I remember seeing hundreds of men and women in red berets, presumably members of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), at the 2013 Cape Town International Jazz Festival. They circulated between stages like fuzzy flying saucers. This year, in Grahamstown, I have seen none. Is the absence of South Africa’s most successful political branding exercise – certainly since democracy – a product of time, geography, a changing political landscape, or something else?
I went searching for berets on Saturday morning. The Village Green is a haven for aromatherapy oils, Tibetan scarves, day-glo dancing ribbons, dream catchers, beaded fruit bowls, and novelty motorbike helmets, but not revolutionary wear. Okay, I saw a T-shirt with Che Guavara’s face on it.
It is possible to buy all sorts of branded hats at the Cathedral Square market – Dickies, Supreme, YMCMB, Obey – also a variety of colourful berets, but nothing stamped with the clenched fist and assegai insignia of this country’s foremost, and perhaps only, Marxist-LeninistFanonian organization.
Traders explained that it was difficult to obtain EFF merchandise via their usual channels.
“You have to buy directly from the party. You get in a lot of trouble if they find you selling without permission,” one man said, adding with some hesitation that it was possible to buy counterfeit berets in East London.
A few hours later Brian (name changed at his request), a Cape Town author with sufficient radical political beliefs, said that he’d once purchased a large batch of berets with a few friends to sell for profit. The minimum order was 2000 units at R30 each.
“The party is very concerned about people stealing their brand,” he said. “You need to visit a branch office to collect your stuff.”
The EFF’s website advertises berets at R80 per unit (minimum quantity 100) as well as caps, golf shirts, round-necked shirts and magnetic stickers. None of these items, I can attest, can be purchased at the Festival.
Perhaps the party is less in vogue than two years ago, having lost market share, as it were, to revolutionaries from #RhodesMustFall and other student movements. Already a number of radical intellectuals, among them author Malaika wa Azania, have publically split from the EFF in search of new political frameworks.
Three successive EFF representatives declined to comment on the issue when contacted, each referring questions to different comrade fighters. To be fair it was Saturday afternoon. There are plenty better things to do than field questions about the availability of a piece of headwear associated both with pretentious French artists and vanguard revolutionaries.
Kimon de Greef
Cue specialist writer
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