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A confederacy of dunces: The EFF is riotous, the DA Comedy Club™ is a joke and the ANC is pitiful

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Ismail Lagardien is a writer, columnist and political economist with extensive exposure and experience in global political economic affairs. He was educated at the London School of Economics, and holds a PhD in International Political Economy.

The EFF is basically correct in that demands for jobs and land are not terribly high expectations. What are high expectations, are to expect millions of people to continue battling unemployment, homelessness, hunger, need and landlessness. Then again, that Julius Malema uses these problems to manipulate people has distinct echoes with Benito Mussolini’s manipulation of emotions of the poor.

It’s been a while since I have been as fascinated (yet somehow unsurprised) about the run-up to elections in South Africa as I am in these days and weeks before the 2021 local government elections (LGE21). If it were not promising to be an inflection point in domestic politics, I would refer to it as a mash-up of pantomime (with its customary demands for the audience to sing along) and pastiche, the desperate attempt to make like tricameral Parliament politics.

The electioneering has been in part entertaining, yet rather risible (hilarious, actually), and in part thrilling because the right questions are being asked, but nobody waits around to hear or provide answers.

What has stood out during the hustings so far is that the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) seem to be gaining traction, there is a focused personality cult around leaders (Cyril Ramaphosa’s smiling face, Julius Malema’s populism, John Steenhuisen and Herman Mashaba’s promises of misty-eyed optimism), and the wilful making of promises that most of the main parties know cannot be kept.

It is generally accepted that politicians make promises during electioneering that they themselves know cannot be kept. Yet, if I were a gambling person, I would put a fiver on the EFF to make significant inroads in LGE21. The EFF seems to have its finger on the pulse of those who remain trapped in poverty, unemployment, landlessness, homelessness. I will add a heavy caveat below.

Pitiful ANC and the DA Comedy Club

The ANC, other than Cyril Ramaphosa, appears rather pitiful and aware that it may not get back to the heights of the first 10 to 15 years of democracy. They may be in the death throes of the liberation days’ glory and moral high ground. It’s probably no surprise that books like Breakthrough by Mac Maharaj and Pallo Jordan are coming out to remind people of the ANC-National Party political settlement.

It is not unfair, however, to ask of the ANC, if they have not been able to rid the country of pit latrines or oversee well-run municipalities in more than 25 years, then what are the chances of them getting things done in the weeks and months after LGE21? Frankly, the ANC has squandered any and all goodwill that existed before 2007.

There is little to no evidence that the ANC has changed for the better. Over the past five years, the screwings and doings of some of its most prominent leaders and deployees (from Hlaudi Motsoeneng to Brian Molefe, from Malusi Gigaba to Ace Magashule) have flipped the ANC on its back and exposed its seedy underbelly.

They would have us believe that Ramaphosa can save the ANC – let’s take them at their word, but remember immanent critique (take them at their word and then measure what they have said against what they have done) – but it’s hard to come back from what the ruling alliance has become over the past 10 to 12 years. Again, if I were a gambling person, I would put a fiver on them losing key constituencies.

In the meantime, if the Democratic Alliance Comedy Club™ can’t stop making asses of themselves in the Twittersphere, and if they can stop producing and spreading sophomoric (cringeworthy) audiovisual products with John Steenhuisen as their main actor, and focus intensely (and honestly) on what they have achieved and where they have failed, they may be taken a lot more seriously.

At the level of perception, the DA Comedy Club™ appears to be working tirelessly to remind voters just how good things are/were when whites are/were in control. And then there is that subtle nod in the direction of the Cape secession movement, with Steenhuisen’s video on just how fine the Cape is when compared with the rest of the country.

The EFF creeping up on pole position

Very many journalists have defanged and lionised the EFF and their leader. This is reminiscent of John Gunther’s trenchant analysis of the Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini and how some members of the media (mostly from the US) have fallen over each other’s feet to ingratiate themselves with Malema and his “fighters”.

