Defend Truth


The choreographed rise of Julius Malema and the politics of hate, violence and exhortations to kill


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 spectacle at First National Bank Stadium was a carefully choreographed and quite theatrical production. It was reminiscent of the fascist spectacle and aesthetics of Mussolini and Hitler.

The image, a veritable spectacle, of Julius Malema appearing on a dais rising slowly — slowly, to dramatise his stature and project a sacerdotal presence — emphasised, as if it had not done so over the past 10 years, the horripilating rise of fascism in South African politics.  

The spectacle that played out at the First National Bank Stadium was a reminder, at least to viewers with a sense of history in a widening field of cognition, of Adolf Hitler’s rallies in the 1930s and of Nazi gatherings in New York City in the months before the Second World War

It was also a powerful reminder of the power of propaganda, of how a pliant, docile public seems happy to surrender their emotions, hopes and fears, with the media going about their day stating “facts,” but rarely reflecting on the significance of facts — other than their meanings within a field of cognition that starts and ends in the same place. This idea of a narrowing field of cognition (the things that we observe, know and understand) can be understood in the context of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s statement: “We animate [only] what we can, and see only what we animate.”  

In September 1938, the German journalist Ruth Andreas-Friedrich lamented: “Every day millions of pounds of printed paper go rolling out of this building [media publishing house] vomiting a torrent of National Socialist propaganda over mankind. And yet there’s hardly one person under our roof who agrees with what he writes, sets, prints, edits, or carries from office to office.” 

This was a reminder of how the public can be lulled into complacency by a disinterested media (social media in particular) and become prone to having their impressions of potentially dangerous people transformed into believing them to be people of high moral fortitude and trust. The 1930s, the era of Hitler’s rise (and of Benito Mussolini’s, for that matter) were marked by a celebrity culture brought on by the talkies in film. 

In the 2020s we are, somewhat similarly, in an era of celebrity culture, and of people positioned as “influencers” brought on, this time around, by social media. On social media, which has fewer ethical constraints than respectable news outlets that are held accountable by institutions like the South African National Editors’ Forum and the Press Council of South Africa, EFF members and loyalists are typically very vocal, vengeful and vituperative — with a reverence of Malema as the saviour of South Africa. 

Spreading fear and loathing from the dais 

Malema has left very little doubt, in most of his statements of the past 10-15 years, about his violent opposition to “others”. This, too, has powerful homologies with early interwar fascists. In the 1930s, Nazi propaganda glorified Hitler’s profile and “heroism”, while creating and reproducing loathing of homosexual people, Roma, Jews and others considered to be “undesirables” and “enemies”. With Malema’s cries to shoot and kill “boers” and “farmers”, the subtext here being white and “non-African” people, he replicated Hitler’s belief that his struggle was a racial struggle against a biological enemy, and victory would lead to a new social order.  

The selective African identity (only African nationalists and ethnonationalists have the privilege of defining African purity) as presented in EFF rhetoric is an important marker that has solid homologies with Hitler and his propaganda machinery. Hitler believed that not all Germans — only ethnic Germans — could be part of a new order, and they (pure Germans) would sacrifice their lives for the racial state. 

The 25-point Nazi Party platform of 1920 was explicit: “Only a national comrade can be a citizen. Only someone of German blood, regardless of faith, can be a citizen. Therefore, no Jew can be a citizen.” 

Parenthetically, the next time we see the EFF’s “ground forces” attack cultural institutions and destroy or burn artworks (because they were created by “non-Africans”) it’s useful to remember that the Nazis considered the artwork of its “enemies” (Jews) as “degenerate” and held that they ought to be erased from German society. 

The politics of hate, revenge and killing 

Malema has consistently preached and spread the politics of revenge (biblical punishment for past injustices inflicted on Africans), and hatred of racial groups whom he, specifically, considers to be “unAfrican”. It’s also important to note that African nationalists who have been in the government for the past three decades reproduced the most offensive racial classification system of apartheid.

The African nationalist ANC and the ethnonationalist EFF share a hatred or at least dislike of “non-Africans” the way that the majority of Germans passively or tacitly endorsed discrimination of Nazi “enemies”. A 1936 report by the Social Democratic Party in exile noted: “The feeling that the Jews are another race is today a general one.”

