Defend Truth


The EFF is a clear and present danger to our democracy


Dr Imraan Buccus is a senior research associate at the Auwal Socio-economic Research Institute and a postdoctoral fellow at Durban University of Technology.

The EFF consistently outplays the ANC and the DA, and sucks most of the media into its wake. This makes it politically urgent to develop clarity about the nature of the EFF project.

There is universal agreement that our economy is in serious trouble and that our political arrangements are also facing severe stress. History shows that when political and economic crises coincide, things can go seriously wrong. History also shows that from the catastrophic rise of fascism in Europe in the 1930s to the Arab Spring, extreme levels of youth unemployment tend to lead to serious political upheaval. 

We would be naïve to think that we won’t be facing a very bumpy, and at times genuinely dangerous period in the coming months and years. Moletsi Mbeki’s repeated warnings about a coming African Spring are prescient, although there is no guarantee of what form a youth-driven upheaval would take.

A youth-driven insurrection could take the form of a potentially progressive demand for social inclusion, or a right-wing form in terms of a xenophobic demand for exclusion.

The origins of our economic crisis lie in the ANC’s embrace of neoliberal macroeconomic arrangements after 1996, and then the steady capture of large parts of the state by a toxic mixture of kleptocrats in the ruling party and in now notorious corporates like KPMG, McKinsey, et cetera. 

The origins of our political crisis lie in the fact that while an alliance between the left and the neoliberals in the ANC could, with a large budget from corporate South Africa, get Cyril Ramaphosa elected, there is a stalemate between the left neoliberal alliance and the kleptocrats in the ANC, which are now vociferously supported from outside the ruling party by the EFF, and entirely discredited public figures like Piet Rampedi and Andile Mngxitama.

Otherwise-credible publications that continue to publish proven liars and fantasists, such as Mcebo Dlamini and Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, as if they were credible participants in a democratic public sphere, are inadvertently contributing to the general breakdown in democratic norms. 

Journalists like Thandeka Gqubule and Redi Tlhabi, and other figures like Adam Habib, have been absolutely correct to insist that a clear distinction must be drawn between democratic forms of engagement and attempts to muddy the waters with lies.

In global terms, our economic crisis is particularly severe, and if the neoliberals get their way and are able to enforce an austerity-driven response, it will be almost impossible to sustain social stability. It is now a matter of maximum urgency that alternatives to austerity are widely discussed, and that trade unions and progressive economists like Duma Gqubule, Neva Makgetla, Vishnu Padayachee and others are brought into the centre of the debate.

The left and the neoliberals can find common ground in shared opposition to the looting by the kleptocrats, but the left dare not concede to the neoliberals in their demand for austerity. There will have to be some sort of united front, rooted in a degree of compromise from both sides, between the left and the neoliberals if they are able to hold their alliance against the kleptocrats, and finally defeat them. If the neoliberals insist on a full programme of austerity, the alliance with the left will be broken, the trade unions will bring down Ramaphosa and the kleptocrats will have an opening to seize the advantage.

Some aspects of our political crises are similar to events happening in numerous other countries. The normalisation of dishonesty in Parliament, electoral politics and in growing parts of our public sphere is typical of the democratic decay that enabled the rise of right-wing authoritarian populists like Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro and Matteo Salvini. In all these cases, dishonesty that was first propagated on social media came to infect the mainstream media and then electoral politics. 

It is absolutely vital that all democratic actors in South Africa take what has happened in countries like the US, Britain, Brazil, Italy, Hungary, the Philippines, and many others, with the utmost seriousness and draw a clear distinction between credible forms of engagement and the deliberate mobilisation of dishonesty from social media into the mainstream media and finally, into electoral politics.

The demagoguery and dishonesty associated with the kleptocrats in the ANC and the EFF, as well as minor figures like Mngxitama, is typical of the worst excesses of authoritarian populism globally. 

However, there is a unique aspect to our crisis. Around the world, authoritarian populism is an explicitly right-wing phenomenon. Here, its chief standard bearers in the ANC and the EFF present themselves as operating in the tradition of left-leaning radical nationalism. There is no question that this is just propaganda – after all, their project is to literally steal from the poor to enrich a predatory political elite. This is the antithesis of all that the left stands for.

The EFF has a tiny percentage of support from people eligible to vote. Recent reports have put it at about 5%. But their astute use of social media and political theatre means that, like authoritarian populists around the world, they often leverage tiny electoral support into domination of mainstream media coverage. We all saw this, again, in the aftermath of the State of the Nation Address (SONA). 

The EFF’s antics, while crude and rooted in racism and dishonesty, as well as a legitimate, but opportunistic exploitation of a legitimate point about FW de Klerk, dominated all news coverage. This was no exception. 

The EFF consistently outplays the ANC and the DA, and sucks most of the media into its wake. This makes it politically urgent to develop clarity about the nature of the EFF project.

Some aspects of their project are clear. It is clear that there is serious corruption in the top ranks of the EFF and that its leaders aspire to sustain their position in a mafia-style kleptocracy that is now, albeit very slowly, being reined in. 

Their radical nationalism is genuine in that they want positions at the top of the kleptocracy to be reserved for certain kinds of people, but it is utterly false to present it as having any leftist credibility because it is a predatory politics in which a tiny elite lives by literally stealing from the majority. It is also clear that the EFF is fundamentally an anti-democratic force that uses democratic institutions to drive an authoritarian and undemocratic agenda. No one who watched the SONA fiasco in Parliament could dispute this.

There have always been fascist elements in the EFF’s politics and there have been moments when their conduct has rightfully been termed fascist. But, right now, their opportunism and hypocrisy makes them seem much more like authoritarian and predatory opportunists than true or consistent believers in true fascist politics. They do not demonstrate the deep intellectual commitment to fascist ideas that can be seen in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which functions as a kind of fascist think tank for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India. 

In fact, the EFF intellectuals are very weak, tending to go for crude and ahistorical social media talking points rather than serious work. Ndlozi’s notorious tweet suggesting that Mangosuthu Buthelezi should have been awarded the Nobel Prize is a particularly crass example of this tendency.

However, the authoritarian currents in the party are deeply and genuinely ingrained. The EFF’s political roots do not lie in the left in the ANC in exile, dominated by the SACP, or in the mass democratic politics of the trade unions and the UDF. The EFF’s roots are in the corrupt authoritarian nationalism associated with the late Peter Mokaba. This is a deeply maligning form of politics, one with clear parallels to Zanu-PF in Zimbabwe, or the dictatorship of the late Daniel Arap Moi in Kenya, so brilliantly pilloried by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o in his novel Wizard of the Crow.

The fact that the EFF is not consistently fascist, but that it is consistently corrupt, demagogic, dishonest and authoritarian is enough to insist that all democrats must oppose it as a clear and present danger to our democracy. This means that a broad alliance in support of democratic engagement must be developed and sustained. 

But, as noted above, it would risk severe economic and political disaster for the left to participate in such an alliance on the basis that accepts the increasing neoliberal demand for austerity. The left needs to join as broad as possible an alliance in support of democratic values, and in opposition to corruption, but hold the line on the need to invest in our economy, institutions and people. DM


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