While Malema has in many ways over the past few years reproduced the performativity and politics of revenge of the organic fascists of the 1920s, his fixation on President Cyril Ramaphosa’s nose reveals a truly vile and dangerous turn in his thinking.
Earlier this week, Malema said, “Cyril Ramaphosa, you can see he wanted to be a white person… He blames his parents for the nose. He wanted a different nose that looks like white people’s nose.”
This statement, and previous references to Ramaphosa’s nose, places Malema deeper in the company of the pseudoscientific practitioners who used facial measurement as a way to determine racial origins or descent.
This “measurement” or “shape” of the nose was part of what the Nazis called the Mischling Test, which went to the extreme of using callipers to measure the true ethnicity of “pure” Germans and to make sure they were not Jews or of “mixed blood”.
The Nazis were using “science” to determine “Jewishness” or Jewish ancestry by examining people’s noses.
I’m going to give Malema the benefit of the doubt and accept that he has read (among others) The Nazi Ancestral Proof: Genealogy, racial science, and the Final Solution, by Eric Ehrenreich, which details the way the pseudoscience fed into scientific racism, which would include identifying people by the shape and/or size of their noses.
Malema is consistent, then, with the EFF’s drift to the extremes of the right-wing and resuscitated the “scientific racism” that WEB Du Bois intimated when he wrote, “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the colour line.”
The last century saw the birth, or at least the institutionalisation, of the “scientifically” supported eugenic enterprise, which was aimed at improving the genetic purity of the white races and removing “impure” races.
The Holocaust provided the “logical endpoint of such horrific ideology, discrediting much race-based science and forcing eugenics’ most hardline adherents into the shadows,” Ramin Skibba wrote in 2019.
The right wing, nonetheless, continued to find ways of framing racist views of determining “superior” or “lesser” races.
In Superior: The Return of Race Science, the science writer Angela Saini wrote that Du Bois’ concern about the “problem of the colour line” has seeped into 21st century science. Its passage into our current century is an entwinement of racism and science that has fed into the politics of modern-day fascist-wannabes like Narendra Modi, Viktor Orban, the persecutors of the Roma in Italy and Malema’s racialised politics of revenge and prospects of rapine. This politics is consistent with the early 21st century (re)incarnation of fascism.
The toxic politics of eugenics and racial superiority
In her exceptional book, based on extensive research, Saini explained that the scientific racism that undergirds racism never really went extinct and returned in the contemporary period in vengeful calls against “others” — including immigrants and foreigners.
Consider the way that the definition of antisemitism resonates with Malema’s persistent targeting of Pravin Gordhan and South Africans of Indian heritage. I use this only as a way to highlight the parallels and not to draw moral equivalents to the Holocaust.
In Anti-Semitism and Emotional Disorder: A Psycho-analytical Interpretation, published a few years after the end of World War 2, Nathan Ackermann and Mari Jahoda described antisemitism as “any expression of hostility, verbal or behavioural, mind or violent, against the Jews as a group, or against an individual Jew because of his belonging to that group”. Replace Jews with Indians and the danger of Malema’s fascism becomes clearer.
Nonetheless, to write her book, Saini dug deep into the origins of eugenics, and more specifically, the way that the politics and “science” of race spawned Nazism and the Holocaust.
The pseudoscience, entangled with racialised politics, never really went away — it simply changed its posture. One would imagine that the latest research in DNA and paleogenetics would, by now, have turned the searches for purity (African or otherwise) — instead, it is being resuscitated and incorporated in the rise of populism globally and the rhetoric of early 21st century fascism.
And so, while homologies and parallels with organic fascism of the 1920s — and successive incarnations (Argentina, Spain, Portugal and currently Orban, Modi and Duterte) — have been identified in this column over the past couple of years, Malema’s reference to Ramaphosa’s nose, his singling out of “others”, without satisfying truth conditions, and the nationwide increase of violence against foreigners, immigrants and non-Africans is like adding more and more filé powder to a political gumbo that is slowly turning bad. DM