“Most newspapermen and their editors cannot resist the flattery of conversation with a dictator or head of a state; once they have been received by Mussolini or Hitler they feel a sense of obligation which warps their objectivity. It is very difficult for the average correspondent to write unfavourably about a busy and important man who has just donated him a friendly hour of conversation,” Gunther wrote in 1936.

This notwithstanding, Malema is a master orator, exceptional at manipulating the emotions of an audience and creeping up on the political establishment like a thief in the night.

More specifically, and perfectly in character, Malema and the EFF take facts, necessities, truths and half-truths, and dice, slice, julienne and sauté them all, but we have to wait and see if there is a meal coming from it all – or whether it is simply the good old manipulation of the emotions of the poor, the marginalised, the unemployed, the disaffected and the desperate.

This much can be gleaned from a slick video put out by the EFF, in which they (correctly) state that “young people need jobs manje [now], namhlanje [today]” and that a woman (in the video) “needs to own the land her business is on”.

We have to understand that the EFF is basically correct in that demands for jobs and land are not terribly high expectations. What are high expectations, are to expect millions of people to continue battling unemployment, homelessness, hunger, need and landlessness. Then again, that Malema uses these problems to manipulate people’s emotions has distinct echoes with Benito Mussolini’s manipulation of emotions of the poor. Was it not he (Mussolini) who said: “If only we can give them faith that mountains can be moved, they will accept the illusion that mountains are moveable, and thus an illusion may become reality”?

This is not unlike Malema’s exhortations that people should have as many children as they like – because the state would pay them. With messages like this, he disseminates “faith” and loyal followers and alienated others would tend to “accept the illusion… [as] reality”.

The point is, I can promise anyone the moon and sixpence, but I’m not compelled to explain how I would actually achieve it. The “how” remains a mystery for now.

All of this notwithstanding, the EFF needs to get a chance to let people know what it is capable of; what it really stands for – the caveat here is that we should all keep our safety bunkers fully stocked. The fact is, the country desperately needs a good dose of susa zonke, that most potent of laxatives that should flush the politics of revenge, recrimination, violence and racial scapegoating out of the system.

For now, and in the electioneering process, Malema and the EFF look good on paper and on social media, but they would have to try harder where the rubber hits the road – when they have to provide public goods and services to black and white communities, and stop threatening pogroms against “non-Africans”. DM

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All Comments 29

  • The DA are the only ones with a track record of any kind of delivery. Malign them as you wish (and they get terrible press) the best municipalities in the country are DA run. For this, they are mocked in the press.

    27 lost years of misrule may well be a bridge too far for anyone, and certainly for the ratio of haves to have not’s in this country.

    Our current trajectory looks very much like a failed state and the Western Cape wanting to leave the sinking ship is just the first in a whole bunch more who want out of SA inc.

    • The DA deserves to be ridiculed for its continuous inability to understand the political climate in SA. How hard can it be to oppose a ruling party that has new corruption scandals every week and cannot even build decent toilets for children? Yet the DA manages to shoot itself in the foot again and again with its tone deaf electioneering and political statements.

      It should focus on its strengths – good governance and low corruption. Instead it goes off on these crazy right-wing tangents about woke culture and has its mostly white leaders pronouncing on race issues when they really should know better. It’s sad because a stronger DA would probably be a good thing for governance in SA, if only it knew how to appeal to South Africans.

      • This reply deftly summarises most of the reasons why the DA won’t win enough votes to turnaround other municipalities. ‘How hard can it be’ turns out to be near impossible when observers seem more worried about ‘tone deaf electioneering’ than those pit latrines. Does anyone seriously thing the DA won’t get rid of those pit latrines if given a chance?
        ‘It should focus on its strength’ opines our contributor, yet Lagardien above casts shade in that direction by suggesting that all this does is remind people how good things are ‘where whites are in control’? Oh dear.
        To suggest that a stronger DA would ‘probably’ be a good thing for governance is also wrong. It will definitely be. Every measure of municipality performance, from multiple sources, including the Governments own, all emphatically confirm it.

