We have reached a point where there is little blue sky between the ANC and the EFF. This is most evident in the way that the politics of revenge, sometimes Biblical revenge, is spreading under the banners of these two political formations.
This may be because when Julius Malema was expelled from the ANC he took the ANC Youth League’s beliefs and values, including its rhetoric, with him and established the EFF. It became clear, early on in the life of the EFF, that they had become an outgrowth of the Youth League, and that the EFF’s policies were merely “a copy and paste from the ANCYL’s resolutions in 2011”.
It may also be because of a terribly misguided belief that revenge is a necessary recourse to justice that open hostility is a useful rallying cry for support, that “non-Africans” must, today, suffer the pain that “real Africans” have endured for centuries, and (at the far reaches of plausibility) that the state alone is responsible for wellbeing in society.
This is not an anti-state argument… it is simply to recall Benito Mussolini’s formulation of the totalitarian ideal: “everything in the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State.” We will get back to that below.
In recent months, the policy differences and elements of their respective programmes of action have bled into one, and there has been increasing speculation of coalitions between the two formations in national, provincial and local governments. (See here, here, and here).
While this rapprochement between the “broad church” that is the ANC, and the ersatz leftist (increasingly fascistic) EFF may be part of electoral pushing and shoving and Malema’s belief that he has to be president of South Africa, it is on the politics of revenge that is of greater, more immediate concern.
Let’s take a walk into some of the ideas about hatred…
Social hostility, hatred and revenge
Over the past several years there has been a rise in EFF propaganda expressed in crude hatred of white people (see report on slogan “kill all whites” and now-tired appeals from Andile Mngxitama’s political movements to kill whites) and more and more gaslighting of “non-African blacks” — specifically directed at South Africans of Asian heritage.
This prejudice has been extended insultingly via social media also to Africans who are described as “coconuts”, who speak English “with a Model C” accent, Jacob Zuma’s “clever blacks” or people who listened to particular radio station broadcasts — the so-called 702 blacks. As a footnote: the idea of a white genocide is a myth. South African society is marked by extreme violence, especially murder, across the population.
One way to understand this growing spread of violent prejudice and hatred is the way in which powerful rhetoric by monocratic leaders (dictators, autocrats or people who believe they have a divine right to govern) amount to social influence that establishes a range of prejudices from anti-semitism, racism, sexism or homophobia to outright vitriol and outbursts against people who are considered to be “outsiders”.
One explanation that intellectually eludes me is Freud’s “narcissism of sameness”. During the inter-war years, he wrote:
“The Jewish people, scattered everywhere, have rendered the most useful services to the civilisations of the countries that have been their hosts; but unfortunately all the massacres of the Jews in the Middle Ages did not suffice to make that period more peaceful and secure for their Christian fellows. When once the Apostle Paul had posited universal love between men as the foundation of his Christian community, extreme intolerance on the part of Christendom towards those who remained outside it became the inevitable consequence.”
What does sound plausible is that once South Africans were told we are all equal under law, this “sameness” provoked a probably greater intolerance. There are distinct echoes of this in the fact that Europeans arrived in southern Africa as a “same” group of colonisers (a solid white front), but would split into Afrikaans and English speakers — though not entirely. This split remains vaguely evident in the current differences between the Democratic Alliance and the Freedom Front Plus.
Another example of this comes from Anthony Sampson in the New York Times under the headline “South Africa: the Time Bomb Ticks” (in 1964!)
“The despair of the Africans is not derived simply from a harried and oppressed existence; it comes from the fact that they have been first lured into the Western world, and then shut out from it; that they have seen larger horizons, but have been pushed back into their back yards; that every day they feel aware of the humiliation of their race.”
In other words, you let people into the sameness, and as soon as they’re in, you take it away and divide them up… It’s difficult to wrap one’s mind around that completely…
South African society is marked by a battle between the past (past injustice) and the (just) future; the present becomes hallowed grounds for claims about innocence and guilt. The political economic way ahead into a just future begins with excoriating the guilty for past injustice and any resistance or objections are met with, or at least threatened with, violence. This is the space into which the politics of revenge steps.
We can start with a question: do you exact revenge, or do the victims and villains work to establish a stable, non-violent future?
One thing is for sure; violence and killing cannot solve social problems. The Atlantic community killed most all Nazis, and the Nazi movement in Europe during and after the Second World War, but the world is not rid of anti-semitism. I would venture a guess that if you killed every white supremacist, racism would not die, nor would patriarchy or misogyny end if you killed all males.
So there is no misunderstanding, we have to support the Constitution’s insistence that the injustices and wrongs of the past have to be rolled back. It is also important to stress that there can be no political-economic transformation without addressing the land question.
The naysayers might want to look at the history of land reforms as the start of political economic development across the world in varying ideological polities — see Taiwan from 1895 onward, or land reforms in Poland from 1764 well into the early 20th century. Poland’s The Land Reform Implementation Act of 1920, and the amendment of 1925, laid the legal foundations for land redistribution.
Land reform and distribution is not always just or benevolent. Sometimes it can lead to large-scale human and social disasters. The evidence for this is when Europeans appropriated land from indigenous people in North America, and when two land-people engineering projects during Mao’s Cultural Revolution led to millions of deaths. Maintenance of the status quo is no guarantee of a stable future in South Africa. Land redistribution is necessary but probably insufficient…
Suffer everyone: Punished for sins of the fathers
We are political prisoners of the past. South Africa’s past is one of European oppression and injustice in southern Africa, and at home in Europe, for what it’s worth.
It was in that past when our attitudes to others were shaped. White against black; Afrikaner against English-speakers; “non-African” against African… South Africa has become, then, a place of intense anger (not so much different from the age of anger that Pankaj Mishra so eloquently wrote about) and recrimination, with very distinct trends of vengefulness.
For their past injustices, and the suffering of black people, Julius Malema has embarked on revenge politics, a Biblical punishment for sins of the father. White people, and presumably non-Africans in general must suffer what black people suffered in the past. This, and not the Bill of Rights, seems to be the only way that there can be redress.
The ANC’s Panyaza Lesufi joins the ANC in targeting Afrikaans-language schools, less as a means to address mother-tongue instruction in indigenous languages, but because past injustices were codified in that language. Where genocide kills people, a people and their culture can be decimated by killing the languages that represent communities.
This politics of revenge is part of the clear fascist leanings of the EFF and the totalitarianism of the ANC. It brings them together.
Consider the ANC’s response to when communities sought to free themselves from the state enterprise formally responsible for the generation and supply of electricity, and generate their own power. The state’s response has been like saying; you have to get it from the state, and if the state can’t provide it you must suffer like everyone else.
Part of the state’s response to households generating solar energy is to tax it heavily and place it out of reach. The message here is you either get it from the state or you don’t get it at all. This is Mussolini’s formulation of the totalitarian ideal: “everything in the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State.”
This is not to say that taxation is bad, it is simply to state that South Africa has an energy crisis, compounded by a crisis of the state and extreme rent-seeking by elites. Those elites are precisely those inside and outside the state, including those in Parliament.
The EFF and ANC leaders share among them forms of capital (cultural, social, symbolic and economic) and that places them in positions of power and privilege.
To them, rolling back the injustices of the past is primarily a pecuniary pursuit, even if it takes bloodshed and violence, a position that Julius Malema has held since his days in the ANC, and that he has restated as leader of the EFF. DM