EFF’s manifesto – the luxury election shopping list
DAILY MAVERICK / 03 FEBRUARY 2019 - 16.1 / STEPHEN GROOTES
Election manifestos are generally expected to be the outline of what a political party would do if it were to form a government and run a country, and should say much about the constituencies they are trying to attract. The ANC is striking the middle ground, the DA is likely to follow a similar route. But the EFF is different: it is not really interested in the votes of some groups in society, liberating it to be more radical in its stance.
The EFF has produced what might be one of the longest manifestos in our recent political history. It weighs in at 170 pages, compared to the full text of the ANC’s manifesto pamphlet, which came to 68. The EFF’s text is one of hopes and dreams. But interestingly, it is also a curious mix of the generic, specific and the detailed. For example, it explains that it wants the cultivation of potatoes and tomatoes in the Namaqualand region. But it also wants new legislation to ensure that all young people must study further after school, a general promise that offers no other detail.
In many ways, the EFF is also campaigning without having to actually worry about implementing many of these policies. For example, it says that all banks and other financial institutions would have to change to majority black ownership within just 12 months. While most South Africans would like the ownership of these institutions to change, forcing this to happen in just a year would lead to economic chaos, with massive destruction of value in the process. But it seems very unlikely that the EFF would ever be in a position in which it would get to implement this policy/threat, so they can afford their radicalism.
Generally speaking, this is a manifesto aimed squarely at the EFF’s main constituency, young black people who are still living in a state of economic apartheid. It makes promises such as “one degree, one job”, insisting that everyone with a degree would get a job. But how? What magic wand is there that can make such a thing happen? It is promises like this that show that while in some areas the manifesto is well thought-through, it is also seriously glossing over the implementation phase.
To go through the document is to be met by promise after promise; schools will have many more resources, each one will have their own orthodontist, every person will have hot water in their home by 2024, pit toilets will be removed as a whole by the same year. Curiously, there are very specific targets set in a certain part of the country – there is a list of which areas in which provinces would be prioritised for sanitation improvements, for example. Of course, other parties have made the same pledges. And surely, if the ANC could eradicate all pit toilets, it would. The fact that it cannot suggests that there are important reasons around a lack of capacity for their programmes to have succeeded. Why, then, would the EFF be able to succeed when the ANC has failed?
But in some ways, this may reflect the internal dynamics of the EFF in that its own members and branches are asking for certain promises to be met, so they can address the problems of the communities they live in. This could turn out to be important evidence that the EFF is now having some success in creating structures in different parts of the country. Whether there is proof of this may come in the elections themselves, if the EFF is able to make inroads in provinces like KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State, where it has not seen significant support so far.
Ahead of the publishing of the manifesto, EFF National Chair Dali Mpofu promised on SAfm that all of the pledges had been costed. However, the manifesto does not explain how all of this would be done. It does say that corporate taxes would be increased from 28% to 32%, and that dividend taxes would be increased to 25%. The VAT would be reduced to 14%, while there would also be a tax on speculative capital inflows to 60%. Which suggests that the EFF would actually tax money coming into the country. There would also be a 2% education and training tax on companies with a turnover of R50-million or more, and an increase in inheritance taxes.
But it seems unlikely that that particular mix of changes to the taxation system would lead to nearly enough money to pay for all of the promises in this manifesto. Just doubling social grants would have a crippling impact on the fiscus. And it would be difficult to see the tax receipts from corporates rising if some of them have had to dramatically change their ownership structures within 12 months.
This leads to something that may be missing from the manifesto. It may make sense for a party with the ideology of the EFF, aiming to get votes from the constituency it’s aiming for, to simply soak the rich, to charge them as much tax as possible. A former president of France once proposed a 75% tax on the super wealthy. There seems to be no such plan here. That is slightly odd, in that Julius Malema would surely have almost nothing to lose by making such a promise. Unless, of course, you are very cynical about some of his backers.
Perhaps the area most lacking in what you could call the “how” of the EFF’s manifesto is around Eskom. The party says Eskom would simply be ordered to invest in renewable power, and the current Independent Power Producers programme would be scrapped. Also to be scrapped would be all the debt that is owed to Eskom, in other words, municipalities that owe Eskom would no longer have to pay their overdue bills. There is nothing about what would happen after such a fateful move, of course. It is well-known that Eskom’s financial situation is worse than impossible; were such a thing to happen it would simply go bust. On the ground, what would probably happen is that workers would not be paid. The unions there appear to be militant, and they would refuse to work, and thus there would be no electricity in the system. But none of these easy-to-imagine consequences is canvassed in the EFF’s document.
One of the more interesting parts of this manifesto is exactly how much time and space is given to the creative industries: there are promises to help ensure artists get paid properly, that radio and TV stations would have to play mostly South African and African music, there is a specific promise to stop “payola” where DJs take money to play certain songs. Considering that the number of artists in the population is incredibly small, it’s interesting to consider why their issues get so much space in the EFF’s manifesto. Perhaps it’s a sign that this is a large constituency in the EFF, that they have a loud voice within the party. Perhaps there is also some aspiration here as well; for many young people in our society (and many others), performing is a way out of the poverty in which they are born, which may mean the EFF is tapping into the politics of aspiration here.
Unsurprisingly, the land issue is front and centre of the EFF’s agenda. There is the predictable promise to change the Constitution to allow expropriation without compensation. There is also the promise to nationalise land, that government would control and administer every single square inch of it. Foreign land ownership would be abolished, and the party would distribute land in a way that is “demographically representative”, but young people and women would have at least 50% of the land. Yet, at the same time, there would be “People’s Land Courts” that would decide on restitution cases, and there would be more protection for the rights of people living on communal land. This may appear to be slightly inconsistent – if all land is owned by the state, what communal land would there be? And how would people go through a land claims process to recover land taken from their families, if it was now owned by the state?
As for the administration of this, there would be a body called the “People’s Land Council” which would decide who gets to use what land. And yet it would be for free. And at the same time, there would be rights to land for “residential purposes with inheritance rights”.
Of course, one can imagine the incredible power that those sitting on the proposed “People’s Land Council” would have. The potential for gate-keeping, in other words, corruption in some forms, would be enormous. People with resources would pay huge amounts to access land without having to actually buy it.
Malema and the leadership of the EFF would, of course, sit on top of that structure.
The EFF also appears to be changing its stance slightly on its priorities. The party has always prioritised land above everything. But the theme of this manifesto is “Our Land and Jobs Now”. In other words, jobs are clearly almost as important as land. This could well suggest that its own constituency is saying so.
In many ways, this manifesto appears to be what could be called an “aspirational document”; the EFF has the luxury of being all but certain that it will not have to implement it. Instead, it is tapping into the aspirations of its core constituency, those still living a life dominated by economic apartheid.
This is obviously the correct choice of strategy. But it is still not certain how people will vote: both the ANC and the DA have much bigger structures, which will help during an election campaign. Once the election is proclaimed, broadcasters are bound to give political parties airtime commensurate with their showing in the last election, which means the EFF will get only 6% of airtime in news bulletins and current affairs programmes. And the claims around VBS and other suggestions of corruption have not disappeared. All of this means the EFF has to deal not just with its aspirations, but with the realpolitik of the present.
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