There is a common phrase in political organisations — or rather a word used in meetings when one wishes to raise a point that has already been touched upon. It is the word “captured” and is often encouraged so as to not have tedious meetings that drag on and are riddled by unnecessary repetition.
For reasons known only to them, “analysts” in South Africa do not seem to have the same culture of respecting the time of South Africans or at least an understanding that sometimes to speak, or to write, is not compulsory, and we find ourselves then reading sequel upon sequel of analysis which renders political analysis in South Africa as exciting as watching under-16 cricket.
Stephen Grootes, radio talk show host and regular writer for Daily Maverick, wrote an article published on 26 March 2019 titled “Julius Malema, a forever ten percent man?”
Judging from the title, one would expect solid polling analysis based on either facts, research, or something that has been substantiated when considering the poll prospects of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). Sadly, the trend of bad polling has seeped through to bad polling analysis, and we were served with repetition, repetition, repetition. The continued tirade of assumptions, baseless allegations, the casting of aspersions and, of course, lack of theoretical grounding in his opinion piece resembled the final swing of heavy arms by a tired boxer in the eighth round.
Of course, simply because the analysis is weak does not mean it should not be responded to. It is our duty to expose the emptiness of what parades itself as thought, particularly that of a media fraternity that deems itself beyond reproach.
He begins with an unflattering reflection on the impact the EFF has had on South African politics, which I will not dwell on as it precedes a more important theoretical mishap which was an attempt to project the EFF as a potential that turned ugly. He writes that “at the same time, ugliness has reared its head — comments about ‘cutting the throat of whiteness’ or insults hurled at Indian people have become a normalised part of our political lexicon.”
Grootes either takes the two instances deliberately out of their ideological context or is simply incapable of thinking beyond the surface level of political statements, which would be alarming.
The phrase “cutting the throat of whiteness” refers in simple terms to destroying white privilege. Julius Malema, and a variety of scholars interested in black studies and the phenomenon of white supremacy, use “whiteness” as an indicator of the structural privilege that white skin carries within society. A privilege that breeds arrogance, underpins racism and puts white society above the rest at a cultural, economic, political and social level.
It is a basic metaphorical phrase that alludes to ridding society of arrogance that sustains the oppression of others, and in this case, was in reference to the removal of Athol Trollip as mayor of Nelson Mandela Bay due to his racialised service delivery and negative stance regarding the cardinal pillar of the EFF, land expropriation without compensation.
On the matter of hurling “insults” at Indian people becoming a norm in the country, it is simply reckless language and completely out of touch with the reality of black African South Africans, particularly those in the province of KwaZulu-Natal. Perhaps a brief history lesson will assist.
The apartheid regime of South Africa cleverly created a racial hierarchy in South Africa, placing themselves at the top, with subsequent tiers of races with varying privileges in what can be deemed a totem pole. These privileges pertained to the state of living and infrastructure, proximity to white society, wealth, job opportunities and in the case of the Tricameral Parliament, even politics.
Indian people and coloured people in that exact order were privy to relatively “better” ill-treatment. This is to say that they did not necessarily feel the brunt of apartheid racism; however, the divisions and access were purposefully created so as to instil resentment within a bloc of people who were all victims of racism, and to create inferiority vs superiority complex within an oppressed bloc of people.
Now anyone with a grasp of reality is aware that the ills of apartheid continue to filter through post-1994 society, be it racial spatial planning, access to wealth and opportunity, and the very same complexes created by the racist apartheid regime so as to stifle any unity among the blacks they so despise. This results in antagonisms existing between Indian people, who own stores, have amassed wealth or are in a position to employ African black people. It results in the reality of unfair labour practices by Indian people towards African blacks and general resentment due to stigmas created.
This comes in the form of remuneration via the dop system, or with clothing or food. It comes with abuse, unfair dismissal and general ill-treatment, which has, in turn, created resentment by African black people towards Indians. To speak out against such does not amount to insults or anti-Indian sentiments, which the straw man journalist likes to make as being the case.
