Julius Malema drew thousands of supporters to his Economic Freedom March earlier this week, continuing his incision into the support of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) whose faltering performance, corrupt tendencies and listless leadership have led to widespread protests across the country.
Whatever the faults of the ANC – and there are many within the Jacob Zuma administration – growing support for Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) is an alarming development, particularly if you happen to be a white South African. Malema has made no secret of his desire to completely disenfranchise the white population in favour of the blacks, advocating a raft of ridiculous economic policies likely to send South Africa back to the Dark Ages.
Left-wing struggles are not new in South Africa. In 1919, the Industrial & Commercial Workers’ Union (ICU) launched in Cape Town to provide a radical political vehicle for labour reform (regardless of race) and they were joined in 1921 by the South African Communist Party (SACP). These two groups provided a more effective opposition to white minority rule than the ANC did during the early days of protest.
Although the ICU was a short-lived organisation, the SACP would later align itself with the ANC as one of the foremost opponent groups of Apartheid. Indeed, the SACP actively encouraged and organised some of the earliest anti-pass book protests and bus boycotts in South African cities and townships during World War Two (WWII).
Of course the ANC would later be painted as communists by the ruling National Party (NP) in an attempt to retain the political backing, and economic support, of their Western allies. There was certainly a conflation of ideas and endeavour between the ANC and SACP. Indeed, longtime SACP leader Joe Slovo was one of the most prominent anti-Apartheid campaigners and a commander of the militant Umkhonto we Sizwe wing of the ANC.
Through a combination of militant violence, international lobbying and political and social persuasion, these ‘left-wing’ groups helped bring about the fall of Apartheid.
These groups were, however, fighting against an unjust and repressive political system. Malema and his EFF seek to topple the democratically-elected ANC so that they can use the levers of power to punish the whites. Should the EFF ever displace the ANC then there will be a repeat of Mugabe’s Zimbabwe in South Africa.
The ANC has performed a wholly inadequate role in the post-Apartheid era. In a desperate attempt to reverse the racial discrimination of the Apartheid era, they have progressed too swiftly and with tragic results. Few incentives remain for white businessmen and farmers to stay in the country and yet they are the ones with the experience, capital and organisation to provide a sound economic basis for the country. The blacks, because of their stifled development under Apartheid, do not have the same economic capacity and this scenario will not improve if they are simply handed rewards without work (something Malema is keen to extend beyond the current ANC policy).
City centres have become slums and impoverishment amongst the black population has increased under the ANC’s watch. Why? Because its leaders are more interested in lining their own pockets and protecting their own business and political interests than improving the lot of their people, a sad fact common across the African continent.
It is therefore understandable that Malema and his populist rhetoric have struck a chord with poor black South Africans. Undoubtedly, should he ever attain political office he is likely to go the same way as Jacob Zuma and all those other self-serving ‘freedom fighters’ he claims to revile.
More worryingly, however, is the fact that he will plunge South Africa into anarchy, sealing its economic fate and driving out the remaining few whites who have resisted the racist policies and declining opportunities of the past few years to contribute what they can to the country that they love.