Adam Habib

End this race war now

Sunday Times - - Insight - By ADAM HABIB Habib is vice-chan­cel­lor and prin­ci­pal of the Univer­sity of the Wit­wa­ter­srand and au­thor of South Africa’s Sus­pended Rev­o­lu­tion: Hopes and Prospects

● 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.

Pic­ture: Sim­phiwe Nk­wali

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.

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