Keep pop­ulist tide in check

Mail & Guardian - - Comment & Analysis -

The re­ac­tions from cer­tain quar­ters to for­mer United States pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s trib­ute to Nel­son Man­dela con­firms his warn­ing that the jour­ney Man­dela be­gan has not been com­pleted.

Man­dela and Obama caused seis­mic shifts in the so­ciopo­lit­i­cal sphere when they be­came the first black pres­i­dents of their coun­tries.

Sub­tle op­po­si­tion came out in the open in the US and led to a “white­lash” that con­trib­uted to the elec­tion of a pres­i­dent with racist lean­ings and in­tol­er­ance to­wards those who look and be­lieve dif­fer­ently.

Obama re­ferred to the push­back against the new so­ciopo­lit­i­cal dis­pen­sa­tion set in mo­tion by Madiba, of which his own pres­i­dency was an ex­am­ple. Man­dela was well aware of this dan­ger and warned against tak­ing free­dom and equal op­por­tu­ni­ties for granted.

The strug­gle for real democ­racy, equal­ity and tol­er­ance is a process and it has its cy­cles. His­tory has proven that long-held ide­olo­gies and prej­u­dices of­ten reap­pear in con­ducive cir­cum­stances. The flood of refugees into Europe, caused by wars, cli­mate change and scarce re­sources, seems to have cre­ated such a con­ducive en­vi­ron­ment.

Vig­i­lance is needed to timeously iden­tify and counter a resur­gence of ide­olo­gies that have caused deep di­vi­sions and im­mense pain.

In­creas­ing global so­cial aware­ness, largely brought about by so­cial me­dia, will be a cru­cial fac­tor in coun­ter­ing the ef­fect of pop­ulism. But pop­ulists them­selves are now us­ing so­cial me­dia and fake news in their ef­forts to re­verse the new tol­er­ant world or­der.

The cur­rent wave of pop­ulism across the globe can be stopped if good forces take a stand, but Obama also warned that vic­tory is not a given. —

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