      • This so well sums up my frustration with the DA these days – I have no doubt that they are the most capable of running a municipality but a lot of their public pronouncements make me cringe.

        • Do ‘public announcements’ have any bearing on one’s every day life? Forget the noise and judge the DA on their governance record.

          • Agree 100%, what a great pity that voting is an emotional choice rather than rational

  • Thanks DA for your extreme good governance for putting the citizens above yourself. For not looting others people’s savings to enrich yourself. For not rushing off to the Versace and Gucci stores and buying flashy cars and spend the tax payers money. Thank u DA for your innovative ness floating solar for your beautiful clean cities. Thank u for being the party for the people. God bless the DA.

  • ‘. . take them at their word and then measure them against what they have done . .’ This little concept is a gem of wisdom, for everyone who wields a vote. We have 25 years of history to measure against and it stinks.
    One dose of Susa Zonke all round.

    • Here it is. Vote ActionSA. Build them up to be a force in the next general election. (I can put up with some illiberalism if need be, in order to get rid of the ANC.) Voters want a future more than they want well-run municipalities.

      • You vote for them then that takes away from the DA. Just lets the ANC back in and/or gives the EFF a greater say – heaven forbid to both!

          • Well, maybe if all people with a bit of common sense gave them their vote they would be much more than ‘just a’ “20% party”.

          • Some people hear a witty slogan and then let it define their vote. I let the DA’s record define my vote.

    • What do YOU want? Better towns, cities and services? So vote for the party that gives those to people. That party can only be the DA. No party is perfect, some are a lot closer than others.

  • Outside the Western Cape our country is falling apart, breaking down, collapsing into poverty, ruin and suffering. Your contribution? Sneering fantasy about the DA.

    • Absolutely. The DA is the ONLY party with any sense of objectivity, compassion, ethics, ability to get things done properly and proper management skills.
      Proven time and time again.
      People that do not see that, or do not want to, are just plain head-in-the-sand ostriches.

      • I agree. Travel through the rest of SA and you get a sense of the utter chaos, destruction the ANC cadres have done to towns ,villages, besides the billions that got looted.
        The DA is the only party worth voting for.
        And as for the EFF. When their top guys plunder from a bank that is meant to serve the poor, and then run off and spend a fortune in Gucci shops, you know where their morals lie.
        Ismail, like the EFF and most of the ANC is just another racist who has it in for Whiteys, and by association the DA. But I still enjoy reading his articles, just for the pleasure of seeing how many different angles he takes to have a go at the DA.

  • Quite surprising when an alleged intelligent person seems to think that thieves like the EFF are good for anything. Gosh. How sad.

  • Wow, the comments are the best promotion the DA has had in decades! We can see their marketing people had nothing to do with it! Nonetheless they are not getting my vote this time round.

  • I disagree with “The EFF is basically correct in that demands for jobs and land are not terribly high expectations.”. For anyone to expect the EFF or ANC to deliver jobs is an insane expectation. Neither are capable of doing so. As for land, well it seems like the EFF and ANC couldn’t even agree on how best to steal that, so that also seems like a terribly high expectation. The EFF Gucci brigade offer nothing more than an even faster descent into even worse poverty for most of South Africa than even the ANC has managed to deliver.

  • Strange that the press, particularly the DM, finds it necessary to mock the DA. They are the only party with broad racial representation and the only party that has a record reasonable governance. Isn’t that what we want? OK they have made some Twittering mistakes and the poster debacle was an error but to label the DA as racist is ludicrous in the face of the blatant racism of the EFF and the ANC. If you want to make the DA stronger, join them!

  • The DA made a catastrophic mistake after they fired Maimane, elected Steenhuisen and chose to chase white voters again like long ago when they merged with the National Party.
    They’re playing identity politics in a country with a huge black majority.
    The ANC is reeling, with more disaffected black voters than ever, who could vote for a party with a strong black identity and a DA-like track record.
    Just like the ANC, they wasted the 27 years of democracy.