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In this Age of Derangement, it’s grotesquely logical for Mkhwebane to don a red overall

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Bryan Rostron has lived and worked as a journalist in South Africa, Italy, New York and London. He has written for The New York Times, the London Sunday Times, The Guardian and The Spectator and was a correspondent for New Statesman. He is the author of the recently published ‘Lost on the Map: a memoir of colonial illusions’ (Bookstorm) and six previous books, including ‘Robert McBride: The Struggle Continues’ and the novels ‘My Shadow’ and ‘Black Petals’. He lives in Cape Town.

In 2017, Julius Malema regretted having supported Busisiwe Mkhwebane for the job of Public Protector, labelling her a ‘Gupta puppet’ and ‘a spy’. Now he boasts that this disgraced new MP will bring valuable experience to the EFF. This may prove grimly true as both thrive on chaos and inconsistency.

There is a grotesque logic to the spectacle of Busisiwe Mkhwebane parachuting back into Parliament as an MP only weeks after the same institution voted to eject her as Public Protector.

This confirms that glaring personal delinquencies such as folly and arrogance, let alone “misconduct and incompetence” (the main charges against her), present no bar to becoming a public representative.

In the National Assembly, outfitted in the EFF regalia of red domestic worker’s uniform and fetching doek, the Honourable Mkhwebane will now doubtless continue to flaunt that contempt for the Constitution which she consistently revealed in her many bizarre judgments as Public Protector.

It also reflects an ugly social threat: those who are deranged (Mkhwebane), exploited by those who thrive on derangement (Julius Malema).

In 2017, Malema regretted having supported her for the job of Public Protector, labelling her a “Gupta puppet” and “a spy”. Now he boasts that this disgraced new MP will bring valuable experience to the party. This may prove grimly true as both thrive on chaos and inconsistency.

But as Mkhwebane famously claimed that she had been selected by God, it may also prove impossible for her to obey a terrestrial Commander-in-Chief.

Meanwhile, the EFF would seem to be the former Public Protector’s spiritual home. Alongside her as EFF luminaries are the other braggadocio M’s: Mzwanele Manyi and Dali Mpofu. Their bombast may charitably be ascribed to the condition of logorrhea – defined by the American Psychological Association as “a communication disorder that causes excessive wordiness which can cause incoherence”.

As Public Protector in 2019, Mkhwebane’s report on Robert McBride was so eccentric that it brought into question not merely her competence, but basic common sense. 

As executive director of Ipid tasked with investigating police abuses, McBride and his team were subjected to a smear campaign by the senior corrupt cops they were investigating. Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s vindictive report, based on the grievances of a dismissed and corrupt Ipid officer, reads like a crude hit job.

Mkhwebane’s desire for a predetermined outcome took precedence over actual evidence. Though irrelevant to the issue under investigation, she repeated a ludicrous plot from her discredited informant.

A gathering of conspirators, he alleged, concocted a plot to overthrow the country’s top policeman. This cabal included McBride, the private investigator Paul O’Sullivan, his lawyer Sarah Jane Trent, the informant himself, plus “a white lady called Candice”, and “two white males (representatives of AfriForum and the DA), a white lady (journalist) and one black male who was busy preparing fire for the braai.” AfriForum, Mkhwebane reported without comment, “guaranteed that the funds were available to carry out this mission”.

That comic book farrago comes from a parallel universe, one where the new MP appears unable to distinguish fact from fiction, or even satire.

Perhaps this incoherence will serve her in her new role as a phoney representative of the working class. Not that lack of respect for meaning and truth, or faith in outlandish conspiracies is limited to the EFF. It is an international virus, rampant in the US with Trumpist Republicans, and spreading rapidly to European nations.

In Britain, as their polls plummet, Tory Cabinet ministers increasingly resort to stoking so-called culture wars. It’s not just the ANC or EFF that cynically attack charities, NGOs and even judges and lawyers whose judgments or opinions they don’t like. The current British Home Secretary, to paper over her government’s collapsing policies, smears her critics as “Guardian-reading, tofu-eating wokerati”.

Such is the school-yard level of public discourse in many developed countries in the age of social media.

The late historian Eric Hobsbawm wrote an acclaimed quartet of books, from The Age of Revolution (1789-1848) through to The Age of Extremes (1914-1991). Our current period of Instagram and Elon Musk’s X might come to be known as The Age of Derangement.

Hobsbawm wrote: “Historians are to nationalism what poppy growers in Pakistan are to heroin addicts. We supply the essential raw material for the market.”

Today on platforms like X, millions all over the globe imagine they are instant historians, supplying the raw material for a booming market of false news, angry verdicts, a noxious mix of bigotry and righteous ignorance.

Ironically, our unparalleled connectivity has left millions of individuals feeling more isolated than ever, leading to a lack of trust in traditional institutions and news media.

In an essay in The Atlantic magazine, Hillary Clinton attributes the modern epidemic of conspiracy theories and the rise of demagogues to this atomisation of society. She quotes a report by the US Surgeon-General which records a shocking rise of loneliness in US society.

