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Beware the emerging trend in South Africa towards fasci...

Defend Truth

Opinionista

Beware the emerging trend in South Africa towards fascism of a special type

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Barry Mitchell, originally from Hout Bay, Cape Town, is the former deputy provincial secretary of the South African Communist Party (SACP). He also served on the coordinating committee of #UniteBehind. He holds a bachelor's degree in politics, philosophy and economics from Unisa.

The myth of rebirth was used by Mussolini and Hitler, extolling the need to return to the splendour of a past, great nation-state. In South Africa, these utterances are not dissimilar, stealing the philosophical theories of some of our greatest Africanist or black consciousness leaders, such as Robert Sobukwe, Frantz Fanon and Steve Biko, and using this as a basis for populist mobilisation to ensure lives of decadence are maintained.

In 2017, Cyril Ramaphosa was elected president of the African National Congress (ANC) at its 54th national conference. At the time, it was quite clear that two centres of power would emerge as a result of the divisions within the ANC – Luthuli House being one and the National Assembly the other.

The fractures that were smoothed over by accommodating different factions within the organisation and in government were obviously not going to last long, and as these antagonisms in the ANC metastasised into open revolt, the battle lines were drawn. 

The polarisation of the ANC, historically a broad movement of differing ideologies, classes, races, etc, has now been impeded by the emergence of a dangerous grouping of consolidated thought and practice. 

This trend has now garnered greater vigour and confidence, encouraged and supported by recipients of patronage and now, by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). To some, this might seem absurd, but this trend closely resembles fascism. 

A friend recently sent me an article stressing the need to avoid the apparent “wokeness” I exhibit in loosely characterising trends or individuals as fascist. He argued that, as political scientists, we ought to affirm set ideological characteristics based on established traits.

Roger Griffin, in his 1991 book, “The Nature of Fascism”, put forward three core components that encompass fascism: (i) the rebirth myth; (ii) populist ultranationalism; and (iii) the myth of decadence. 

These might seem a bit deep for some, who usually associate fascism with goose-stepping Nazis in coal-scuttle helmets: more contemporary associations might be shaven-headed, tattooed white men, shouting obscenities and waving their national flag.

In South Africa’s case, we might even be at odds with referring to non-white ultranationalist or even tribalist utterances and behaviour as fascist. But this is wrong and extremely dangerous. 

It is time to call a spade a spade, or, in more symbolic terms, a bundle of sticks – a bundle of sticks (fasces, not to be mistaken with faeces, is the Latin term for a bundle of sticks, the etymological root of the term fascism).

Since Nasrec 2017, the two centres of power described above have become more antagonistic, often playing out on social media or through the judiciary or in commissions. 

Covid-19 has not stopped the practice and danger of paying patronage to mobilise crowds outside courtrooms, to praise the awe and splendour of their great leaders, threatening martyrdom to save an individual facing prison sentences on charges of fraud and corruption.

We have also seen a host of populist Big Men leaders rise and fall and rise again on the international scene, all displaying similar characteristics – promising radical transformation, evoking cultural or racial intonations, identifying an enemy or enemies of the nation-state and marketing themselves with catchy videos accompanied by popular culture and music.

The bipolar political groupings of the National Assembly and Luthuli House have overseen Covid-19 PPE scandals, the continued slog to ensure SOEs are incapacitated and the revelations from the Zondo Commission which have diminished the initial hope and aspirations for South Africa to rid itself of rampant corruption. 

Those occupying Luthuli House have made a concerted effort to fight back, going so far as defying the apex court of our country, setting a dangerous precedent for future stability of the republic. 

The Luthuli House camp have also managed to consolidate their motive forces – not workers both rural and urban, not civil society and faith-based groupings, but rather the offcuts of desperate politicians lacking a source of patronage as a result of Nasrec 2017.

Maybe too deep, but what we are witnessing is the consolidation of individuals associated with the governing party (either inside the organisation or government or to a greater extent the EFF or in some breakaway African Transformation Movement-type of outfit) that are hellbent on ensuring that the tap is not turned off. 

Back to Griffin – the myth of rebirth was used by Mussolini and Hitler, with the more obvious contemporary examples of Trump in the US or Modi in India, extolling the need to return to the splendour of a past, great nation-state. 

In South Africa’s context, these utterances are not dissimilar, stealing the philosophical theories of some our greatest Africanist or black consciousness leaders, such as Robert Sobukwe, Frantz Fanon and Steve Biko, and using this as a basis for populist mobilisation to ensure lives of decadence are maintained.

Remember that Hitler roused desperate workers in beer taverns by identifying minority groups as the enemy of progress. Trump appealed to similar sections of American society and used historic racial evil to identify a common enemy. 

In South Africa’s context, the consolidated camp – sometimes referred to as radical economic transformation (RET) forces – have mimicked history, using analysis from the South African Communist Party and bastardising its real purpose to shore up support to target an “enemy” (white monopoly capital and foreign nationals), to avoid legal action or jail terms, and to continue their lives of extracting surplus value from the state for individual accumulation.

Perhaps it is still too early to characterise these trends as ultranationalist or ultratribalist: some refer to these groupings as proto-fascist or embryonic fascism. 

Maybe too deep, but what we are witnessing is the consolidation of individuals associated with the governing party (either inside the organisation or government or to a greater extent the EFF or in some breakaway African Transformation Movement-type of outfit) that are hellbent on ensuring that the tap is not turned off. 

They evoke credentials and nostalgia from the fight against apartheid, often stating that some of the enemies are still within, infusing paranoia with a notion of patriotism, and in our unique case, using the struggles of the exploited, unemployed, poor and marginalised as their own struggles.

This brings us to the last aspect of South African fascism of a special type: many of these leaders are unashamed in their lavish lifestyles. Social media is bombarded with images and videos of them at ostentatious events, sipping Champagne and being chauffeured around in luxury 4x4s. 

Imali Eningi, Big Zulu’s 2020 hit, was used as a backdrop introduction to the heir of the RET camp (and a possible electoral contender in 2024), displaying slick gentlemen in black suits walking through what looks like the lobby of a luxury Dubai hotel, a marketing gimmick to say: “Hey, look at me and my boys, you can be like me, emulate me and you will succeed.

This is, of course, a myth and many of these social media political celebrities have amassed their fortunes not by being dedicated civil servants, but through years of plunder and underhanded deals. 

Youngsters emulate this – many of the leaders within the ANC’s “youth” structures (most of whom are parents to children in high school) are also marketing themselves on a myth of decadence.

The hype around the recent Nkandla tea parties is merely a well-managed PR stunt to defocus South Africans from the dangerous judicial precedent that is being set. 

The EFF and others visiting the disgraced former president are nothing but factions consolidating their position before the upcoming ANC elective conference in 2022 and subsequent national elections in 2024.

Historically, fascism often emerged more subtly than we might expect.

If we continue to be caught up in the social media hype of meetings and rhetoric, we might not be able to link, for example, the recent attacks on foreign nationals in Durban’s CBD with trends that are clearly a fascist threat to our young democracy. DM

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