Populist parties shifting the political discourse? A case study of the Economic Freedom Fighters in South Africa

Marine Fölscher, Nicola de Jager, Robert Nyenhuis

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6 Citations (Scopus)


This article examines the use of populist discourse in South African politics. We investigate speeches of leaders from the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and opposition parties, the Democratic Alliance (DA) and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). We find that the EFF consistently employs populist appeals, while both the incumbent ANC and official opposition DA largely refrain. Our longitudinal analysis allows an examination of fluctuation across party leaders and electoral cycles, and illustrates that neither the ANC nor the DA have modified their political discourses in light of a rising populist challenger. However, there is some evidence that the two most dominant parties have reformed their programmatic offerings and behaviour in an attempt to compete with the EFF's popular appeal. The South African case offers important insights into the study of oppositional populism on the African continent, and a window into how major political parties may respond to emerging populist contenders.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)535-558
Number of pages24
JournalThe Journal of Modern African Studies
Issue number4
Early online date1 Dec 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2021
Externally publishedYes

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