“It’s not just the surgeon-general who recognises that social isolation saps the lifeblood of democracy,” she wrote. “So do the ultra-right-wing billionaires, propagandists and provocateurs who see authoritarianism as a source of power and profit. There have always been angry young men alienated from mainstream society and susceptible to the appeal of demagogues and hate-mongers. 

“But modern technology has taken the danger to another level.”

Even before running Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, Steve Bannon had spotted the potential of what he described as “rootless white males”, socially isolated but active online. 

“You can activate that army,” he boasted, and did so successfully with a diet of conspiracy theories and hate speech, swelling the shock troops of the far right. 

Here, the counterpart to Steve Bannon is Julius Malema: opportunistic, cunning and malevolent. His authoritarianism and penchant for performative violent spectacles renders political labels of left and right not just flexible, but redundant.

Rather than resentful “rootless white males”, in our uncertain time of derangement, the shock troops for the EFF are recruited from our growing army of rootless, unemployed and predominantly black males.

The EFF is the petulant offspring of the long failure of the ANC. 

Thus, following Hobsbawm, Malema is to chauvinism what poppy growers in Pakistan are to heroin addicts. He supplies the essential raw materials for the market – a volatile and deteriorating market that represents the biggest danger for our future. DM

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  • Ben Harper says:

    And que the resident eff troll in 3…2…1…

  • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

    If the coefficient of thinking of the author is proper, he would have reflected on the failure of the MPs to hold the executive to account since 1994 and that these MPs who are incompetent and useless, allowed for state capture and ransacking the country. The very institution called parliament has done nothing like oversight but to overlook executive abuse of public resources. What these cheque collectors did was simply to victimise the Public Protector in the person of Mkhwebane to please those who appoint them. The drivel that the author points out does not wash because the country is where it is in terms of hollowed institutions, electricity and logistics because of the failure of that institution called parliament. The Chief Justice when he pointed out their continued failure to deal with the report of the Commission was met with rude statements from the Speaker who covered herself by requesting a meeting with the Chief Justice. The author fails to take note that the Section 194 Committee only succeeded to destroy the only institution that has held the executive to account in this country. He fails to appreciate that the Office of the Public Protector has been effectively killed by the parliament as all the institutions and SOEs it has destroyed. His hatred of the EFF is misplaced and he must look at the inconsistency of the ANC and Ramaphosa and he is going to find that they are more than those of the EFF. As a supporter of Ramaphosa we are not buying his drivel.

  • Rae Earl says:

    Cunningham, you are obviously unable to understand social commentary and the acute observations of disturbing developments in our society. The article shines a light on the downsides of the EFF and the ANC. Both are massively destructive and have taken our country to where it is today. A broken and near bankrupt society of unemployed youth and desperately poor people who are kept poor by the ANC’s and EFF’s total lack of business acumen. They are determined to maintain this awful status quo as evidenced by their ongoing displays of self enrichment at the expense of South African citizens. I repeat author Ayn Rand’s pertinent quote made over 65 years ago. It is pertinent:

    “When you see that trading is done, not by consent, but by compulsion – when you see that in order to produce, you need to obtain permission from men who produce nothing – when you see that money is flowing to those who deal, not in goods, but in favors – when you see that men get richer by graft and by pull than by work, and your laws don’t protect you against them, but protect them against you – when you see corruption being rewarded and honesty becoming a self-sacrifice – you may know that your society is doomed”.
    Ayn Rand

    • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

      The EFF has nothing to do with the state of the country, you are just peddling lies as the EFF is not in government anywhere in the country except in two Metros in Gauteng. The issues you are pointing out to are the failures of the ANC and the DA as parties that run the National government and provinces. Peddling lies and disinformation about a party that is only the third largest party and apportioning blame to it is the worst drivel I have ever heard in the world. People who are responsible for graft are those in power. The EFF is not in power as you are lying. The DA corruption in the Western Cape is well documented as well as the ANC corruption nationally and in other Provinces. The rubbish of VBS that liars attribute to the EFF when the Reserve Bank does not even mention the EFF and its leadership is complete nonsense.

      • Mike Visser says:

        Not to want to be the one arguing with a fool leading the onlookers shortly thereafter with the question as to who the fool is, but, Cunningham, your denial of his wrong doings, his lies and looting ways, his repetitive white genocide references, his hatred and ignorance that an injury to one is an injury to all, makes him a very bad choice of person to follow if you hope for a happy life.

      • Denise Smit says:

        Name the well documented corruption of the DA in the Western Cape please. Denise Smit

  • William Dryden says:

    A great insight into Malema and Mkhwebane, and soooo true, makes one a little apprehensive about the future of South Africa if the EFF ever get close to running the country.

  • Jellybean Jellybean says:

    An elucidating article, beautifully scripted

  • Jellybean Jellybean says:

    An elucidating article, beautifully scripted.

  • Denise Smit says:

    One of the best and well researched articles in years. And all true unfortunately. And it seems the tide can not be stopped with the help of twitter X, Facebook and lack of education of the South African youth with a mixture of resentment and hatred. You get enigineers thinking they can give doctors advice with their use of google today as an example. Denise Smit

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