Skip to content Skip to navigation

Students as Researchers Blog

Other Blogs

Julius Malema and the Economic Freedom Fighters

10 December 2020

3 mins

by Matthew Pascal

After enjoying a module on populism in the first semester of my final year, I decided that it would be the focus of my dissertation. During this module taught by Giorgos Katsambekis, I developed an understanding of the academic debate surrounding the various theoretical frameworks of populism, and particularly enjoyed applying these theories in the analysis of left-wing populist actors, such as Pablo Iglesias Turrión. ‘Populist’ is a term often used pejoratively in contemporary media. However, through this module I gained a more nuanced, theoretical understanding of the subject and enjoyed seeing how, when applied correctly, populism can be such a powerful political tool.

Although we analysed a range of case studies during this module, these were largely limited to Latin America, Europe and the United States, without much consideration of Asian and African case studies. Therefore, with this interest in left-wing populism and eagerness to expand my understanding of populism to case studies from other regions, I decided that my dissertation would be a fantastic opportunity to analyse the South African Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and their leader Julius Malema. 

Having an already sound theoretical understanding of the topic allowed me to devote extra attention to the analysis of my case study. Therefore, the bulk of my time was spent researching and analysing speeches, campaign videos, interviews, press releases and a variety of other elements of Julius Malema and the EFF’s politics. Had I not had such a strong grasp of this theory from the populism module I had studied previously, I would certainly not have been able to conduct such a thorough analysis, which was vital in forming a clear and admissible judgement. I also had a prior political interest in Julius Malema and the EFF, which made the research and analysis an enjoyable process.

In short, I found that Julius Malema and the EFF are stylistically populist. Given the inclusionary nature of their populism, I concluded that, despite some legitimate reasons for concern, they have a mostly corrective impact on democracy in South Africa and are in many ways similar to the left-wing populism of Latin America found in the late 1990s and early 21st century.

I then began to analyse the other aspects of Malema and the EFF’s politics – such as race and class – and discuss how the racialised nature of capitalism and, therefore, inequality in South Africa underpins the way in which both racial politics and left-wing class based politics play a significant role in Malema and the EFF’s populism.   

Bio: I have just graduated with First Class Honours in Politics and International Relations, after also completing an Erasmus+ year in Bremen, Germany. I am from Leeds, however, I will be shortly moving to London to start a new job in the Department of Health and Social Care in Westminster as part of the Civil Service Fast Stream. I am passionate about both politics and sport. Most of my free time is spent either watching or playing sport; however, I also enjoy reading and travelling, which I try to do as much as possible, as well as building and selling handmade furniture.

Image: Photo by KYLE CUT MEDIA on Unsplash

Students as Researchers

Innovative Undergraduate Research in International Relations, Politics and History

Scroll to Top