Life in Malemaland

In Commentary
1. Ch-ch-changes

Hell is an unwanted bear hug.

Let’s keep this maxim in mind as we wind our way through the EFF’s increasingly detailed municipal elections literature. (If their manifesto is a skeleton, their Radical Voice publication, a volume of which is released every week or so, serves as the internal organs.) Before we get too far though, and before we confuse ourselves into thinking that if the EFF would incrementally tweak our gently microwaved social democracy, we must agree on the following: the party’s local election manifesto is a fundamental reconceptualisation of how the South African state functions, so much so that they’d render the country unrecognisable within an afternoon of running the joint. The current elite consider freedom to be a political condition. The EFF conceive of freedom as an economic edition.

And so: Extreme Makeover: Juju Edition.

The EFF’s whole local governance framework is riveted to the party’s founding literature, which insists that it is their aim to “capture political and state power through whatever revolutionary means possible to transform the economy for the benefit of all, in particular Africans.” While local manifestos are always hitched to national manifestos, the EFF has since its conception viewed governance through a microscope rather than a pair of binoculars, with a focus on reformulating how life is lived at a granular level in township, peri-urban and rural wards. The party doesn’t articulate a grand urban vision, or even express much interest in transforming our cities — you know, those big smoky places where 60% of the country resides. But this is entirely by design: under the EFF, individual wards and their councillors would play an outsized role in the life of every South African citizen. We would be transmogrified into a country of microverses, run by a cabal of middle managers, overseen by the Central Command Team in outer space, AKA Braamfontein.

2. The Revolution Has Been Counselled

At the EFF’s manifesto launch at Soweto’s Orlando Stadium on April 30, and in the supplementary literature that pours from their Apple products, Malema and Company made their expectations very clear to hopeful councillors: y’all are gonna work like pigs. These red-clad Avengers are to make their phone numbers public, keep their mobiles on night and day, hold community meetings at least once a month, refrain from boning any of their constituents in exchange for “services”, educate themselves in all aspects of “mass revolutionary action”, live in the ward, love the ward, “[abolish] his/her ego and his/her attachments to personal success and achievements; s/he is selfless and one with the people.”

Corruption would be instantly eliminated, largely because councillors would be forbidden from either winning tenders or owning businesses in their wards. (Run a spaza shop or tyre retreading outfit near home? Not any more, you don’t.) EFF councillors are meant to function as surrogate parents for all of the ward’s orphans. They are mommy, daddy, nanny, and the saintly visage staring back at you from your EFF home shrine.

The only problem being: acquiring traces of Mother Theresa’s DNA and cloning her would prove a lengthy, expensive process, the budget for which is unlikely to be underwritten by Pravin Gordhan. The EFF is without question a disciplined organisation. Yet with the whole manifesto leaning not on institutional capacity but on the behaviour of individual humans, is the party not asking for the same species of governance chaos that currently bedevils us?

The general IQ/aptitude/stamina of the councillor becomes even more vital when considering the mise en scène of the prospective EFF ward. On top of their already considerable responsibilities, these “People’s Municipalities” would run cradle to grave operations that include burying the poor, building and operating fresh food markets for “locally produced food and other necessities”, mandating that half of all goods sold in the municipality are produced locally and – Malema’s own personal obsession – running crèches and early childhood development centres. There would be a municipal abattoir that would “slaughter, package and trade” meat products, a municipal printing company that would churn out revolutionary literature, a municipal recording studio that would, I’m guessing here, cut album after album of EFF musical encomiums. Industrial parks would be maintained and operated by the municipality, as would all local roadworks and sanitation services.

Oh, and say adios to pit latrines and buckets: everyone gets a big-ass two-bedroom house.

A Revolutionary Councillor is never depressed, bored, and sad; there is always something to do, there are always revolutionary actions to take up and advance.

EFF Local Election Manifesto, Item 5, Section B

3. Municipal Munificence

More critically, job creation would become the municipality’s primary responsibility. No more outsourcing, no more consultants, no more tenders. Everything performed locally, by locals, steered and managed by local ward bosses. “The EFF’s People Municipality will make sure that each and EVERY WARD UNDER ITS CONTROL AND UNDER ITS MUNICIPALITY HAS AN ECONOMIC ACTIVITY THAT EMPLOYS PEOPLE and produces goods and services.” (The caps are theirs.)

Think of this as one huge, systemic local is lekker programme, the only problem being, as we’ve noted, that humans are dumb. There isn’t a CEO in the country capable of running all of these initiatives. The EFF electoral list would need to identify dozens of management geniuses in every ward they control, train them using an operating manual that would rival the Bible in both heft and righteous injunctions, and make sure they run clean, legible books.

In effect, the municipality would be in competition with (or, more accurately, wipe out) the private sector. The EFF has always evinced a loathing for Shoprites and Pick n Pays and Woolworths; the fresh food market would directly compete with both grocery chains and mom’n’pop shops for custom. The idea, I think, is that the municipality would slurp up the bulk of the local economy, kick it back in the form of employment, which would generate tax revenue, which would be kicked back into the local economy.

This is some seriously commie, nationalise-the-atmosphere, Zambia-in-the-1960s, Utopian stuff.

It didn’t work then, Fighters.

How the hell is it going to work now?

And yet we are by no means done with the freebies. The People’s Municipality would operate mobile health clinics and “functioning community health centres” in each ward. Policing would be reconfigured, with Community Safety Workers partnering with the cops to “isolate and arrest criminals in the communities”. The Safety Workers would be employed and trained by the EFF, while CCTV cameras would be installed in all “crime hotspots”, and rapid response teams would roar to the sites of all illicit activity.

