The term fascism is thrown about with way too much alacrity in South Africa and abroad. While we should be wary of the rise of fascism, throwing the term around as easily as we do, has the dangerous effect of reducing it to a throw-away almost meaningless term. The danger of this is that when actual fascism rises, or there are groups that display actual fascist tendencies, the term may already have become meaningless, and the villains are ignored or dismissed as buffoons – when they are, actually, a danger to society.
So, it is often best to start with definitional or theoretical issues and historical perspectives. I am working on a longer-term project on the subject, part of which will devote time to these methodological issues.
In the meantime, based on news reports (Daily Maverick was banned from attending the Economic Freedom Fighters’ National People’s Assembly), one of the EFF’s stated objectives over the past weekend – a borderless Africa with a single government and a single army with a single commander-in-chief with a type of gauleiter (governor) in each state, or region – has distinct echoes of German fascism (Nazis,) in particular, Adolf Hitler’s imaginaries of a continent-wide reich, to create a lebensraum (a territorial space for a particular group to extend its reach and flourish) for Germanic peoples.
Malema’s African reich is quite different from general arguments for regional integration. Malema’s vision has the hallmark of an element of last century’s fascism that would be foolish to ignore.
Malema’s vision of an African reich
Malema’s envisioned African reich will be headed by Godrich Gardee, who was removed as the EFF’s secretary-general, and an office will be established in each of the continent’s main regions. Over the past weekend, a delegate from Liberia (unnamed) suggested that the leaders of local parties (across the continent) would each hold the title of “president” so that there’s only one commander-in-chief – Malema himself.
This is key. It is especially reminiscent of Nazi Germany’s gauleiters, which were governed by a local political official, all of whom remained subservient to Hitler – the commander in chief. Bear in mind, also, that Hitler assumed the role of commander-in-chief.
In the process of creating his African reich, Malema, as self-declared commander-in-chief wants to extend the EFF’s reach across Africa, and unify all Africans under one commander in chief – not unlike the Nazi führer (leader). This has powerful homologies with one of Hitler’s cornerstone policies. Malema, is smart (but no less dangerous) and couches his rhetoric in terms of suffering Africans who are “all victims of the same enemy agents”. This, too, has powerful homologies with Hitler’s demonising of Jews.
In February 1920, Hitler presented the Nazi Party Platform at a Nazi Party meeting – not unlike the EFF’s weekend gathering with attendant sycophancy. In presenting the Nazi Party Platform in a 25-point programme, party officials publicly declared their intention to segregate Jews from “Aryan” society and to revoke Jews’ political, legal, and civil rights.
Point 4 of the programme, stated: “Only a national comrade [Aryan] can be a citizen. Only someone of German blood, regardless of faith, can be a citizen. Therefore, no Jew can be a citizen.” Anti-Jewish propaganda insisted that only the Nazi Party could succeed in gaining a mass following. The exploited pre-existing images and stereotypes to give a false portrayal of Jews who were considered “an ‘alien race’ that fed off the host nation, poisoned its culture, seized its economy, and enslaved its workers and farmers.”
In the place of Jewish scapegoats, Malema identified, “the threat is white monopoly capital” which he declared “must be crushed”. Echoing Hitler on national comradeship, and that only those persons of “German blood” could be citizens of the envisaged African envisaged reich, Malema declares that the “African brother and sister” are victims of “the same enemy agents”. What is becoming clearer is that Malema is positioning himself as commander-in-chief of an African reich in the same way Hitler granted himself absolute power, and with attendant scapegoats.
Scapegoating Jews in Hitler’s Germany was done ‘legally’
At the outset, Nazi expansion (according to Hitler), was to be achieved “through the unification of all Germanic peoples”. This has distinct echoes of Malema’s stated objective to unify all Africans in something akin to an African reich and wage a war against scapegoats. Hitler started with the Jews as scapegoats. In the EFF’s case whites, Indians and “non-Africans” in general are Malema’s scapegoats. The parallels between the EFF and the Nazis increase. In a booklet distributed by the Nazi’s in 1943, The Jew as World Parasite, the writers explain: “We believe the Fuhrer when he says that the end of this struggle which was unleashed against us by the Jewish world parasite, will result in the extermination of Jewry in Europe. But until this extermination is complete, we must always remember that the Jew is our absolute enemy and that he has only one goal: our complete extermination.”
For his part, Malema identified white people, and told his followers over the weekend that “we are all victims of the same enemy agents”. This has a solid echo with the above passage of Jews as the “absolute enemy”.
Hitler demonised Jews, suggesting that they controlled the banks. Malema echoes this, without any sense of history. It is “white capitalists”, who keep their money in the banks and “refuse to invest it”. It was reported on Tuesday that Malema has identified “the banks” as one of his first targets in his “war” against the financial sector. Until the EFF has the political power to change the Constitution, it might become difficult to draw the financial sector or banks into a “war”. This could change if the EFF grows and replaces the DA as the official opposition or they eventually take power from the ANC. At that point, they can decree anything.
For instance, on 26 April 1938, Hitler issued a “Decree for the Reporting of Jewish-Owned Property”. This paved the way for the appropriation of Jewish property – and in many cases, outright theft was given a gloss of legality. Again, we are reminded of this decree, when Malema drives for the appropriation of white-owned property.
This is not a defence of the iniquitous distribution and ownership of land in South Africa, it is simply the identification of a range of parallels and continuities that the EFF shares with the fascists of the 20th century. The decree of 1938 (remember the EFF want to change South Africa’s Constitution) marked a veritable turning point in Nazi Germany. One legal advisor for the Nazi ministry of economics deemed it the “forerunner to a complete and definitive removal of Jews from the German economy”. We should not be surprised, then, if the EFF’s final solution is the removal of whites (or non-Africans) from its ideal African reich.
As explained above, I am working on something more substantive on the topic, but we make a mistake when we compare Malema directly, and without important caveats, to the last century’s two most prominent fascists, Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler.
Fascism, like, say, liberalism, has evolved over the years and has shown different faces in different parts of the world. For instance, Hitler and Mussolini might be the cynosure of 20th-century fascism, Generalissimo Francisco Franco who ruled Spain until 1975, and Portugal’s António Salazar who ruled that country until 1974 were fresh incarnations of fascism too. It is in this reproduction of fascism that Malema fits into seamlessly.
There are also comparisons that can be drawn with a range of despots, from Augusto Pinochet to Pol Pot, Joseph Stalin and Idi Amin – all of whom reflect the politics of revenge, revanchism and misguided objectives of returning their societies to some form of prelapsarian utopia – before the whites, or the Jews or any other scapegoats arrived. DM