In South Africa today, the EFF is normalising and encouraging exclusory measures targeting “non-Africans” with overt messages of demonisation in preparation for harsher measures (recall that Malema said he has not called for genocide — “yet”). Mussolini and Hitler wanted only strong, virile young men among their youth. In October 2022, Malema asked his followers to prepare for killing and appealed to strong (men): “Cowards are not for the revolution,” he told his followers

This echoes Hitler’s express ideal that: “The weak must be chiselled away. I want young men and women who can suffer pain. A young German must be as swift as a greyhound, as tough as leather and as hard as … steel.”  

Hitler’s propaganda was carefully crafted to dupe women, rural and urban people, as well as ethnically pure Germans. Malema is fond of claiming personal persecution as the inspiration for his activism and demands for loyalty. It would be wrong to traduce whatever he or his family may have suffered. His manipulation of emotions, individualised as he is used to presenting it, is straight from Hitler’s playbook. 

Mussolini, too, felt that he had been unreasonably persecuted since childhood. (Among other traits, Mussolini was a thug and a “swaggering bully”.) In search of support, the Nazis claimed that other parties marginalised blind people. The Nazis tapped into a story that Hitler himself had been blinded by a poison attack during the First World War — and therefore understood their plight.  

This individualising tendency was a hallmark of fascism, at least if we read Nietzsche and his break with the European Enlightenment. We come to realise that what is known and felt (by any despot or dictator) is tied almost exclusively to individual experience. Still in Nietzschean terms, Malema, elevated to the status of a “great leader” and saviour, draws not so much on his own ego, as he does on “the phantom of his ego”, as it has been “formed in the heads of those around [him] and communicated back to [him]” in a “wonderful world of phantasms”. 

Phantasm and the spectacle at First National Bank Stadium 

Music, literature and visual arts played important roles in the fascism of Mussolini and Hitler during the 1920s, and did not disappear entirely after the end of the Second World War. The fascism of Donald Trump has seen a return of politics of spectacle. There is some irony in hosting the EFF’s spectacle at a venue sponsored, at least nominally, by First National Bank… It makes sense, nevertheless, for reasons of proximity. When, for instance, the organisers chose Nuremberg for Hitler’s annual rallies from 1933, they tapped on tradition and support from party members in the region.  

At the First National Bank Stadium spectacle, Malema told his loyal followers that the EFF would be better in government than the African nationalists. With this, he presents himself as some kind of superhero and expects some kind of authoritarian idolatry. In this sense, he is “like the fascists and authoritarian populists” that preceded him, Doug Kellner wrote (of Trump) in 2017. Trump brought to politics the spectacle that made him a successful businessperson and reality-TV personality. 

Early fascists, Hitler in particular, were prepped and their performances were stage-managed (like Malema’s rising dais) and became a spectacle that may have students of media studies, propaganda, fascism and authoritarianism busy for a long time yet. Hitler’s publicists effectively “sold” him to the German public. 

The celebratory responses to Malema’s rise on the dais at the First National Bank Stadium were consistent with the brainwashing that Hitler sought, and expressed in Mein Kampf

“All propaganda must be presented in a popular form and must fix its intellectual level so as not to be above the heads of the least intellectual of those to whom it is directed. The art of propaganda consists precisely in being able to awaken the imagination of the public through an appeal to their feelings, in finding the appropriate psychological form that will arrest the attention and appeal to the hearts of the national masses.”  

There was a moment, after the rendition of the “Kill the boer” song at the First National Bank Stadium last Sunday, when Malema cried “Attention!” and the audience fell relatively quiet. This highlighted the deeply authoritarian spectacle, and was a reminder of the propaganda of the Nazis at Nuremberg. 

Filmmakers and photographers (notably Heinrich Hoffmann and Leni Riefenstahl, who made the film Triumph of the Will) worked to make Hitler’s propaganda successful. The Malema-First National Bank Stadium show was a perfect display of the EFF’s propaganda objectives. Like the Nuremberg rallies, spectacle was a portrayal, “of an ideal rally, imbued with nothing but enthusiasm, discipline and perfect execution”. (See the Documentation Centre Nazi Party Rally Grounds of Nuremberg Municipal Museums

The theatrical, almost sacerdotal rising of Malema on a dais was near perfectly consistent with historical symbolic representations and sacralisation of politics by fascist and totalitarian leaders from Mussolini and Hitler to Trump (who has been described as godsent), and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, for that matter. Malema’s “style” — depicted at the First National Bank Stadium — draws on myth-making and established the EFF as a cult.  

