End this race war now
● I believe the EFF is a proto-fascist movement prone to racism, militarism and the politics of hatred. Its leaders speak of socialism, anticapitalism and empowerment, but their conduct belies this and their politics are likely to implode the economy and plunge us into an equality of economic impoverishment.
Their leaders pride themselves on being universityeducated, yet they betray an ideological rigidity and a thoughtless, formulaic politics typical of a bygone era. They condemned the Zuma presidency for corruption but they too were involved in all manner of corrupt and unethical conduct.
For too long, analysts, journalists and opposition politicians have cut them too much slack. They excused the violence, militarism and racialised rhetoric because it was directed against those they did not approve of. Only now have journalists and politicians woken up to the dangers posed by the EFF leadership, now that they themselves have become the target.
Unable to continue feeding off an easy political target like Jacob Zuma, the EFF has resorted to racebaiting, threats, and even violent altercations against a much wider range of individuals and stakeholders. They have voiced racialised rhetoric against whites, Indians and coloureds, and have received some support for this from within society.
There are of course many such racist or ethnic tropes: “South African whites, Indians and coloureds are racist against Africans” (EFF leaders have been at the forefront of propagating this); “African domestic workers get treated badly by African families and therefore prefer working for white employers”; “African employees are lazy and use affirmative action and BEE to progress”; “Indian businessmen are wily and manipulate African politicians”; “Zulus are violent”; “Xhosas are smart and intellectually oriented”; “Muslims are fanatics and terrorists” . . .
Almost all of these have some element of truth if read and interpreted in a decontextualised manner.
Many Indians, whites and coloureds are indeed racist against Africans. Not all are.
Many African families do indeed pay their employees less than they should. Not all do this. White families may indeed pay African employees more, but it may be explained by their location in the class hierarchy of South African society.
Some Zulus may indeed be violent, but so are many from all other South African cultural groups.
Some Africans do indeed use affirmative action policies to avoid being productive, but this is not typical. Moreover, this behaviour is no different to that of Afrikaner whites when they were the beneficiaries of affirmative action in the apartheid era.
Some Muslims are indeed terrorists, but so are many others of other religious groups.
Some of these racialised tropes can be explained through a structural or class analysis. Let me use two examples within the Indian community to explain this to our “Marxist” leaders in the EFF.
There is often a view that South African Indians are naturally entrepreneurial and that this accounts for their economic success in the post-apartheid era.
Indians were discriminated against under apartheid, but not nearly as severely as were Africans. They were entitled to engage in small trade and this allowed for the emergence of a class of Indian traders.
In addition, prior to the introduction of VAT, South Africa had a general sales tax. Many small traders, Indians included, charged the tax but did not hand it over to the revenue service. They avoided doing so by simply under-reporting their turnover. The net effect was that they accumulated significant cash reserves, which came to be known as uplang.
When the transition occurred in the 1990s and a tax amnesty was declared, Indian traders were one of the groups within the black population with significant cash reserves that could be invested in parts of the economy that were now opening up. The net effect was that Indian businessmen performed particularly well in the post-apartheid era — something often erroneously credited to a natural entrepreneurship.
Now for the negative trope. As Julius Malema and his deputy, Floyd Shivambu, have so often reminded us, African workers are indeed particularly severely exploited by Indian traders. This can in part be explained by the fact that many of these Indian business owners are small traders where these kinds of exploitative practices are common. Workers experience similar exploitation at the hands of small traders within African and other communities.
Of course, this structural explanation must not be used as an excuse. Exploitative behaviour must be condemned and addressed. But if this is to be done, the causes need to be understood and the condemnation must be applied equally to all, irrespective of skin pigmentation, as must the policies to address the exploitation of workers.
The EFF observes these racialised tropes and, instead of understanding and developing an agenda to address them, it plays to it, mobilises on a racist ticket and advances a politics of hate that suits its short-term political agenda.
In the process, it divides society even further, undermining the very inclusive development opportunities it claims to want to foster.
We as nonracial progressives of all ideological and cultural stripes, who are interested in a common humanity, must band together, recognise the racism in our midst, transcend ethnic chauvinism and develop a programmatic agenda of redress.
Political parties other than the EFF must also proactively develop such an agenda. It would, however, require of them to act on principle and to openly challenge the EFF’s (and, for that matter, AfriForum’s) politics of hate. Yet too many of them, until now, including those within the ANC, DA and UDM, have been willing to look the other way and to enter into opportunistic alliances with the EFF.
Only if we collectively stand up to the EFF can we defeat its politics of hate.
And only if we encode within our politics of reconciliation an agenda of justice and historical redress, can we keep it permanently at bay.
Ultimately, it should be borne in mind that the systemic entrenchment of the rights of historic victims lies in the entrenchment of the rights of all.
EFF leaders like Floyd Shivambu and Julius Malema thrive on, and stoke, racial divisions in South Africa, all the more so since losing the party’s easy target, Jacob Zuma, says the writer.