Whites, Jews, Indians ... Who's next?
Populists need 'enemies' to whip up their followers, and the EFF's shortlist is getting ominously, well, short
This week, when Julius Malema declared that the majority of South African Indians are racist, many people were terribly hurt and shocked. These people had clearly been locked in a cellar since about 2007 and didn't know how Malema operates, and it must have been very upsetting to finally be released from their dark hole only to see such words coming out of the mouth of somebody who sits in an actual parliament, almost as if he believes in democracy.
The rest of us, of course, have been watching Malema play his game since the beginning, slowly perfecting his shtick of Saturnine Revolutionary, aka Strong Daddy Who Will Lash Out But It's Only Because He Loves You So Much.
Former activists were quick to condemn Malema’s sweeping generalisation, pointing out that many Indians played a crucial role in the struggle. Others suggested that struggle credentials shouldn’t matter and that the condemnation of an entire racial group as being intrinsically wicked was in itself a racist statement.For me, however, it was an almost perfect example of populist politics.
Because politicians are put into power by votes, we often assume that the most important raw material they exploit is the mass of people who vote for them. But when it comes to populist politicians, there is a much, much more valuable resource: the people who don’t vote for them.
Populists need supporters, but much more essentially, they need enemies.
It is enemies, real or imagined, that bind populist “revolutionaries” together. It is stories of long-fanged counterrevolutionaries, not talk of foreign policy or trade deals, that keep cadres spellbound at bedtime. It is angry yelling about fifth columnists and Ferial Haffajee that gets them through the long, dark hours as they wait for the dawn that will finally bring the keys to the Treasury.
The EFF has no governance plan. Its only vaguely executable policy, the redistribution of land, has been nicked by the ANC, leaving it with nothing but a general scheme to detach South Africa from the capitalist world and feed the populace with nationalised potatoes and a daily ration of shouting.
Luckily, it doesn't need a practical plan, at least not yet. Not while it can still resort to Revolution 101 and catalogue its enemies.
So far the list is impressive, comprising a line-up of the usual suspects like white people, Jews, capitalists and journalists. Now all those scoundrels need to shuffle over to make room for “most Indians”.Racism is real and must be fought. The fact that the EFF has identified it as one of its chief enemies is, in theory at least, in the best interests of all of us.
But it is important to remember that this is a coincidental overlapping of interests. Ultimately, populists have only their own interests at heart, and they pick their enemies to serve their own ambitions rather than the common good.
At some point, the EFF will have to find new enemies to inject fresh resolve into its ranks. Racists and journalists and capitalists won’t be enough. It is already starting to go after naysayers of all races and political leanings. Next will be cadres accused of disloyalty. And then?
Well, let’s wait and see. Because Daddy’s naughty list will grow. You can bet your last potato on it.