Commitment to non-racialism: Progressives must draw a line in the sand on the conduct of Julius Malema

Commitment to non-racialism: Progressives must draw a line in the sand on the conduct of Julius Malema
Julius Malema, leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters. (Photo: EPA-EFE / NIC BOTHMA)

The fact that Julius Malema makes outrageous anti-Indian statements is no surprise. Right-wing demagogues have risen ... and they always scapegoat and defame minorities.

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.

Over the years, numerous credible commentators have argued that Julius Malema and the EFF are proto-fascist or fascist. The EFF is clearly an authoritarian formation in which corrupt and demagogic leaders back the most ruthlessly corrupt faction of the political elite while claiming to speak for the poor.

The EFF also makes regular racist statements about Indians, some of which have disturbing echoes of the racist tropes about Jewish people found in European fascism. In a recent rant, Malema railed against an “Indian cabal that is taking strategic positions in this country” at the expense of “Africans”.

No one doubts that there is anti-African racism among some people of Indian descent. At the same time, no one doubts that, just as is the case with all other groups, there is a wide range of political positions held by people of Indian descent, including deep anti-racist commitments. It is also a matter of historical record that many Indian people committed their lives to the struggle against racism, some suffering torture and imprisonment, and some paying the ultimate price.

All the major progressive traditions in SA worked to build unity within the wider black population. This is true of the Black Consciousness Movement, the Communist Party, the trade union movement, the United Democratic Front and Umkhonto weSizwe.

This tradition is not dead. The Durban-based Abahlali baseMjondolo, the 100,000-strong poor people’s movement that now organises across five provinces, welcomes Indian members. One of its early leaders was the courageous activist Shamitha Naidoo, who is of Indian descent.

The ANC, however, has a mixed record on this question. Its liberals, communists and trade unionists have always clearly opposed anti-Indian racism. But one can argue that there is a long-standing current of anti-Indian sentiment in the ANC, going back to Anton Lembede, the founding president of the ANC Youth League. That current, which can be characterised as a chauvinist form of nationalism, is the political line from which Malema descends, via the late Peter Mokaba, who was openly anti-Indian.

Mokaba was also an Aids denialist and, as the Harvard historian Jacob Dlamini writes, a known agent of the apartheid system.

But the ways in which the party’s history is compromised on the questions of race runs deeper than its explicitly chauvinist current. For many years it mirrored Verwoerdian racial ideas by dividing its supporters into four congresses – the ANC for Africans, the South African Indian Congress for people of Indian descent, the Coloured People’s Congress for people de-Africanised by the colonial state and the Congress of Democrats for white people. It was only the Communist Party, and later Umkhonto weSizwe, that worked outside of Verwoerdian racial categories.

Membership of the ANC was solely for people defined as Africans by the apartheid state until 1969 and people who would not have been classified as African by Verwoerd were only allowed to be elected into leadership after the 1985 Kabwe conference. The ANC’s commitment to non-racialism came very late, and was never uniform.

The fact that Malema makes outrageous anti-Indian statements is no surprise. Right-wing demagogues have risen in much of the world and they always scapegoat and defame minorities. What is disappointing is that the dominant factions in the ANC do not come out fighting against Malema’s conduct. But, perhaps, given how recent and fragile the ANC’s commitment to genuine non-racialism is, we should not be entirely surprised.

When racial scapegoating and conspiracy theories become normalised we are on a dangerous path. Progressives across sectarian lines, and including trade union federations, grassroots organisations and the Communist Party, need to draw a line in the sand. DM168

Dr Imraan Buccus is a senior research associate at the Auwal Socio-Economic Research Institute and is a Research Fellow in the School of Social Sciences at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for free to Pick n Pay Smart Shoppers at these Pick n Pay stores.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    Both ANC and EFF focus on race as it is all they have to deflect their voters from their complete inability to actually achieve anything of tangible value. Wake up South Africa – vote for a party that focuses on real delivery and consign these 2 dodos to the dustbin of history where they belong.

  • Karl Sittlinger says:

    Considering some of your past articles, you yourself seem to be suffering from a little bit of …em …lets call it prejudice based on skin color.

  • Glyn Morgan says:

    Great article, thanks. Read this guy’s twisted article in News24 today – Mondli Makhanya. Please give your take on it and the editorial quality.

    • Paddy Ross says:

      The article to which you refer should not have passed the News24 editor’s desk. It is a diatribe against the DA with a lot of untruths in it. It is a good example of the sort of poor journalism that fans racist flames.

  • Johan Buys says:

    You could rewrite the same story replacing “indian” with white afrikaner. There were probably more white afrikaners in detention than indians during apartheid. white afrikaners certainly blew up more stuff than indians or white english.

    Yet. Nobody gets offended when Malema gets on his anti white afrikaner horse. Maybe because afrikaners “get” Malema better than most others. React first, think later 😉

  • John Bestwick says:

    Sir. We are not on a dangerous path. We have already reached that horrible destination wherein Julius Malema and co are the New Apartheid spokespersons. Unfortuneately for us the fact that most of them are braindead fascists is no relief.Where in gell does Malema get the authority to order closing of schools OR ELSE among other things. This juvenile bully will only wake up when he gets a snotklap from an authority higher than his. NPA are you listening;we want the VBS looting prosecuted please.

  • Sydney Kaye says:

    I don’t like the comment “No one doubts that there is anti-African racism among some people of Indian descent”. If it is true it is true amongst any group or race of another. In fact human nature. You can’t do anything about what people think, and thinking is not illegal or inflammatory. Malema racism in a different order because it is opportunist, designed to create conflict and is an incitement to violence.

  • Kanu Sukha says:

    The distinction or differences between non-racialism and multi-racialism is poorly understood. The problem with Malema’s identification of ‘Indians’ is that it excludes the Gupta’s and at least one of the Shaik’s (now playing golf daily! – a case of from prison to golf course?) et la.

  • Derrick Kourie says:

    The heading refers to “progressives”. The author appears to mean the ANC as well as “trade union federations, grassroots organisations and the Communist Party”. But most people in these groupings have not progressed beyond the failed and antiquated paradigms and rhetoric of the 1950s. The true progressives, in my view, no longer hold the rather stale view of an inevitable conflict between societal groups. True progressives seek collaboration between all societal groupings to benefit everyone, especially the poor. They constantly oppose the use of the race card, whether by Malema or elements within the ANC. They insist on hierarchies determined by competence, not race. Do not look to the ANC and its partners for true progressives. They have moved on. They are to be found the DA.

  • John Coombes says:

    From what i read here why don’t we simply rebrand Julius as Hendrik. Has a nice ring to it…Hendrik Malema.

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