Why does the racially divisive Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) political party (South Africa’s third-largest) hate the Springboks, the country’s national rugby union team?
The Springboks is by miles the country’s most successful sports team because it has brought home gold from no less than three Rugby World Cups. They won the 1995, 2007, and, most recently, 2019 editions. There are just two international rugby union teams who have won three Rugby World Cups with the other being New Zealand’s record-breaking All Blacks. For any team to be in the same boat as the All Blacks is a proud achievement.
The South African national rugby team is something to cheer and celebrate for millions of South Africans. Yet the EFF’s leadership refuses to celebrate but in fact resorts to condemnation and mockery.
But why? The EFF is a Marxist socialist and communist party that draws its political “inspiration from the broad Marxist-Leninist tradition and Fanonian schools of thought in their analyses of the state, imperialism, culture and class contradictions in every society” (1). The party has taken inspiration from Che Guevara (1928-1967) in the form of Thomas Sankara (1949-1987), the Marxist-Leninist twentieth-century President of Burkina Faso whose reign lasted from 1983 to 1987.
In terms of recent South African politics, the EFF’s strategy is plain. The party stereotypes all blacks as the exploited proletariat and whites as the oppressive bourgeois. The party’s bombastic leader Julius Malema stereotypes all whites in the country as the ones owning all the wealth. The context of the following quote is Malema’s response to the xenophobic conflict in the country, which causes violence between black South Africans and black foreigners working in the country,
“Our anger is directed at wrong people. Like all of us, our African brothers & sisters are selling their cheap labour for survival. The owners of our wealth is white monopoly capital; they are refusing to share it with us & the ruling party #ANC protects them” (2).
Another quote of Malema’s,
“For their apartheid, for their rape for their murder. When they apologise, they must do it the African way. We need cattle… a synonym of money. They must pay us billions and billions” (3).
In Malema’s eyes, whites, even though born in the land, are foreigners in South Africa who illegally own land and all the wealth. Whites are also demonized as the descendants of ancestors who raped and murdered blacks. Further, the assertion is that whites do not care about the social and economic plight of blacks today who suffer under the legacies of apartheid discrimination.
As many have noticed, Malema’s view of whites is often inconsistent. Sometimes he appears to make a place for them in the country should they exist under an EFF government. On other occasions, Malema has stated the possibility of killing or eliminating whites if the need arises (4).
Malema’s government would nationalize and seize all private wealth and property owned by whites and probably anyone else. The party has stated its intention to nationalize all the land, banks, and mines (5).
Regarding black South Africans, Malema stereotypes them as oppressed under domineering whites. Indeed, claims of wealth being mostly in the hands of whites is uncontroversial. South Africa is the most economically unequal country in the world. The term “white monopoly capital”, a favorite of Malema’s, refers to the white population’s extensive control over the economy, for which there is much evidence.
There remains rampant unemployment in black and colored communities and capital in the form of land and property remains largely under white ownership. At the end of apartheid in 1994, more than 80% of the land was owned by the white minority, however, only 10% of this land has since been redistributed from white to black ownership. Further, because the apartheid government established inferior education for blacks, whites today continue to benefit from higher education levels than their black counterparts. Whites are, therefore, generally more skilled and more likely to find better jobs in the labor market and on average earn higher salaries.
According to the 2017/2018 report by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), 64% of blacks, 41% of coloreds, 6% of Indians, and 1% of whites South Africans are living in poverty. Malema pounces on these facts for political gain.
Malema’s and the EFF’s aim is to ignite the spark of revolution and/or civil war by inciting racial tensions between blacks and whites, which he considers two opposing classes. During the protests in the town of Senekal in 2019, Malema advocated for a civil war. When asked on live television about the prospect of a civil war in that town (since racial tensions were high), Malema replied “So be it” (6).
This indicates that Malema and the EFF will, should it govern the nation, incite violence and civil war to achieve its ends.
But what has this to do with the Springboks?
The Springboks won the 2019 Rugby World Cup, which was a proud moment for millions of South Africans of all races. But not so for the EFF and its spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi who told the team’s white players to “get their congratulations from Prince Harry” (7). This is an odd statement because most of the white players on the team are Afrikaners. Their ancestors are not English but Dutch.
Nonetheless, as already noted, white South Africans, whether on a sports team or not, are polemically presented as foreigners in the country of their birth, or, as found among the radical black youth, as “settlers”. Ndlozi further tweeted that “The Springboks are a white supremacist sign that belongs in the dustbin of history”, which is another odd statement since the captain of the team is black. Several other members of the squad are black or colored.
Fortunately, Ndlozi’s disappointing and divisive statements engendered considerable backlash on social media from South Africans who viewed the Rugby World Cup victory as a symbol of unity.
The threat the Springboks pose to the EFF is racial and cultural unity among South Africans. Although Ndlozi accused the Springboks of being a “white-dominated team”, the reality is that there are several non-whites who are some of the most skillful players in the world.
When he noticed the backlash in response to his comments (8), Ndlozi said he was being misunderstood (9). He celebrates “the type of black excellence that has been demonstrated by the black players”. But regarding whites, there is nothing worth celebrating. They are symbols of oppressors (the bourgeois) who must receive congratulations from Prince Harry. Fortunately, President Cyril Ramaphosa was there in Japan to view and congratulate his country’s rugby team on their victory.
Siya Kolisi is the first black captain to lead South Africa to a World Cup victory which among other factors led many South Africans to hail the victory as a rare moment of unification for their country (10). Kolisi offered the following statement,
“We get through a lot of challenges as a country and we always find a way to get through this, especially when we get together and we start fighting for something. We had to fight every single game like it was a play off so, we gave it everything we could.”
The Springboks are therefore one of the few symbols of unity, which is bolstered by Kolisi’s testimony of growing up in poverty in the Eastern Cape and to later become a Rugby World Cup winner.
This is the reason the EFF hates the Springboks. Few outcomes are worse for a Marxist-inspired political party longing for a fully-fledged revolution than opposing symbols of unity and positive experiences connected to those symbols. The EFF recognized that the Springboks bringing home gold from Japan was a symbolic victory for all South Africans. But in unity, for however long it lasts, the divide and division needed to spark revolution weakens.
The Springboks is not the only recipient of EFF resentment. Even Nelson Mandela, who is a global inspiration for many and probably South Africa’s premiere symbol of unity, was not beyond the scope of condemnation. As Ndlozi asked, “What exactly do we gain by remembering Mandela?”
- Ndlozi, Mbuyiseni. 2016. What Frantz Fanon teaches us – EFF. Available.
- Bhengu, Cebelihle. 2019. ’Whites created this mess’ – Julius Malema on anger at foreign nationals. Available.
- Modise, Kgomotso. 2020. Malema: White people must apologise & pay money for genocide, murder & apartheid. Available.
- Stolley, Giordano. 2016. Malema not calling for the slaughter of whites, for now. Available.
- Bloomberg. 2019. EFF promises to nationalise all land, banks and mines. Available.
- Madisa, Kgothatso. 2020. Malema says visit to Senekal will be peaceful, but if it descends into chaos ‘so be it’. Available.
- Zeeman, Kyle. 2019. WATCH | ‘Bokke must fall’: 5 quotes from Mbuyiseni Ndlozi’s parliament address. Available.
- IOL. 2019. Mbuyiseni Ndlozi accused of ‘dividing the nation’ after Springboks tweet. Available.
- ENCA. 2019. Ndlozi defends controversial RWC comments, won’t ‘live a lie’. Available.
- Pedro, Michael. 2019. South Africans celebrate unity brought by Springboks’ RWC victory. Available.