Last week the the EFF stormed the Gauteng legislature and strashed streets in the Johannesburg city centre, getting a whole lot of bad press just when it seemed on the verge of winning more supporters. AAISHA DADI PATEL asked some of the fighters what they made of it all.
Boikanyo Leballo, 33, Johannesburg, EFF campaigning and mobilising
Parliament can be a serious thing. It’s where issues are raised and discussed. But there is no code that says we can’t dress a certain way. Even the caucus themselves never had a problem for years – Nelson Mandela used to wear his printed shirts and no one had a problem with that. Ntombi Mekgwe, she’s got a problem with petty issues, but she’s not worried about what we want and what we think … And we as the EFF are saying we are the voice of the voiceless, we are not going to back down until they let us into the legislature in our overalls and makarapas. Uniforms are not the ones that are speaking. So now we will tell the world, the EFF is not going to back down until our grievances are heard.
Vuyani Pambo, 25, Johannesburg, EFF Wits branch chair
It’s quite simple. What other parties do is not what we are interested in. We are the only political party calling for nationalisation, so that distinguishes us. We are a different animal in the political jungle. I don’t know how it can be said that we are not serious, because we have been negotiating in good faith and our negotiations have been falling on deaf ears. Mekgwe has not been taking us seriously. If our Parliament can accept that parliamentarians can wear overalls, then why can the legislature, which is below Parliament, not accept that? So there is no coherence in line with what is happening at a national level. There is hypocrisy. We are not going to be bullied out of legislature. We were elected to be there, we did not impose ourselves there. It is in this faith that people elected us to represent them and stay there. So we were within our rights to demand that they reinstate our representatives.
Mbe Mbhele, 22, EFF Wits branch secretary
I think that what happened in Parliament is a reflection of what’s been happening in the country. I don’t think we must reduce it to overalls and uniforms. I think it speaks of the fundamental right to protest and the government has been trying to make sure that people don’t dissent. If there’s a voice of dissent from anyone who’s not in the ANC, that is misconstrued; they are represented as trying to cause violence, as petty. And this is what happened in Marikana. People were protesting, and they got shot. Andries Tatane, protesting for water and got shot. And what the EFF is doing is not about overalls, but about trying to send a message that everyone should have his voice. And the ANC is not doing justice by charging the EFF just because it is an opposition party.
Sive Mqikela, 20, Eastern Cape, law student and EFF commander
The basis of the foundation of the EFF is that it was a protest movement. Like everyone, we are not happy with the current status quo. Whenever there are issues in society, be it basic services, be it salaries, the EFF will be there. So this did not only start with the protest in the legislature. Remember Marikana. Remember Andries Tatane. Remember the protests in Soweto. So it is not only about overalls. We are saying, we are not comfortable with what the ANC is doing and everyone needs to know that there is something wrong with South Africa. I mean, if they took themselves seriously, why would they send people away from legislature just because they’re wearing red overalls? THEY are not serious! The EFF is more serious than anyone. So the EFF is sending that message, to say: this must stop. And the time for economic freedom is now.
Monwabisi Ndlangana 20, Port Elizabeth, law student and EFF member
Our people don’t understand the value of symbolism. Most of the people making a big deal out of this situation are people who aren’t in that class. Us, as a working class people, understand the necessity firstly of the attire of Parliament, the actual decorum, how we are addressed and the manner in which we speak. We need to be able to be honest in Parliament. We have certain views. And we have over a million people who voted for these views to be brought forward in Parliament. So if we go into Parliament and change our tone, change our views and direction, we are then leaving our people behind. That is serious in itself.