Racism is racism and no one should get away with it
... including Julius Malema, and even when it is politically expedient for the ANC
Only in South Africa.
An impoverished elderly KZN estate agent, Penny Sparrow, offers an idiotic and racially offensive remark on Facebook, and the entire might of the ANC descends on her and chases her through the Equality Court and brands her an enemy of the people.
Western Cape Premier Helen Zille’s twitchy Twitter finger posts equivocal remarks on colonialism and she becomes a political pariah and is subject to a (failed) vote of no confidence by the ANC in the Western Cape legislature.
Note that the first offender, Sparrow, is a figure of no significance, while Zille, far more significant, is toward the end of her political career and at the time of her “offence” held no national office, leading a provincial government.
But in the past few days, a national political figure, albeit head of a small party with an outsized sense of its own importance and shock tactics to boost its fortunes, offers up incendiary racism – soaked with the threat of violence.Julius Malema, “commander in chief” of the EFF, cheerily advises that his party decision to attempt to oust Nelson Mandela Bay mayor Athol Trollip is a warning to the Democratic Alliance and has nothing to do with the mayor’s competence or incorruptibility. Rather, in Malema’s delicate phraseology, “We are going for your white man, we are going to cut your throat.”
One of the few South African foreign policy achievements of the past few years has been to win a seat at the table of emerging market leaders Brics. Of the five member nations, only two of them, China and India, have enormous economic and demographic clout and South Africa is about to assume Brics’s leadership. Malema offered a double dose of offence with global implications – hard on the heels of his more parochial, anti-white diatribe against the DA.
His view on nationals from the key Brics nations? “Chinese are like Indians. They think they are close to whiteness. When they practise racism, they are even worse than whites.”
Of course this bilious and crude ethnic stereotyping, coupled with incipient violence, has real form in Malema’s case. Less than two years ago he offered:
“We are not calling for the slaughtering of white people – at least for now.”This rollcall of fascist-racist quotes – his version of identity politics, is worth recalling, but not because the broad public is unaware of it. Indeed Malema operates as the political equivalent of a radio talk show “shock jock” – the more incendiary and outrageous the remark, the more likely that fringe opinion gets a mainstream response.
But it’s the reaction of his (hitherto) chief opponent which informs here. In contrast to other cases, in the matter of Malema, there was no outrage from the ANC, which as governing party has the core responsibility to ensure racial amity in our historically divided nation. Then there was the famous reminder from the Constitutional Court to a wayward Jacob Zuma that the country’s president sits at the “apex” of our constitutional project. And then again, our new president, Cyril Ramaphosa – head of a country with a history of racial violence and entrusted with the “constitutional project” – was actually the chief architect of our much vaunted bill of rights.
So how did the president, this past weekend, react to the chief fermenter of racial hatred in South Africa? How did he repudiate the person who wishes to trash the “constitutional project”? The person who leads land invasions and whose storm troopers smash international-brand stores in Sandton City?
Why, he invited him to re-join the ANC! In fact Ramaphosa, who also presided over the expulsion of Malema from the ANC in April 2012, went a whole lot further in a swooning siren song of love for someone who has perfected hate and raging intolerance as his brand of politics.
Ramaphosa said on Sunday, in an interview with the SABC: “We would still like to have Julius Malema back in the ANC; he is still ANC deep in his heart. So we would love to have those in the EFF back in the ANC. The ANC is their home.” Barely without drawing breath, Rampahosa went on to denounce a local land invasion – the tactic of choice of the party he has just invited to “come home”.A political cardiologist would be hard-pressed to identify what lies in the true heart of the ANC, or the EFF for that matter, and how the blockages which Malema has erected against foreign investment, racial reconciliation and economic growth match Ramaphosa’s commitments at Davos or in parliament to his own “new dawn”.
But bewildering as these pirouettes might be in a presidency still barely one month old, one thing at least is clear: Malema calls the tune on these matters and Ramaphosa’s ANC keeps dancing.
The entire debate, and recent parliamentary motion, on expropriation without compensation ranks as Malema’s finest hour. What he cannot do at the polls (where over 90% of voters rejected him) and what (according to the Institute of Race Relations) is a preoccupation of just 1% of the population, he persuades the ANC to adopt. EWC is now the ground zero of our politics, even though 99% of our people have more pressing priorities.Populist demagogy and racial nationalism are the twin poisons most afflicting both historic and emerging democracies. On January 10, the Washington Post recorded the fact that its nation’s populist-in-chief who happens to be its president, Donald J Trump, had just told his “two thousandth lie” since assuming office just on a year before.
But since Ramaphosa has already denounced Trump, he might wish to pause and reflect on the offering of a more reliable and trustworthy source, the sort of person he likely bumps at Davos or whose books he probably has read. And whose views shape investment sentiment globally, especially in challenging markets like our own.
Ruchir Sharma is head of emerging markets and chief global strategist at Morgan Stanley Investment Management. His latest book, The Rise and Fall of Nations: Ten Rules of Change in the Post Crisis World, offers no end of insights into what differentiates winning from losing countries.
He draws an influential distinction between two types of mass democratic leaders: “Successful leaders often share two key attributes: popular support among the masses and clear understanding of economic reform … In contrast, populist demagogues who artfully combine populism and nationalism can be politically successful but tend to be a disaster for their country.”
So at the outset of his presidency, Ramaphosa should pause for breath and ask which of the two he will be and whether he will keep dancing to an extremist, disastrous tune?