It simply seeks to call out injustice, reveal what informs it and put an end to it. It is a sensitive issue that the EFF tackles head-on, as it does everything else in this country, and to take it out of its ideological context is serious intellectual dishonesty and thuggery. It is scary to think that Grootes might not understand this.
His piece, however, continues in what can only be described as an amusing take on democracy, or, I suppose, a lack thereof in the EFF. He writes that “the EFF appear to ignore some of the prescripts of democracy: All of their members wear the same red overalls, their debates often are just shouting matches of continuously hurled insults; the rule of law does not seem to apply to Malema; the EFF’s election posters feature only their Commander-in-Chief (which in itself is a war statement of sorts), and the similarities with some parties that turned out to be fascist are ever present.”
I laugh every time I read this. If wearing the same party regalia makes an organisation anti-democratic, not only are all political organisations in this country anti-democratic, but so are a majority of high schools and workplaces across the world. It is a ridiculous assertion to make and honestly reveals that not only did Grootes not read through what he wrote; he wrote for the sake of writing. What would be the point of party colours and regalia if not to wear them in unison? At what point did wearing the same clothing become a violation of the prescripts of democracy?
He writes that we have similarities with parties that turned out to be fascist, but the examples he provides are laughable — and again, the word fascist is thrown around with little understanding.
Julius Malema, like Cyril Ramaphosa and Mmusi Maimane, is a party leader, the president of his organisation. Why must the EFF election poster, and it alone, then be turned into a group selfie to avoid shallow accusations of being fascist? Again I do not think Grootes read through what he wrote.
The debates he refers to, that he claims to turn into shouting matches and insults on the part of the EFF, are, to name a few: Motions to expropriate land without compensation for equal redistribution; motions to nationalise the Reserve Bank and other key sectors of the economy which is largely in minority hands; bills to insource exploited workers in various councils across the country; proposals of models to roll out free education up until the first degree; calls to end private healthcare and schooling, which perpetuates racialised social welfare and development; bills to curb illicit financial flows and tax evasion; and last, but not least, an almost 200-page manifesto outlining the EFF’s plan for governance in South Africa.
His claims are baseless, childish and embarrassing. We can understand when a narrative has to be pushed, but to respect all of us it would be the decent thing to do to sharpen it. These rehashed views cannot be taken as polling analysis for a country’s national election.
He reflects on the possibility of the EFF reaching double-percentage digits in the elections and teases out a few scenarios that may support or reject that possibility. One of those is whether the EFF has set up relevant structures to roll out effective election machinery. Thankfully, the EFF has launched provincial structures in all nine provinces of South Africa, and regional structures in all 53 regions, all elected democratically by branches in every corner of the country. So if election machinery is anything to go by, then Grootes should not be concerned at all.
On his rumination on the effectiveness or lack thereof of law enforcement agencies for the various allegations, the media fraternity in particular raise without substantiation allegations on which one does not have to dwell much.
Instead of the constant aspersions they cast on law enforcement agencies and Chapter Nine institutions such as the Public Protector whenever they do not get their way, perhaps those who continuously lay frivolous charges or allegations against the EFF should reflect on whether the reasons these cases seem to take so long to resolve is because there is literally little to no meaningful evidence to work with. Persistent articles of conspiracy are sadly not going to be a substitute for that.
Grootes, and many of his colleagues, continue to press the repeat button in vain. As we edge closer to elections, it seems we will be in for a compilation of EFF greatest-conspiracy-hits, as well as a large dose of lack of coverage, at least of a positive nature. Thankfully, the EFF has pushed back effectively against media bias and empty analysis and owes its loyalty, its attention and its energy only to the electorate.
To those who continue to aimlessly punch at the EFF, hoping to dent its progress, pity is all I have to offer. DM