to recommend expulsion. In return, he said, he would not avail himself for any position in the structures of the ANC for five years. In those days, he averred that his blood was black, green and gold and would remain so even after rigor mortis had set in.
Fast forward to September 2016. In an interview with Nkepile Mabuse, the host of the eNCA programme, Checkpoint, Malema made a startling statement. He said he had no doubt that no party would win an outright majority in the 2019 general election. He then said that, if this happened, his first proposal would be a merger between the ANC and the EFF. The ANC and the EFF would wither away and something completely new – a new political party – would be formed and its headquarters would be in Soweto.
Lindiwe Zulu, a member of the national executive committee of the ANC, poured icy-cold water on the idea. For his part, EFF national chairperson Dali Mpofu was at sixes and sevens when he was quizzed by SAfm presenter Sakina Kamwendo about whether the EFF had discussed the question of a merger with the ANC. Maybe I was not fully awake and my brain was, therefore, not fully charged but I gained the very strong impression that Mpofu had never heard of the idea of the merger. Personally, I heard of the idea two weeks before I was interviewed by Checkpoint and, in a discussion with some ANC and EFF members two weeks before the Checkpoint interview, I left the discussion with a very strong feeling that some in the EFF and the ANC were still having talks about some kind of rapprochement between the two parties. But, if Mpofu’s rambling response to Kamwendo is anything to go by, Malema was on a solo flight. Alternatively, it was not a solo flight but Mpofu had not been invited.
What are the implications of Malema’s idea of a merger between the EFF and the ANC after the 2019 election?
Those supporters of the ANC who voted for the EFF in the 2016 local government elections, I suspect, do not like the idea. By voting EFF, they were teaching the ANC a lesson but did not want it out of power. On the other hand, they may have abandoned the ANC in the local government polls precisely because they want the ANC dislodged from government. In the case of the latter, the EFF would be making a mistake if, before the 2019 elections, it announced its intention to merge or go into a coalition arrangement with the ANC.
However, we should not rule out the possibility that the idea of a merger may split both the EFF and the ANC. In other words, it is possible that there will be opposition to the idea from inside the EFF and the ANC as well. Also, if such splits occur, the exact configuration of the forces from inside the ANC and the EFF which will coalesce to form the new party would, under such circumstances, be a very unstable variable whose instability may be complicated even further by the possibility that the merger may attract political actors from outside the EFF and the ANC.
If the idea of a merger causes splits in the ANC and the EFF, the result may be a weak ANC and EFF, with the new party itself failing to be a qualitative improvement on what was supposed to wither away.
Another thing we must not rule out is the possibility that the merger may be scuppered by personality clashes and a counter merger if the Democratic Alliance swallows the smaller opposition parties and elements in the ANC and the EFF that are opposed to the merger.
In the end, the most unstable variable may be Malema himself. If it is true that he tends to be susceptible to dictatorial impulses embedded in his political identity may be the seeds for both the impressive growth and spectacular implosion of the EFF.