South African society bears the most burdensome legacy of its racist and often totalitarian past. While it is easy to reference that past, and reflect on what seems to be a collective neurosis of our time, there is a powerful undercurrent that threatens to rip the country apart. More correctly, there are powerful social forces that threaten “outsiders” – people whom African nationalists, chauvinists and neo-puritans (those who would insist that non-African blood is poisonous) – with pogroms, erasure and possibly expulsion from the country.
Two things about these forces stand out. The one is the permissibility of “revenge,” based on past suffering, and now couched in terms of restorative justice and rolling back the iniquities of the past. The other is that the threats are concealed beneath what have become quite tiresome rhetoric and discourse of “non-racialism” democracy or constitutionalism.
These are strong claims, but members and leaders of the ruling African National Congress (ANC), its allies (as well as cadres they have deployed across institutions) have repeatedly showed some of the worst, most violent and often quite dangerous tendencies and traits – then hastily covered them up with platitudes. One key to their thinking is probably the way they have retained the apartheid state’s population registration laws, which established a sliding scale of privilege and justice, based on racial hierarchies in democratic South Africa. What this means is that if you’re non-African (or you have not fought with the ruling ANC in the struggle against apartheid) you cannot enjoy freedom and justice – or you qualify for lesser quantities of justice and freedom. Some leading figures in the ANC alliance are less subtle in their endorsement of the worst kind of dangers and threats to society.
Barney Pityana’s Endorsement of the EFF
There was a most horripilating revelation in an article written by the founding chairperson of the South African Human Rights Commission, Dr Barney Pityana, who said that he had previously voted for the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), the crypto-fascist and totalitarian movement that has led the threats of violence against non-Africans, and that has come to represent the politics of revengein democratic South Africa. The cynosure of those forces in South Africa that are committed to erasure, pogroms and explusion on non-Africans.
The expulsion of non-Africans will probably remain undesirable, so to speak, because the biblical politics of revenge (where the children have to be punished for the sins of the father) would insist that non-Africans remain in the country, so that they may be punished and suffer the way that Africans have suffered. The most public expressions of this politics of revenge are from among the leadership of the EFF – most notably Julius Malema and Floyd Shivambu – who have expressed their loathing of non-Africans, non-African ideas, and revealed their own crypto-fascism and totalitarianism in the subtlest and most insidious of ways. They have on various occasions referred to “white bitches” to Indian people as “dogs” (Malema specifically referred to Pravin Gordhan, as “a rotten fruit from a rotten tree”) or “sell-outs” and threatened non-Africans in the most blood-chilling manner. This is the political formation that Barney Pityana, founding chairperson of the Human Rights Commission, voted for. It probably makes sense that the Human Rights Commission has ignored most of the EFF and Malema’s rhetoric and threats.
Whereas the EFF are quite overt in their propaganda, Pityana has shown that there are members of the ruling elite who live vicariously through the words of Malema, Shivambu and Mpofu. Also, the ANC and its allies have in recent weeks romanced Malema, and urged him to return to the ANC where they would have us believe he belonged. This is the context in which Pityana’s vote for the EFF may be viewed.
In subtle and overt ways, the most senior members of the EFF have threatened political opponents, journalists and public figures with violence and bloodshed, while politicians, police, prosecuting authorities and even politically independent bodies like the South African Human Rights Commissionhave remained petrified. The Human Rights Commission was established under the Human Rights Commission Act 54 of 1994, as provided for by the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa Act 200 of 1993. The SAHR describes itself as “the national institution established to support constitutional democracy. It is committed to promote respect for, observance of and protection of human rights for everyone without fear or favour,” but has failed or refused to address Malema’s rhetoric of violence and carefully phrased threats of bloodshed.
In an opinion-piece published a week before the country’s sixth democratic election, Pityana admitted to having previously voted for the EFF, because he believed that they “brought dynamism and chutzpah to our national politics and I admired young people who believed passionately in what they were doing. For that [the] EFF had my vote,” Pityana said.
The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) present the clearest and most ominous of dangers to South African society. In any constitutional democracy, the EFF’s policies, expressed by their leader, Julius Malema, in chilling language, rhetoric and vulgarity, and reminiscent of the worst dictators of the past 100 years, should drive their politics to outer periphery of discourse. When one compares the similarities of propaganda and populist recruitment of Malema and Adolf Hitler, it becomes clear that the EFF pose a unique and very violent threat to South African society.
The question now, is this: Would Barney Pityana Have Voted for Nazi Youth because they brought “dynamism and chutzpah” (bad choice of words on his part) to German Politics in the 1930s?
In the same way that EFF members have danced to the rhetoric and exhortations of Malema, “the quality of singing [by Nazi youth] during propaganda marches” was praised. In the same way that Malema has attracted dynamic young people, the Nazis capitalised on the natural enthusiasm of young people, their craving for action”.
This, the reader may recognise is not terribly dissimilar to Pityana’s statement that the EFF brought dynamism to South Africa’s national politics. From the 1920s the Nazi Party specifically targeted German youth as a special audience for its propaganda. “These messages emphasized that the Party was a movement of youth: dynamic, resilient, forward-looking, and hopeful.”
Hitler, like Malema and the EFF, “projected purpose and dynamism”. Hitler “issued an endless stream of slogans to win potential supporters over” and promised to give Germans jobs, revive the country’s industries rusting industries crushed by earlier policies and promised to crush the alien ideologies. The German historian and journalist Volker Ullrich historian explained how Hitler used “used vulgar comparisons” during speeches. Consider any of the crude insults and slogans Malema has used against political opponents, journalists and inividuals, and you get a sense of the danger he represents to society.
Perhaps Pityana and Malema’s ANC paramours should take time to reflect on the parallels between Hitler’s mobilisation of disaffected young people, and the EFF leaders insults of opposing politicians, journalists and people who disagreed with him, in general. Recall that he told a political opponent, quite recently, that he would place two necklaces around him.
The question, again, is would Pityana have voted for the Nazi youth because they brought “dynamism and chutzpah” to German national politics in the 1920s, and because the “believed passionately in what they were doing”? These were the words Pityana used to explain why he voted for the EFF. We should remind ourselves that in May 1928, Hitler was a political nobody. The Nazis gained less than 3 percent of the vote in national elections. Within four or five years – by July 1932 – they won 37 percent of the vote, and six months later, Hitler was in power. We know what happened next.
South Africa is on the cusp of very significant historical changes. The single most dangerous political formation is the EFF. And Barney Pityana, the founding chairperson of the Human Rights Commission, voted for them. Like most ANC leaders, Pityana probably does not care what anyone thinks. It’s their time to eat, and the time for non-Africans to suffer for the sins of their fathers – or whatever else they use to justify the creeping fascism, apparent cruelty and blood-chilling threats of violence. Barney Pityana voted for them.