Who knew Trump and the EFF are twins separated at birth
Toxic populism is toxic populism, no matter how it tries to dress itself up
Here is one difference between Donald Trump and the EFF: when Donald Trump launches a distracting manoeuvre designed to appeal to the limbic system, the libidinously unthinking lower emotions of what is properly and accurately called his base, he does it in a chaotic, ad hoc manner, without co-ordination and usually to the dismay of his team, who have to scramble to make sense of it. When the EFF do it, it is never unco-ordinated; they have a war council first and plan it out. Because Trump is a man of no principle, he sometimes casually and without embarrassment reverses what he said. Because the EFF are so much more rigorously and committedly without principle than Donald Trump is, they never reverse what they say.
This week in parliament’s finance committee meeting Floyd Shivambu – the same Floyd who called journalist Carien du Plessis a white bitch, and then “apologised” for acting in a way that was unprofessional (presumably because professionals know when to air their race-inflected misogyny, and when to keep it for use with friends and colleagues), and then enthusiastically affirmed that he only apologised because it was a non-issue that was taking up his otherwise valuable time, like a child who is forced by a teacher to say sorry to the boy he bullied and then afterwards whispers to the boy “I didn’t mean it” – that Floyd Shivambu objected to the repeated presence in committee meetings of Treasury deputy director general Ismail Momoniat because he is not African.He went on to enrich this objection with the claim that Momoniat is a racist who can’t work with black leaders, that historically he was part of a sinister cabal of Indians within the liberation movement sowing discord and duplicitously undermining the black leadership. Those sneaky Indians, said Floyd Shivambu, somehow managing not to use those words precisely: they’re racist and you can’t trust them.
Of course the earnest and concerned members of what remains of the responsible national media rose to counter his claims by citing Momoniat’s struggle credentials – his attested history of being one of the good Indians. Lucky for Ismail Momoniat that it’s okay to attack someone based on their race, provided they have a good enough struggle CV, and provided enough people with good CVs have dealt with them personally. Good luck to your kids and grandkids though, Ismail.
Strategic-minded commentators have pointed out that Shivambu’s move against Momoniat, endorsed and doubled-down by the upper structures of the party, complete with willfully miscontextualised internal document from 1990 plucked from the O’Malley Archives, was probably motivated as much by bad history and crude malice as it was a politically targeted attempt to remove Momoniat, a resolute and implacable stumbling block to their support for VBS Bank. That’s almost certainly true, but it’s still not the point.
The point I would like to make is that the EFF is normalising a toxic, cynical exclusionary nationalism that in its fundamentals is barely different to that of, say, Donald Trump.
Do you think I’m a white person complaining because the EFF don’t like white people? I’m not. Well, I am, but that’s not the real thrust of it. Disliking whites is the uncontroversial face of the EFF’s exclusionary nationalism. It’s the easy sell, especially to broadly well-meaning, aspirationally progressive whites, the ones acutely aware of their history, a group to which I suppose I largely belong. No, exclusionary nationalism speaks loudest and most confidently about whites, but its eyes are everywhere.
By their toxic ideology, which is every day further normalised when their critics don’t challenge the tenets of that ideology but rather rebut the specifics of their individual slurs and smears, the EFF gets to decide who is South African enough.
Indians and coloureds are not South African enough for the EFF. Remember when the EFF questioned where Malusi Gigaba was born? Remember when Julius Malema said Duduzane and Duduzile Zuma were not properly South African because they’d been born in exile in Mozambique? Citizens born in Zimbabwe or Mozambique are not South African enough for the EFF. Are you black and South African and don’t agree with the EFF? You are not black South African enough for the EFF.
My friend Claire tells me – and I agree – that South Africans are an inherently moderate people. We are resistant to the extremes, we choose a middle way, and that may explain why the EFF’s actual support is still so derisively small. If the EFF and Afriforum were accorded media attention in proportion to their actual support, we would barely hear another peep from either of them. But the EFF are attempting to breathe life into a vicious populist ideology that they may themselves never ride to power but which doesn’t need them. It can burn and burn long after we’re all gone.