The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) is undoubtedly an organization of intellectuals. At least in a country where intelligence is measured by the number of degrees that one has, the EFF is leading in flaunting its intelligentsia.
But (un)fortunately genuine intelligence requires much more than performance, it requires grappling with ideas to solve both abstract and simple problems in society. How are problems solved? It is usually through deliberation and debate as has become the culture in South Africa. I personally do not rule out violence as another effective and intellectually grounded way to solve problems especially for a people whose entire experience is that of violence. I digress, young literary giant Unathi Slasha familiarized me with the term ‘bolekaja’. The term directly means come down, let’s fight! It is mostly used in literary circles where two writers are disagreeing and the only way to solve the disagreement is to debate and critique each other’s works until the other taps out or is knocked out.
The BLF whether it acknowledges this or not has styled itself as a critic to the EFF both in policy and in ideology, although some of their positions may be similar. In the same way that the EFF is to the ANC. It was therefore not a surprise when Andile Mngxitama the president of the BLF called the Commander in Chief of the EFF Julius Malema to a public debate. One could have easily expected that Malema was not going to respond to this call since the CIC is known for not debating people who are not a ‘threat’ to him. He dismissed Lindiwe Mazibuko of the Democratic Alliance (DA) in the past. What made Andile think that he was going to agree to debate him? Perhaps Andile thought the intellectuals of EFF would be excited to participate in a festival of ideas. Alas, his hopes were crushed when his call fell on deaf ears or is it a fearful heart. Everyone knows that Mngxitama does not come to play. He is in any case the foremost thinker of black consciousness in South Africa. His corpus of writings on black consciousness and its development is unmatched. So you don’t debate him wearing pyjamas and maybe fighters know this. What is strange though is that the EFF has proven numerous times that it is not inherently averse to debate. It participated in the Daily Maverick talk which took the form of a debate, it participated in the pre-election debate organized by eNCA and the leaders of EFF are always debating on twitter and facebook. Why refuse to debate the BLF? Is it because there is no incentive in debating a stokvel as the BLF is labelled by most fighters? This might be true but it is not a legitimate enough reason to reject engagement and debate.
However way you decide to look at it both the EFF and the BLF are part of the tradition of black radical thought. Despite the other arguing that the other is a puppet of Renwick and the other a puppet of the Guptas, both organizations claim to exist for the total emancipation of black people. It is not strange for two movements in the same tradition to engage in rigorous debate and conversation for the greater good of the people. Remember the Martin Luther King and the Malcom X debate or the Le Roi Jones and James Baldwin debate? There are many other examples like this. The refusal to debate can mean two paradoxical positions, extreme arrogance or lack of confidence in ones ideas. What this paradox shows though, through nuance, is that there is already a debate happening between the BLF and the EFF. Maybe the debate has not taken formality yet but the mere invitation and disagreement on primary positions constitutes debate in itself. This is to say that the BLF has already initiated the debate. Silence by the EFF already speaks volume.
(Un)fortunately the EFF did respond but all the responses do not speak to what the BLF is indicting the fighters with. The comments I recall in response to Mngxitama by Malema were that the oke is broke and just wants to get some cash. The deputy president Floyd Shivambu responded by commenting on how unkempt, jealous and half-drunk he always is. General members of the EFF also respond in slurs, likening the BLF to a stokvel or saying that the children of Biko (as the BLF is known in some circles) are drunk on curry and Nyaope. These slurs and insults do not assist where the BLF is making arguments that question the very basis of the ideological position of the EFF. The BLF has continuously questioned the EFF’s commitment to its cardinal pillars. The BLF also attacked the EFF’s apparent alignment with liberals by prioritizing the issue of corruption and footnoting that of land even though at the top of the EFF’s cardinal pillars is land expropriation without compensation. The BLF criticized the decision of the EFF to vote with the DA and questioned the overall ideological lens of the EFF. Children of the Red Sea (as the EFF is known in some circles) have not come out to deny and fully prove that these attacks are untrue and completely hogwash. Maybe the ‘stokvel’ does not deserve a response because it is too small but we know very well that the size of a movement does not legitimize its ideas. The ANC is the biggest organization in South Africa but they have proven that they are not necessarily committed to advancing the interests of black people at all costs. Fighters must write, respond and expose the bankruptcy and gupterism/zumarism of the BLF, less they forget that they have posed as an intellectual movement so this should not be difficult. The likes of my comrade Tshepo Goba, Anele Nzimande, Naledi Chirwa, Vuyani Pambo and not to mention Dr Ndlozi are revered as amongst the sharpest brains in the EFF and this must be demonstrated through polemics. If not Ncedisa Mpemnyama, Zanele Lwana and Athi Joja must keep on convincing the people and exposing the inadequacies of the EFF until the commanders come out. What they believe to be meaningless noise will eventually turn into music. The BLF will become jazz and we know how the people are attracted to jazz.
Ardono implores that movements must necessarily immerse themselves deeply in policy, implementation of resolutions and administration but they must also be independent of it and focus on ideology. No one needs to highlight the importance of ideology to an organization that calls itself a Marxist, Lennist and Fanonian organization. It is important that revolutionary movements are always guided by ideology and this guidance happens through reading, writing, critique and debate. You do not just say the word and ideology appears. One can even argue that the pitfalls of the ANC were the failure to cultivate and read the problematic of South Africa through a proper ideological lens post-1994. A movement that improvises about the problems of the people is a potential threat to the very people it claims to serve because it is unable to grasp the fact that material conditions hinge on ideology. This is to say, ideology is not just some useless mental exercise but social order itself depends on it. This is not some intellectual musterbation as some fighters have labelled it but the BLF is questioning a very important facet of the EFF. What should fighters do? I suggest Bolekaja! Come down and fight so that this little family quarrel is resolved. Once the quarrel has been resolved maybe the two movements can play their respective roles towards the complete emancipation of black people instead of bickering at each other. Nx.
Mbe Mbhele is a student at Wits. An author of an anthology of short stories titled Crazy Father and Other Very Short Lies and a struggling poet.