It is a common thing in the South African political scene, approaching elections, that every political party takes its campaign line mark from the Economic Freedom Front (EFF) to jumpstart - by a rowdy form of political assertion. This usually takes a form of its cultish leader, Julius Malema, igniting the tinder by doing something deliberately controversial, like singing the “Kill the Boer” song.
It is a common thing in the South African political scene, approaching elections, that every political party takes its campaign line mark from the Economic Freedom Front (EFF) to jumpstart the race - by a rowdy form of political assertion. This usually takes a form of its cultish leader, Julius Malema, igniting the tinder by doing something deliberately controversial, like singing the “Kill the Boer” song. By now, only a fool underestimates the pluck of Malema, the sheer political creativity of the EFF, and the blind force of will of their followers. There is a marriage of grit, coarse political candour and Afro-populism in the DNA of the EFF that gives it appeal to those who are sick and tired of the genteel hypocrisies of the Western neoliberal order, or who harbour a grudge against the colonial order, whose economic order is still extant. The EFF also gives the non-elite hope and confidence to challenge for political relevance and, vaingloriously, governance.
The white conservatives, in the party forms of Freedom Front Plus and the Democratic Alliance (DA) – I know they think they’re a liberal party, but that is a topic for another day – with upper-class prejudice and snobbishness, are usually the first to take the bait of the EFF tricks of political populism. They approach, in fury, the courts, Human Rights Council or something along those lines to challenge against Malema’s so-called hate speech. At that stage, Malema skews in his brilliance, watching them give him and his party free publicity and pointed relevance. Then he holds rallies in the township, singing: Ayasaba amabhulu! Ziye saba lezinja! (The Boers are afraid! These dogs are afraid!), as we used to sing on the township streets during the apartheid era. This earns him more accolades in the township. He waves this sparking keg, blasting it in a blank cluster bombing manner before he and his red beret friends go back to their champagne revolutionary lifestyles in Sandton, Camps Bay, etc. His supporters use all this as a weapon to belittle those of the ANC, believing their “Commander” is able to bring the fear of black retribution on the hearts of white people. This is about the only hope their radical, impotent revolution can hope for under the circumstances.
From there on, the political conflict takes on more predictable forms of frivolity. Pretentious, oafish and corrupted by unearned riches from corrupt activities, a black nationalist – most probably from the ruling party, feeling upstaged by the red beret upstart – will begin issuing fake radical slogans, dusting off their communist rhetoric to instil fear on some academic liberal somewhere, who uses that as evidence that the ANC is still committed to the NDR or the nationalisation of mines. The president’s speech-writers also slip similar rhetoric into his speeches. In turn, he vacuously reads them, claiming that the NDR is still the manual of the ANC towards economic development and progress – blah-blah – in their circus march of speaking left while acting neoliberal. And then he goes to some white farm in Stellenbosch to assure his handlers that all is still well with the neoliberal agenda of late capitalism, that he just needed to appease the masses.
Crude and parochial, not to be left out, the Pan Africanist in the PAC/AZAPO alliance will find new ways of insulting the frivolous Charterists (the ANC and all who follow the false promises of the Freedom Charter), the prejudiced and elitist white conservatives, and the populist EFF, painting only themselves as revolutionists who pander to the land starvation of the poor. Suddenly, you’ll hear them at the entrance gate of every township mall speaking big English about reclaiming land, wara-wara.
Common to all our opposition parties is the quiet admission of their inability to unseat the ANC by legitimate democratic means. They vary in solution, but almost all of them would prefer a change of the electoral system to a mixed or direct one, rather than representative democracy. To circumvent what they see as growing majoritarian tendencies in the ANC, they want constituency-elected Members of Parliament mixed into the party-proportional ones. Some even want independent MPs factored into the system. The new thing among the opposition parties now is that of ganging up into formalised alliances to attack the decaying leviathan that is the ANC. If sharks can teach us anything, it is that you kill a whale by biting chunks out of it until it sinks and drowns. The remaining concerns are now even smaller parties, like the UDM or the newly found weak variations of the DA with new pseudo black liberals, like Rise Mzansi. Surely they cannot survive only on imitating and plagiarising the founding principles of the now not coping Congress of the People (COPE). The UDM also should have learnt by now that regional politics or crying foul about anything the ANC is doing is not a sustainable political strategy.
The thing that political party factionalism teaches us is that men are unequal in both moral and intellectual capabilities. And that is why communities always divide into factions, mostly based on material wealth. Often, the rich flock with the rich, and the poor do the same. It is rare to find political persuasions defined by mere ideology. Personal interest is what establishes and defines ideology.
The thing that political party factionalism teaches us is that men are unequal in both moral and intellectual capabilities. And that is why communities always divide into factions, mostly based on material wealth. Often, the rich flock with the rich, and the poor do the same. It is rare to find political persuasions defined by mere ideology. Personal interest is what establishes and defines ideology. Therefore, a well-ordered and properly run state must stand outside class and other factions, or at least be able to override those factions. As a liberation movement, formed for seditious purposes rather than for governance, the ANC exposed its incompetence when handed the government reins. The thing is, the success of a political party depends on linking and organising factional interests, whereas the success of the state is dependent on ignoring or overriding them. The welfare of the state rests on universal harmony and freedom from sectarian factionalism. When the government takes decisions out of personal or class interests, the state flounders. This is something the ANC, itself a party founded on and perennially hounded by factions, has never been able to do.
Also, the interests of the elite/wealthy are incompatible with the democratic order, because the wealthy and privileged are never the majority. Their interests are always sectarian and mostly driven by greed to perpetuate and hoard their wealth, even when they pretend to care about the national interests or the so-called trickle-down economy. No oligarchy has ever preoccupied itself with looking after the interests of the demos. The best political party or governing system will be that which strives for a proper mixing and moderating between the interests of classes. The ANC used to be our promise for this, before its leaders were captured by the interests of the rich, combined with the corruption and governmental incompetence that always follow the unholy mingling of political power and business interests.
The Moonshot Pact between the DA, Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), Freedom Front Plus (FF+), ActionSA, the United Independent Movement (UIM), the Spectrum National Party (SNP) and the Independent South African National Civics Organisation (ISANCO) is not a real alliance, but a pact of political expediency. The only thing common between them is an obsession to unseat the ANC – not the building of a political alternative based on common values. The EFF and UDM, as cult political parties whose concerns are mostly dependent on the whims and gains of its leadership, will probably enter into a Faustian pact with the ANC to gain government portfolios for its leadership. This leaves us Rise Mzansi. The best start for them would be somehow to manage to integrate into their DNA the South African popular religious sentiments – without adopting the crude religious fanaticism of the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) – into sound economic policies of sustainable development and cosmopolitan politics. Add on top of that a clear ethos of genuine public service delivery and a solidaristic social order, while avoiding narrow sectarian, ethnic and racial inflected politics, and they might have a winning formula. And lastly, they would have to find a way of convincing the silent majority who currently do not vote to try them out. Theirs might just be the political means by which we move beyond this suffocating age of political demagoguery.