Like the Cult of Il Duce, Malema is presented, and the cult around him is aimed at building popular appeal to fix the gaze of opponents in bright lights, and foreground him as a superman. Mussolini was presented, by Thomas Edison, as “a genius of the modern age”. Winston Churchill pledged to stand with Mussolini in his “struggle against the bestial appetites of Leninism”. And Italian newspapers referred to him as “the incarnation of God”.  

Mussolini went from seducing the Italian people to his corpse hanging upside down, beside his mistress, Claretta Petacci, from a girder in the Piazzale Loreto in Milan. His death, by some accounts, led to Hitler’s suicide. Fascism did not end with them. It simply changed shape, renamed and concealed itself. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Beyond Fedup says:

    Thank you for clearly spelling out the danger that this obnoxious fascist and racist bully represents. Any right-thinking person is fully aware of the danger in the making. History repeating itself and humankind never learns and is destined to suffer the same consequences. This deranged and sick manipulator would set this country alight for his own nefarious and wicked ends, assisted in no part by naive and idiotic media, who give him oxygen and trip over themselves propagate him. Respectable media like the Sunday Times etc are complicit in giving him and his hideous acolytes full chapter and verse, knowing full well that once this monster comes to power, media freedom will be one of the first casualties. Only those media who toe the line and glorify the leader – much like evil cabal of the North Korean leader, Stalin, Hitler, Putin etc will be allowed to function. Freedom, human rights and democracy will be subverted and we will have a country like East Germany, who called themselves German Democratic Republic!! What perversion!! As for the naive and foolish youth aka sheep that support him, look forward to your future as a wasteland like Zimbabwe, Venezuela etc where supreme poverty, misery, starvation etc are the order of the day. This time however, there will be no place to run to. The poor and unfortunate Zimbabweans had SA.

    • Lynette Morris-Hale says:

      The media must stop reporting on Malema. The media is partially responsible for Malema’s popularity . You guys are playing with fire. The media is supporting Malema by printing his vulgarities. We know it’s news but at what cost to South Africa?

  • betsy Kee says:

    EFF =scary

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    Yip. Hitler is one of us. Now what, mister prez? Nuttin …

  • Josie Rowe-Setz says:

    Still waiting for his prosecution and trial. Will it ever happen

  • Maria Janse van Rensburg says:

    Fantastic article Mr. Lagardien. I am afraid that the language used in your commentary is far to intellectual and sophisticated for most audiences. You have used a couple of words that I have not read before and had to look up. Thank you for calling the spectacle what it is. It takes bravery to stand up against such an obvious bully and manipulator. We now have to find the language to communicate the danger posed by the EFF and Julius Malema in particular. I have already felt the animosity against my race by getting dead eye stares since Sunday. Anyone sensitive to the energy projected by another human being will recognise this hatred. Mr. Malema started out with his heart in the right place but his anger, paranoia and delusions of grandeur have nullified any good intentions he might have had. Any political leader that lacks compassion and a deeper understanding of a complex society such as South Africa, will create more disunity, suspicion and distance between citizens. Give me President Cyril Ramaphosa any day. At least he behaves with decorum and treats us all with respect. It is very important that we highlight the similar behavior and policies of present and past politicians. The ANC with their racial policies similar to the Apartheid state and the EFF emulating fascism in Europe. Moderate South Africans must stand up and make their voices heard as never before lest the EFF claims they represent us all.

  • quinton says:

    Great article, just don’t agree with your Trump comment!

    • Kanu Sukha says:

      Maybe you missed the boat on Trump … and have bought into his BS about ‘climate change’ being a hoax also ! So much lying and twisting of facts … and you still can’t SEE it … wake up. In the east, a variation of these fascists in the form of Modhi … who abuses others with the namaste greeting … but conceals his contempt for ‘others’ who disagree with him, with his finger wagging.

      • D'Esprit Dan says:

        Absolutely, the world has swung sharply towards fascism in the last decade or so, largely as countries struggle with lousy economies, growing migration and intensifying competition for resources. However, blaming ‘the other’ is as old as the hills, and has been used by so many – from Hitler and Mussolini, to Galtieri in Argentina, to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the ethnic cleansing that took place in what was Yugoslavia; the ethno-nationalist war that still ticks over in Nagorno-Karabakh, to those mentioned above and by yourself. Thankfully Brazil got rid of their Trump, Russia’s fascist won’t survive his Ukraine invasion, and with him will go the Belarus one too.

