Opinionista Marianne Thamm 19 June 2019

Just Do It: How Portugal’s left-wing parties won without resorting to violence and hatred

A while back, EFF leader Julius Malema, in a rare in-depth, pre-election radio interview, provided a vision of the party’s localised economic policy and how it might benefit and empower communities. My mother’s village, Aljustrel in Portugal, is run by a socialist mayor. There is 100% employment, zero crime and violence. In fact, it is a model of sorts of the EFF vision, just without McFascism.

It was Indian activist Mahatma Gandhi (who, like Mandela, has been the subject of revisionist history of late) who once said: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

The observation could equally apply to the EFF, for the true nature of one’s confidence – whether in an economic or social worldview – comes from the showing and the doing. Where you lead, implement your policies, cut the theatrics, the hysterics, the displays of hyper-masculine aggression and threats. Just do it.

Portugal did.

The country is currently led by a socialist, António Costa, and his Partido Socialista. The party has been predicted to win again in Portugal’s elections in October 2019. By 2018 Portugal, after exiting its EU/IMF 2014 bailout, had fully repaid its IMF loan.

In April 2019 Spain’s socialist party, led by Pedro Sánchez, won a snap election. It was the first proper victory for the socialists since 2008.

And all of this without the threat of violence, the manufacture of chaos or the rousing kitsch populist rhetoric which divides and distracts rather than convinces others to join the cause.

Or perhaps the noise and heat are generated precisely because there is never any intention to do what can be done. The accumulation of private wealth has tripped up many a revolutionary. White Monopoly Capital is mesmerising and once you have tasted it you need to go real cold turkey.

No latest iPhones, no Instafeeds, no Twars – just getting on with it, as the socialists did in Portugal. It led to victory on a continent currently plagued by right-wing populism, Islamophobia, anti-semitism, homophobia and racism.

Malema being interviewed on the Eusebius McKaiser Show on 702 was attempting to answer the question, “Could the EFF be a government in waiting?”

That day the EFF CIC, playing the analytical, rational cool and calm leader, set out the party’s vision as per its election manifesto.

McKaiser took Malema through the EFF’s economic policy and as I listened I thought, “Hang on, I’ve seen this work and work well.”

The idea of special economic zones in areas where people live in order to ensure inclusive participation is a reality in Aljustrel. There are no malls, no fast-food restaurants. The municipality in central Portugal was the first to nationalise land and the mines (in which my grandfather died) after the 1975 Carnation Revolution in Portugal.

People farm beef, olives and sunflowers. Bread in the town is baked by a resident, fish and vegetables are sold by locals to locals, clothing is designed and sewn by seamstresses. Money circulates and stays in the town. There is no litter in the streets, no fear in the hearts and eyes of those who walk them at all hours.

What was very apparent, however, in Aljustrel is that there is little love for all things WMC.

There are no Webenzis on the road, there are no Breitling watches, Gucci bags, designer shoes and snazzy suits. There is no love of French Champagne which in South Africa costs about as much as it would take to feed a family. The same Champagne and whisky so beloved of our political class are nowhere to be found.

Homes are all owned by residents and are small and practical. Everyone seems to have enough.

Perhaps a lovely vignette from Zimbabwe-born author and journalist, Douglas Rogers’ latest book Two Weeks in November – The Astonishing Untold Story of the Operation that Toppled Mugabe might help to illustrate the difference between fake and real revolutionaries.

Get Rogers’ book, it is a brilliant, funny and compelling account of how Zanu-PF, after turning on citizens, began to eat itself. It is also an insider account of how operatives in South Africa managed Mnangagwa’s escape.

Apart from the Mugabe family’s love of all things WMC – Grace and her two sons are massive consumers of costly capitalist baubles, bells and medical expertise – the rest of the Zanu-PF leadership too loved to dance to the tune of the American Dollar.

Posh houses in exclusive districts, big-ass 4X4s so you can drive a head above your impoverished citizens, farms seized and kept by a small political elite, natural resources plundered and sold to the highest bidder, with little trickle-down benefit to a traumatised nation.

Rogers, in his book, describes now Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s flight from his own country and comrades shortly before the country’s “silent coup” on 14 November 2017.

Mnangagwa was named “the crocodile” not because of his nature, but because of a gang he once belonged to and also in reference to the WMC French-made Lacoste label, so popular among Champagne revolutionaries. Mnangagwa’s loyalists were known as the Lacoste faction in Zimbabwe as opposed to Mugabe’s G40 grouping.

With Mugabe and his wife’s goons on the lookout for Mnangagwa, the country’s once-second-most-powerful man found himself without the substantial accoutrements of the status and wealth he once enjoyed as a humble servant of the people.

Hunted like an animal, Mnangagwa was forced to flee carrying a US$8,000 (about R120,000) WMC Louis Vuitton President briefcase, stuffed with documents and cash… WMC American dollars naturally.

The crocodile ‘s son Emmerson Jr, and the twins Sean (a military officer) and Collins (a mining engineer) were the first to try to persuade their once-powerful father to flee his own country. Collins and Sean, writes Douglas, are “pint-sized twins with a penchant for fashionable tight-fit designer suits”.

In the insane rush to exit, Rogers sets out the fugitive Mnangagwa entourage’s attempts at outsmarting the CIO as well as riot police and military posses sent out by Mugabe to track down and arrest the rogue VP.

Rogers’ book reads like a thriller tragicomedy. And while the political elite turned on each other, Zimbabweans starved and suffered.

Here is Mnangagwa dressed in a “wide-brimmed veld safari hat and oversized women’s sunglasses” walking away from the first roadblock at the Forbes border post. There’s Sean and Emmerson Jr hiding in an abandoned car wash among “torn car seats and old tyres”. Here again is Mnangagwa, hiding in the hills, or later as a passenger in a beat-up Toyota Corolla. There again he is crouching in the back seat of a battered WMC BMW.

After many thwarted plans, the fleeing Vice President and his keepers opted to cross the border on foot, through the bush at the Marymount Teachers’ College, “a frequent illegal crossing point for thousands of informal traders”.

These are the same informal traders forced into illegality through the collapse of the Zimbabwean economy thanks in part to Zanu-PF’s policies. But we digress.

The flight of ED, writes Douglas, “is Shakespearean in its pathos”.

They walked on, through muddy fields, across streams and through a dense banana plantation. The land got flatter, the air more humid,” writes Rogers of EM and his son’s journey into temporary exile.

He added, “their feet were blistered, their clothes caked in mud. Junior wanted to collapse. It was then that they heard an engine; the putt of a motorbike. They scrambled up a slope. They had finally reached the road.”

Of course, all the while carrying the precious Louis Vuitton President briefcase with its precious stash of US dollars.

So why this, way too long, riff?

Because the lesson the real revolutionaries of Portugal have to offer our fake Breitling revolutionaries is to put their energies into making visible the benefits of a policy rather than using it as a smokescreen for a power grab.

With the collapse of capitalism and the havoc wreaked by globalisation, the time is ripe for real committed socialists the world over to make a play for the hearts and minds of citizens. Convince those who are opposed to your vision by doing, by making it happen, by proving them wrong.

Unless, that is, you have no intention in the first place of ever delivering on your promises, and your calls for violence and aggression are merely a smokescreen for self-enrichment, abuse and power mongering.

Go ahead, just do it. DM

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