The national shutdown planned by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) for March 20 passed without much disruption. That the event was scheduled between a weekend and public holiday was perhaps not the best strategic decision but, regardless, the party managed to dominate headlines and media focus for the few days leading up to, and including, the day of the event. Apart from the momentary jump in focus on its actions, however, the EFF may have done more to undermine its support at the voting booth over the long run.
Couched in the language of revolution, the EFF must rely on events such as ‘national shutdowns’ to both test the general national mood of political change, and to try and figure out where its own support levels lie. It cannot be denied that more and more South African citizens could be looking elsewhere, away from the ANC, at the 2024 general election.
Record high unemployment, persistent loadshedding and high crime rates are just a few of the reasons behind the ANC’s declining electoral fortunes. In 2024 the party will likely dip under 50%. With such conditions in play a more radical party such as the EFF should garner more support for its initiatives. However, in terms of potential solutions to the problems that afflict most South Africans on a daily basis, the EFF has fallen short. Add in the rhetoric of violence and unrest, and you have a proposition that clashes with the values that the majority of South Africans tend to hold.
Given increased disillusionment with the ANC, but also a lack of enthusiasm for the words and actions presented by the EFF, there exists a great opportunity for other political parties, potentially in a coalition set-up, to give voters something that could resonate more with them. Whether that opportunity is seized with enough vigour and dedication remains an open question, one that will only be answered in 2024.
That the EFF did not succeed in a widespread and sustained national shutdown does not mean the underlying conditions in the country have changed. The party could still benefit from rising frustration with the ANC, and a sense of economic stagnation and steady decline in people’s quality of life. But the more it tries to succeed with once-off, flashy events, the more it risks undermining its own brand and internal lack of substance.
This latest attempt at a national shutdown then, intended to shake the government and possibly society as well, did not produce the immediate the results that the EFF would have desired. But should other political parties fail to seize the moment the next shutdown could well produce far worse consequences.