This archived interview with EFF Treasurer-General Leigh-Ann Mathys was done in November 2016, and was first meant to appear as a piece for Moneyweb’s The Investor. So far unpublished, here’s the full text of the original piece.
Mention the Economic Freedom Fighters in casual conversation and you’ll get a range of reactions: Fear and loathing, laughter, anger, or even hope for a better-led country. But just what makes recently appointed Treasurer of the EFF Leigh-Ann Mathys tick, and could there be way more to the EFF than meets the eye?
“I was born in Durban (KZN), schooled in Pietermaritzburg.” Her family later moved to Australia where she completed her final year of high school. She underwent further education in the USA and moved to Australia where she kickstarted her career in industrial relations. After six years in industrial relations, she returned to South Africa and had a career change that planted her in a small town called Ingwavuma in KZN..
We get to do the interview during a spur-of-the-moment gap in both our schedules.
One of the first questions that comes up is just how one ends up with the EFF: “Things kind of just happened.” says Mathys. “The Marikana Massacre was my earthquake moment – at that time there was no EFF, just Julius Malema and Floyd Shivambu , making headlines on their response to Marikana. I called a mutual friend and asked them to put in contact with them. The CiC called me, I told him I want to help out. Well, the rest is history.”
Her recent appointment to the position of Treasurer-General of the EFF comes as more of a formality, she says, as she’s “been responsible for organizational finance since the formation of the EFF.”
“I am attracted by what we stand for, particularly our policies on land reform as that’s something I have always been quite passionate about.” She also likes the fact that there’s a call for change on the political front, we are standing up for the needs of the people. “It’s both empowering and necessary.”
The controversy that comes with the territory hasn’t phased her much. “You know what you’re signing up and what we stand for when you join the EFF.” In terms of their image – both in South Africa and internationally – she says things have been going well so far. “There’s been a lot of good done in terms of interaction and keeping people updated through social media, like posting pictures of rallies.”
Her Twitter profile (@LeighMathys), for one, is buzzing with daily thoughts and updates and clocks in at 14. 072 followers. She says initially people found her an unexpected face in the ranks of the EFF; this, at times, is a great way to break the ice.
There’s clearly more to it than what people see through the occasionally controversial headlines. “Most people have no idea that there are sittings in parliament every day in which we participate to discuss the future of the country. There aren’t just sittings in parliament when Zuma shows up and it ends up on the news.”
She’s a fiery conversationalist and calls out a cliche’d interview question – her favourite books – and a peppered slip of the tongue immediately. Then answers. “Well, the EFF book is one.”
There’s an EFF book? “Yes, The Coming Revolution that includes our founding manifesto of the EFF, encompassing what we stand for. I turn to it whenever I need that boost of inspiration or encouragement. The second, which is more of a collection of sayings, is The Prophet (by Khalil Gibran), which I usually carry with me.”
On a personal finance level, what are we doing wrong? “I think South Africans are saving too little and spending too much.” She mentions people’s reaction to their first exposure to consumerism. “There area thousands shops just around the corner, and it’s overwhelming to have all of these options. People are bombarded by ads and pressured to buy more of this or that. We’re very consumerized as a nation.” Her own investment, she mentions briefly, has involved setting up a strong, diversified investment portfolio: A good idea for anyone.
The future: Now what? “Corporations have been holding us hostage.” she says. As an example, we discuss large companies who lay off thousands of employees in one go: The working class, making up the bulk of the country, ends up getting the worst of it.
South Africa has a lot of room for improvement, but where do we start? “We need to look at improving the education sector. Children are the country’s future, so if you want to improve anything you’ve got to start there.”
Alternative solutions – economically, politically and educationally – are necessary. She points to Cuba’s economy as a reference point. “There’s enough for everyone. I’m not saying we should carbon copy Cuba; I’m just saying we need to look further to find solutions for South Africa’s problems.”
Away from the EFF, she finds herself “mostly exhausted”. “Public appearances, rallies, meeting and interacting with new people all the time can be draining. There’s not a lot of off-time for myself.” When she does get away, her paradise is the beach: If she could be any kind of animal, her first choice is a dolphin, and her ideal holiday is one with sea and sand by the ocean.
Asked three things she’d change as leader of the country, she says, “I honestly have no aspirations to become president!” What she would be doing if she was not part of the EFF is almost irrelevant: Leigh-Ann Mathys is completely content with where she is now.
The sun disappears behind the mountain as the interview wraps, casting a brilliant red glow over the sky.