What happens when the first Community Safety Worker gets knifed to death with the business end of a broken Black Label bottle? I’ll leave the ensuing legal wrangling to your imagination.

4. Land Lubber

We arrive now at the hub of EFF policy. According to the most recent volume of Radical Voices, “LANDLESSNESS is THE major reason why the black majority and Africans in particular live in absolute poverty, and […] EFF Municipalities will use the Municipal planning function to abolish landlessness.” In summary: White settlers came to the bottom of Africa, stole the land, and used it to perpetuate black poverty through successive iterations of colonialism, culminating in our present neocolonial arrangement. The question now is “the manner in which this illegally and illegitimately acquired land should be transferred to the ownership and for the benefit of the people as a whole”.

As far as the EFF is concerned, because all land in the country was acquired criminally, willing buyer/willing seller initiatives constitute a criminal act. The municipality is the vector through which these crimes will be redressed.

“We will allocate all available land to the people for residential, industrial, religious and recreational purposes, and no one will stop the EFF from doing so,” yells Radical Voices. But what do they mean by “available”? And what are the legal implications of handing out land parcels like food parcels, considering the fact that property rights are enshrined in the Constitution?

Well, lest we forget, the EFF’s National Chairperson, Dali Mpofu, is a pretty good lawyer, and he’s clearly thought this stuff through. In order to justify the use of the municipality to redistribute land, the party has cited Section 151 (4), which states:

“The national or provincial government may not compromise or impede a municipality’s ability or right to exercise its powers or perform its functions”.

If the Constitution assigned the municipality a bunch of tasks requiring land, goes the reasoning, then surely the Constitution would be negating itself if municipal managers didn’t take the land and use it as they see fit?

There are several legal precedents that back up this position, the most notable being Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality v Gauteng Development Tribunal 2008, during which a Constitutional Court judge affirmed that, “‘planning’ in the context of municipal affairs is a term which has assumed a particular, well-established meaning which includes the zoning of land and the establishment of townships. In that context, the term is commonly used to define the control and regulation of the use of land”.

Scoff if you want to, but the EFF has proved that it knows its way around a courtroom. And so People’s Municipalities will “expropriate and allocate land equitably to all residents of the Municipality for residential, recreational, industrial, religious, and agricultural purposes and activities with the principle of use it or lose it”.

This is a tidy little legal parry, one that would be super interesting to test out in court. But that, sadly, is where the details stop. Who gets the land? Is there a version of RDP house lists for those spacious new structures? How would all of this actually work?

And how would this massively intricate programme be bankrolled? Here, again, the pixels get fuzzy. The EFF correctly insists that the conditional grant system – through which local government must apply for funding from provincial or national government – is a recipe for dysfunction. They also correctly note that richer municipalities tend to get better funding, while poorer communities get screwed. All tallied, local government nets about 10 percent of the national budget, which means that under these conditions the EFF’s plans would be untenable without their changing the funding structure at either provincial or national levels. Not impossible down the line. Very unlikely in the short term.

So money must be secured elsewhere. The EFF reminds us that additional cash would come from municipalities that are essentially revenue generators. The party promises to use a minimum of 60% of local budgets on the delivery of services, and to use those piddly conditional grants as efficiently as possible. Weirdly, funds will also be raised “from progressive international partners and [we] will developmentally and effectively utilise the corporate social investment contributions from the private sector.” Um, which “progressive international partners” would those be? And I’m not sure how forgiving the “private sector” will be, considering the EFF is basically rigging their municipalities to destroy business.

In other words, Fighters are going to be waiting a long time for those handouts.

5. Who’s Your (Sugar) Daddy?

A last note, and it brings us back to the unwanted bear hug/Hell maxim.

No question, South Africa’s communities need equal resources regardless of the pigment and pay cheques of their constituents. But Radical Voices has a lot of work to do in the next two months explaining just how this plan would work.

Otherwise, what differentiates all these nice words from poverty porn designed to titillate votes?

The EFF says that they engaged in extensive on-the-ground consultations in building their manifesto. But is this really how South Africans want to live, micromanaged by councillors who double as parents, triple as overlords, and quadruple as owners of every sector of the economy? It leaches the agency from life, all of this municipal oversight. It begs an enormous amount of trust in government.

It infantilises.

The original people of this land roamed free for millennia without a dude in a red overall wiping their asses; there were capitalist strivers in this place long before there was capitalism. Individual agency is in our blood. In my experience, people want fairness and equal opportunity, not a professional nursemaid.

The EFF’s plan is bold, and massive, radical change is necessary. But in its current state, their manifesto appears unworkable. It’s a big, slobbery bear hug without any bank to back it up. The People’s Municipality subjugates the people to the municipality.

We would no longer live in wards, but would instead live under wardens. And I’m not entirely sure South Africans would buy such an arrangement.

 First published at Daily Maverick.

Comments

Richard Poplak
Richard Poplak is a senior contributor at South Africa’s Daily Maverick. His books include Ja, No, Man: Growing Up White in Apartheid-Era South Africa, which was longlisted for the Alan Paton Non-Fiction prize, shortlisted for the University of Johannesburg Literary Award, and voted one of the top 10 books of 2007 by Now Magazine. A Rockefeller Foundation Fellow, Richard has won South Africa’s Media-24 Best Feature Writing Award and a National Magazine Award in Canada, and he holds the 2015 Bookmark title for best journalist in South Africa.