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SA's recipe for disaster

Apr 16 2015 07:33
*Leopold Scholtz

VISITING South Africa at the moment, I encounter a jittery nation that fears what might come next. Not only does the governing party have all sorts of plans to limit land ownership, but one of the most vociferous opposition parties, the Economic Freedom Fighters, has unleashed an onslaught against what it sees as the tangible manifestations of racism and colonialism – the statues of white leaders from the past.

After being pressured, President Jacob Zuma and the ANC have condemned the vandalism faintly, so faintly that one could feel their insincerity with a long stick. Ideally, one should expect firm leadership from Zuma and his government, but that is something we cannot realistically expect from them right now. They simply don’t have it in them.

If one is very cynical, one could say they are too engrossed in the important work of self-enrichment, but let us leave that for another day.

What is especially dangerous at the moment is that the sane middle ground, where people think with the grey cells between their ears instead of primeval emotions, is being systematically eroded.

One the one hand, Julius Malema – perhaps one of the biggest masters of propaganda since Joseph Goebbels – is fanning the flames of anger and frustration of many black people.

Of course, vandalising statues does not create a single job. Throwing stones does not fill a single hungry stomach.

In countries like the Uganda of the 1970s and present-day Zimbabwe, leaders like former president Idi Amin and Robert Mugabe put into practice exactly what Julius Malema and his followers are preaching now.

And the fact that they totally ruined their countries, that they pushed the poor even deeper into the mud, that they filled their own pockets to the brim and beyond in the process, did not change a thing in the eyes of their followers.

Both Amin and Mugabe were and are viewed as heroes by a large proportion of their people for one simple reason: they gave the whiteys hell. That is the reason why Amin was received with a rousing welcome when he attended the summits of the Organisation for African Unity, and that is why Mugabe is protected by all his peers even to this day.

At the other end of the spectrum, we see all sorts of white extremists chaining themselves to statues, spouting hate-filled, racist comments and the like. In this case, white extremism is being fuelled by black extremism.

It is a recipe for disaster. South Africa is at best a fractured nation, with many different ethnic identities who have more than one history, with numerous cultures and ways of looking at life. Depending on your vantage point, you may welcome it as an interesting and dynamic medley or as destructive. But this does not change this simple fact of life.

Moderate middle ground needs to be cultivated

Which means that the middle ground of moderateness has to be purposefully cultivated, not destroyed.

The big question is why this polarisation is occurring right now. A historical analysis might help.

After World War I, Germany was a deeply wounded nation. Its pride had been severely dented, and the Germans were humiliated by having to cede territory and confess to the world (in the Versailles peace treaty) that they were the guilty party who criminally started the war.

Then the stock exchange crashed in New York in 1929, and soon the world economy – including that of Germany – collapsed. Up until 1929, the Nazi Party was more or less on the lunatic fringe of German politics. After then, it shot up dramatically until Adolf Hitler rose to power in 1933.

Reading his speeches of those years, one is greatly reminded of Idi Amin, Robert Mugabe and Julius Malema. One should not overemphasise the similarity in content; the historical context is too different. I am, rather, referring to the extreme emotion being whipped up, the identification of an ethnic group – the Jews or the whites – as the centre and cause of all trouble, and the belief that  paradise would descend among the “true” sons of the country with the removal of this group.

In other words, two elements were needed: a worsening economic situation, objectively speaking, and the subjective identification of one group as the cause of all problems.

Malema sowing seeds of hatred

Of course, the Germany of 1933 is not the South Africa of 2015. The fertile soil in which Malema is sowing his seeds of hatred is not the deterioration of former prosperity, but the fact that South Africa’s leaders have shown that they do not give a damn about the truly poor and downtrodden.

They have chiefly looked after themselves since 1994.

The promises of 1994 have, in the eyes of those worse off – the landless unemployed in the squatter camps – not been kept. Malema points his finger quite correctly at a corrupt Zuma, but the whites are also very conveniently drawn in as scapegoats.

This situation has devastating potential for South Africa.

What is to be done?

I must confess: I don’t really know. I am not so arrogant as to claim that I have the solution. All I know is that every South African should simply do whatever comes his or her way, every day, to alleviate poverty and to treat all people with dignity. Hopefully the present madness will pass.

There must be an alternative to a race and class war.

* Leopold Scholtz is an independent political analyst who lives in Europe. Views expressed are his own.

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leopold scholtz  |  sa economy
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