Black First Land First leader Andile Mngxitama screamed - outside the Durban High court after the postponement of ex-President Jacob Zuma’s trial for corruption, fraud and racketeering – that Zuma was the president in the eyes of the people. The BLF appears to be positioning itself as the channel for the disaffected Zupta element of the ANC – and there is talk that there will be an ANC breakaway, or at least a Zupta enemy working within the ANC to undermine President Cyril Ramaphosa
What is one to make of this movement which may coalesce around President Zuma? Is this a potential electoral threat to the African National Congress – particularly in KwaZulu Natal? What will a new movement that might challenge the ANC in the 2019 national election look like? What would it stand for? These are the key questions that need to be asked.
The BLF emerged in 2015 after Mngxitama was skopped out of the Economic Freedom Fighters of Julius Malema. Mngxitama had barely been an EFF Member of Parliament for six months when he was expelled from the party – along with two other MPs of the 25-strong caucus. They had accused Malema and others of misappropriating party funds, at a press conference in Cape town in February of that year.
Andile Mngxitama, Mpho Ramakatsa and Khanyisile Litchfield-Tshabalala were expelled from the party. Mngxitama went on to form the Black First Land First movement – which is believed to have been funded by the Guptas, but this has never been proven. It has nevertheless, carried a rigorous campaign in a media outlet – fighting against anti-Zuma activists, including Pravin Gordhan and Mcebisi Jonas, while supporting Zuma to the hilt. It insisted that Zuma should stay on as president after Cyril Ramaphosa was elected ANC president.
The BLF has stood in municipal by-elections – including in Zuma’s home province – but has only received a handful of votes. It has conducted an unrelenting campaign against Malema and the EFF, associating the Malema-led party with white monopoly capital – in particular it has claimed that Malema has been captured by Lord Robin Renwick, a former British ambassador to South Africa. Mngxitama’s movement has been involved in a number of unseemly clashes with journalists, who include Tim Cohen and Peter Bruce from Tiso Blackstar.
There is now speculation that the BLF will mop-up Zupta electoral support – particularly in KwaZulu Natal. Zuma allowed Mngxitama to act as a praise singer outside the court after the postponement – and was seen to wave in a friendly fashion to BLF supporters.
But it appears that the movement is likely to be noisy, but ineffective as a political force. Its bleak electoral fortunes in municipal by-elections provide evidence for this. Although the EFF won one seat in the key Nqutu general municipal by-election last year in KwaZulu Natal, the BLF did not feature at all – it was wiped out. (See: http://www.themessenger.global/2017/05/26/wind-of-change-blasts-kwazulu-natal/). In the Metsimaholo by-election last November – where the SACP contested for the first time – the BLF did not stand lending its support to the ANC then of Zuma, but the EFF emerged the big winner with 15.36 percent of the vote. (See: http://www.themessenger.global/2017/11/30/pyrrhic-victory-for-anc-in-sasolburg )
It is likely that if there is a constituency that is going to buy into the radical economic transformation – including land expropriation without compensation – philosophy of anti-white politics, including labelling all white business as monopoly capital, it will be the EFF. It has already captured that slice of the electorate which goes for these populist policies. The electorate is unlikely to understand – or indeed share – Mngxitama’s personal antagonism towards Malema.
Forming a new electoral force in any political system is hard work. It requires a significant financial outlay, slow building of electoral support, a hard slog in the fields of work – constituencies and wards. A party which is antagonistic to social and political institutions and which has alienated journalists in droves – will find it hard to find traction in those very institutions when the crunch comes.
Yet Mngxitama tweeted in February that the BLF would contest the 2019 election. “SA deserves a pro-black champion of RET (radical economic transformation). Any honest observer and radical voter knows; The ANC of Silili, Gwede and Paul shall never implement RET. Vote BLF and we force Silili to RET.” (Silili refers to Cyril Ramaphosa. It is a derivative of the name Cyril).
Even if Mngxitama’s movement does make traction in KwaZulu Natal in the next national election – despite the odds being stacked against it – it will likely damage the Left by reducing ANC support in the key province. This is likely to favour the rather conservative Inkatha Freedom Party, which is the second largest party in many of the areas of the province. Even if does spectacularly well as a relative newcomer to the electoral contest, the BLF is unlikely to gain enough support to be able to forge coalitions at either province level or national level. In fact that latter is most unlikely. If any Left party is to enjoy this leverage, it looks set to be Malema’s party – which has consistently polled 10 percent or more around the country in key municipal by-elections.
It is suggested in the Sunday Times that Sihle Zikalala, the Zupta leader of the ANC in KwaZulu Natal and an MEC, could get together with other elements supporting Zuma to either form a new party – or form a Zupta constituency within the ANC to bring down Ramaphosa. This grouping may succeed in capturing one province for this Zuma faction within the ANC – but even this is unlikely now. Power has shifted. They are unlikely to be able to use the leverage of patronage politics which comes from holding office to any great degree. If these leaders shift out of the ANC and form a new movement, what would that movement stand for? Would it be yet another populist movement like the EFF and BLF. They would join a cluster of what most voters will consider Lefty Loonies. Even in the most unlikely event that a new African Transformation Congress – as it is suggested a new party is called – wins some seats in the KwaZulu Natal legislature, it will be a small opposition party. There is not a lot of largesse to spread around when you are not near the levers of power.