        Arguably the UK went down this path with Brexit as well, with the bulk of the Leave campaign (Farage at the front) focused on how ‘Johny Foreigner’ was sucking the lifeblood out of good old England (largely English voters, not Welsh, Scots or Northern Irish who voted to leave).

        Black nationalists in Africa (I say black, because I’m white and African) are no better or worse than this mob, and the sooner it is recognised and tpeople realise that never in human history has such disgusting policy created a better society, the better.

  • JC Coetzee says:

    I am a Boer. Not by occupation, but by birth. Both my wife (not a Boer) and myself have received, as seperate incidents, death threats from young EFF supporters. We are scared, very scared. But we are also elderly. So we have to wait and see. Is this what it felt like for Jews in Nazi Germany?

  • Gregory Scott says:

    The problem is that the Hitler / Mussolini and now Malema spectacle appeals to “the least intellectual of those to whom it is directed”.
    These intellectually challenged persons form a major part of the voters in South Africa.

  • Sara Gon says:

    When Malema was head (illegally) of the ANC Youth League, I started to become concerned about the attention the legacy media were paying to him. He had no governmental portfolio to comment on. He was not responsible for ANC policy that he could comment on. But already what he said was threatening. I aired the concern that the mainstream media were giving him undue attention because of his nasty oratory. The response was that he sold papers.

    • Ismail Lagardien says:

      Sara… That (illegal Youth League head) was one of the first things I learned when I started research for the book on the EFF . I abandoned the book at the start of Covid, and only JUST resumed it. I have to work thee days a week to put food on the table and pay for medical aid, so I have two days or so to work on the book. Tough. Hope to get it published by December/January.

  • Johan Herholdt says:

    An excellent article cogently explaining the commonalities between Hitler, Mussolini and current tinpot dictators like Trump, Hugo Chavez and Emmerson Mnangagwa (and would-be tinpot dictators like Malema) who destroyed their countries in the end (death, starvation, political extremism, racialist practices, nationalisation, economic collapse, etc.). It is troubling that they all rose to prominence on a wave of popular support. Luckily Malema doesn’t have that (yet). But his call to ‘attention’ should awaken us all to his dictatorial proclivities. We should also notice these in the ANC’s (ever more strident) actions of ANC cadres like Dlamini-Zuma and the latest commotion around comrade Paul Mashatile.

  • T'Plana Hath says:

    An excellent and chilling piece by the eloquent and erudite Mr Lagardien. I personally love it that he introduces me to new words that I need to look up. And of course, his book recommendations are very welcome and on-point (I’m busy reading ‘The Last Girl’ and ‘The Snow Leopard’ right now). If I may reciprocate, John Toland’s ‘Adolf Hitler’ is a phenomenal work and the parallels between ‘then and now’ are more than a little unnerving. “Straight from Hitler’s playbook” indeed! I highly recommend it – if you aren’t a big reader (obviously not addressing Mr Lagardien here), the audiobook is over 40 hours long!

    • Ismail Lagardien says:

      You’re kind. Thank you. I will try to get a copy of Toland’s ‘Adolf Hitler’. Please don’t misinterpret this; I received really poor instruction in English (Coloured Affairs Education)… Afrikaans was/is my mother tongue. I developed most of my English language skills in higher education in the UK, and wish I had had intense basic training in grammar (alas). It also means that the concepts and language I learned were mainly from literature. This is good, but you sometimes learn abstruse words and concepts BEFORE having a grasp of language. Only yesterday I used the word verisimilitude in an essay, then went back to replace it with “similar to”…

  • Eulalie Spamer says:

    Malema was the kingmaker who created the gap for Zuma. The ANC against the wire after the forthcoming elections will need a coalition partner in order to govern. This will come at a price: Malema as Deputy President, next round inevitability Malema as head of state. Impossible? I think not.

  • T'Plana Hath says:

    Behold! The rise of the Turd Reich …

  • Beyond Fedup says:

    SepticTank – you had me in stitches!! Turd Reich is very apt!! it says it all.

  • William Dryden says:

    Great article as usual, as for Malema, he couldn’t run a bath let alone run a government. I’m still waiting for Malema to be prosecuted over the VBS debacle and the tenders awarded to his trust fund.
    , Daily Maverick please do not let up on his corruption, keep it going.

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