Opinionista Imraan Buccus 14 September 2020

The EFF is a direct threat to our democracy

A genuine party of the left would expose the SA charlatans who claim to speak for the masses

South African politics is a strange beast and unique in the world in one important respect. Here the genuine left has no representation in Parliament, but many neoliberals, and all of the kleptocrats, misrepresent themselves as left. This indicates that left ideas have real support in society even though there is no genuine left party in Parliament.

Since the height of the State Capture era, the kleptocrats in the ANC have misrepresented themselves as “pro-poor” and generally progressive. They have tried to argue that popular outrage against looting is really a front for reactionary forces that oppose the left. This is a joke. All the major organisations of the poor and the working class oppose the looters, and the poor got significantly poorer under Jacob Zuma. To make matters worse, the Marikana massacre and the assassination of a number of grass-roots activists happened under Zuma. His regime was both massively corrupt and seriously authoritarian.

The Sunday Independent, a paper strongly aligned to the kleptocratic faction of the ANC, has even used Noam Chomsky, a renowned left-wing thinker, to justify xenophobia. Everywhere in the world xenophobia is the programme of the far right. It is only in South Africa that an attempt is made to justify a hard-right position with reference to a leading left-wing intellectual.

The kleptocrats in the EFF, who enriched themselves by stealing from the poor via VBS, also present themselves as left. The EFF’s stated programme is that of the extremely statist and authoritarian left. But, in reality, the EFF has indulged its corrupt leaders and aligned itself with the kleptocrats in the ANC. To call this a left project would be a joke.

Black First Land First, another authoritarian group which aggressively provided crude support for Zuma and the Guptas, and launched scurrilous attacks on critics of Zuma and the Guptas, also presents itself as left. This is farcical.

If we had a genuine left in Parliament the EFF would have far less space to misrepresent itself. But, for that to become possible, the genuine left has to come together and build a credible electoral alternative to the neoliberals and kleptocrats in the ANC, and the authoritarian, corrupt and chauvinistic politics of the EFF.

But it’s not just the kleptocrats who misrepresent themselves as left. Cyril Ramaphosa, a neoliberal president, recently quoted Fidel Castro’s famous statement that “history will absolve me”. Castro gave his famous speech, titled History will Absolve Me in a Cuban court in 1953 after his first attempt at a revolution had failed. It is extraordinary, and ridiculous, that someone like Ramaphosa would present himself as following in the footsteps of Castro.

However, there is a genuine left in South Africa. The trade union movement is not without its problems, but it does include progressive unions like the Commercial, Stevedoring, Agricultural and Allied Workers’ Union, which represents farmworkers in the Western Cape. There are also progressive currents in both Cosatu and Saftu. And there are a number of progressive grass-roots organisations around the country, including the largest social movement in the country, Abahlali baseMjondolo, which has the bulk of its membership in Durban. South Africa also has a number of important progressive intellectuals and a growing number of progressive NGOs.

If some unity, or at least collaboration on matters of common interest, could be developed between all these progressive forces South Africa could begin to build a left with real power that could offer a serious challenge to the kleptocrats and the neoliberals. In time, it would be possible to develop a serious electoral project.

But if this happens, and it would take a lot of work to overcome the distrust that exists between different factions of the left, there would be direct competition between a genuine left and the pseudo-left of the EFF, Black First Land First (BLF) and the kleptocrats in the ANC.

No one seriously takes the claims of the ANC kleptocrats, or their crude propagandists in the BLF, to be left. But there are significant numbers of people who do seriously take the claims of the EFF to be left. For this reason, analytical clarity is required.

The point has already been made about the corruption of EFF leaders. But the EFF is also a highly authoritarian organisation, led by a single leader who runs the party like a dictator. It does exploit genuine grievances, like the appalling racism of the notorious Clicks advert. But it does so in a way that is deeply authoritarian and normalises the use of thuggery and violence in our politics.

From Germany in the 1930s to India today, fascists have always mobilised groups of young men to engage in street violence and thuggery. Attacks on shops have often been associated with fascism. In Germany in the 1930s, Jewish shops were attacked. In contemporary India, Muslim shops are often attacked.

In South Africa, immigrant shops are regularly attacked, and the EFF’s choice to use violence may well contribute to the normalisation of this kind of street thuggery. When political parties develop formal or informal militias of young men who engage in street violence it becomes inevitable that electoral politics will begin to take on a violent form. As well as putting vulnerable people at risk, this can seriously compromise democracy. This is especially so when multiple parties develop formal or informal militias.

For this reason, the EFF is a direct threat to our democracy and must be treated as such. With its crude anti-Indian politics the EFF is also a direct threat to the non-racial tradition that was developed in all major anti-apartheid movements. And, as many commentators have recently noted, the EFF’s disturbingly sexist politics is also a real threat to progressive values. The same is true of the EFF’s repeatedly hostile and authoritarian response to the media.

The EFF is a corrupt, authoritarian, violent organisation that is anti-democratic, sexist and pursues a politics of nativist racial chauvinism. Many commentators are scared to take on the EFF as a result of the party’s intimidation of critics, which has been especially crude in the case of female journalists. However, it is important that the reality of the EFF’s politics is widely understood and acted on.

But with no genuine left party in Parliament, the EFF has had plenty of space to claim the mantle of the left and to offer its corrupt and authoritarian politics to marginalised people as if it were a credible alternative.

If we had a genuine left in Parliament the EFF would have far less space to misrepresent itself. But, for that to become possible, the genuine left has to come together and build a credible electoral alternative to the neoliberals and kleptocrats in the ANC, and the authoritarian, corrupt and chauvinistic politics of the EFF.

The ball is in the court of Cosatu, Saftu, Abahlali baseMjondolo and all the progressive grass-roots groups, NGOs and intellectuals. Let’s hope that they rise to the occasion. DM

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All Comments 8

  • I totally agree with the author. I feel alarmed that there is not more outrage against these fascist thugs and feel that our democracy is threatened and beginning to decline as Police stand by why looting violence and intimidation continues. I am alarmed and agree it reminds one of Fascist Germany in 1930’s and the horrors that followed in 1939. The fact that Corporate’s are all bowing and scraping to the demands made.

  • No left-wing communist party has ever been prosperous. I worked with Russian and some Polish crew on ships trading world-wide for 15 years. Not one of those guys wanted to “go left” ever again. They were all pro democracy and capitalism.

  • Seriously, I would like to know what the fundamental assumptions attached to the label “left” are, so that we can update the notion for a 21st century post colonial, social-democratic state that may start being developmental, and will certainly have a mixed economy with the private sector much the largest. In the context of the broad humanist project, the question now is who controls science, technology, data, knowledge and software. No youngster with skills dreams of a lifelong job in a company, but some unions insist not a watt of energy be produced from rooftops in case a worker loses their jobs. Those workers should be rolling out green energy and other 4IR infrastructure to transform the economy, whether in cooperatives or small companies, enabled by a professional state that set the rules based fully on our Constitution. So that the infrastructure reaches the most remote dorp in the Northern Cape. Is this thinking left or right wing?

  • Left, actually means left behind, if recent history is anything to go by. Left oriented thinkers do not accept the reality of Nature. This is that each human being is an independent node of consciousness and thus has the permanent responsibility of choice in how they respond to life. The left thinks that this is unfair on individuals and therefore the State should shoulder the individual’s responsibilities. The State actually cannot do it properly so you end up with a mess.

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