South Africa is in a very different space to where it was a few months ago. Jacob Zuma’s departure has created some hope, especially within the ANC. No longer is the ruling party subjected to scandal after scandal, and no longer is it seen as the willing proxy of a corrupt family. Ramaphosa has also been strategic in the way he has enabled both the departure of Zuma and restructured the leadership. In the former, he carried all of the ANC structures with him until even those in the Zuma camp had begun to tire of the political antics of the former President. Only then did Ramaphosa tighten the noose and call for the motion of no confidence. Similarly, his restructuring of the cabinet did enough to send a signal that change is
The political renaissance in the ruling party has ruffled the leadership of the opposition and destabilized its alliances. The DA is scrambling to retain its coalitions in the big metropoles – Port Elizabeth, Johannesburg and Pretoria – and redefine its political message. Mmusi Maimane has to first figure out for himself why citizens should vote for him rather than Ramaphosa now that the electoral gift of a corrupt President is no longer available. He has to deal with the perennial problem of the DA; to figure out how to politically sell a message of economic growth with redistribution, and restructuring with inclusion. He also has to unravel from the alliance with the EFF without any of the stink sticking to the DA. After all, there is an element of political hypocrisy in the DA’s complaints about the EFF’s targeted alignment with the ANC, and its attempts to unseat Athol Trollip in Nelson Mandela. Too many political observers and even supporters cynically respond with what did you expect when you run with the hares and hunt with the hounds?
The EFF is similarly redefining its
The EFF is also no different from the proto-fascist movements in Western Europe and the United States. Like them it rails against the establishment, eclectically adopts a variety of ideological instruments, and resorts to populist, racist, and cultural demagoguery. There is a belief in South Africa that the EFF’s left-leaning policies distinguish it from such proto-fascist movements. But those proto-fascist movements also advocate policies that provide support to and derive electoral nourishment from some of the poor. Think of the Five Star Movement in Italy and its policies for cushioning the poor, or the support that Donald Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminium
Too many within our society, including within the ANC and perhaps even Ramaphosa, believe that the EFF cannot be proto-fascist because it comprises young black people and their intemperateness is really a matter of age. But this too is a dangerous illusion. Proto-fascist movements can emerge across the racial divide. Think of Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India and the fact that many of the proto-fascist parties in Western Europe are also led by young leaders. Luigi Di Maio of the Five Star Movement is only 31 years old and Alice Weidel from Germany’s AfD is 38 years old. Both derive their support from younger citizens. The Five Star movement’s largest base of support is among young people between 18 and 35 years of age, making it the largest beneficiary in Italy’s recent election. Ultimately it is not one’s age that defines the progressiveness of one’s politics, but one’s ideas and behaviour. It is a lesson South Africans urgently need to learn.
But it is a lesson the ANC needs to learn urgently as well. Ramaphosa’s ANC has until now used a mix of appeasement and distance to contain the EFF. Appeasement has involved mollycoddling the EFF by working with it in parliament around legislation associated with land expropriation much to the delight of the Zuma-aligned advocates of Radical Economic Transformation (RET), engaging it on winning over the Nelson Mandela
The problem with this strategy, however, is the fact that its two elements come into contradiction with each other. The appeasement whether for short-term political gain as is the situation in the Eastern Cape, or to deflect a real demand as in the case of land expropriation, legitimises the EFF and gives it political credence. This same strategy was pursued by the liberal political establishment and its intelligentsia in North America and Western Europe with devastating consequences. The appeasement legitimized these parties with the result that parties that once would receive a fraction of electoral support now are real contenders for the political throne.
But the second element of the state’s strategy is also problematic. On the face of it, the ANC’s distance and silence in the cases of political spectacle creates the impression that it is politically paralysed and has no alternative strategy to address the very real challenges that the EFF is highlighting. It is worth stating
This is where Ramaphosa’s ANC needs to advocate a coherent programmatic agenda to address the exclusionary character of South Africa’s contemporary political economy. It needs to clarify how it can correct for the state’s institutional failures to redistribute
Perhaps the best way to articulate the distinctiveness of the two paths is to refer to a movie currently making waves on the cinema circuit, Black Panther. One of largest box office hits in the Marvel series, the movie seems to have generated an ardent fan base because it is centred on a fictional black country, Wakanda, which avoided the perils of colonialism and as a result was able to use its natural resource, Vibranium, to develop not only a successful
The NEC of the ANC should see this movie, and then internalise its political message, for it holds a strategic lesson that a thousand of its organisational pamphlets will not impart. But it is also a movie that the EFF leadership should also see (which I would be willing to pay for) and they may yet learn something from it if they can suspend their ideological blinkers long enough to consider its central political message. If both actually did
Adam Habib is
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