I am a South African. Like many South Africans, and no doubt many visiting tourists, business people, foreign diplomats and correspondents, not to mention immigrants of various origins and generations, I have just been watching the frankly nauseating TV clip on SABC, where the ANC Youth League President racially abuses and has removed from his press conference a (white) BBC journalist.
The racism is vicious and unconstrained, and clearly is directed not only at the hapless journalist, but at ‘white people’ in general. More subtly, however, the abuse is also directed at all who disagree, who fail to bend the knee: all who fall outside the privileged circle of groupies, sycophants, and Malema fellow travellers. Oh, and beneficiaries: let’s not forget those loyal multitudes, whose noses in the trough depend on having their noses simultaneously up the right arse.
Good thing though, that the SABC, the station we love to hate, the reincarnation of ‘His Masters Voice’, actually showed it.
The racism is troubling. More so, perhaps, is the vulgar authoritarianism; the latent brutality; the palpable populist manipulation.
I forget the name of the eminent British political scientist, who made the point that all forms of populism are doomed to fail, because they promise things they can’t deliver: the interesting bit is, what happens when they do fail. Some are swept ignominiously from power; others become increasingly authoritarian, paranoid and repressive. Failure has to be blamed on someone else: and someone else will be blamed, and punished, for the populists’ failure.
And yet, strange as this may sound, I am not unduly worried by Mr Malema. In fact, I put Mr Malema on the opposite end of the spectrum to Eugene Terr’blanche; so far on the opposite side that they are positively neighbours. And neither neighbour, I have to say, is particularly palatable; nor, in their own right, particularly acceptable to most South Africans.
You might have noticed, I did not say, ‘black South Africans’; I have not spoken, either, about ‘white’ South Africans, the headline of this post notwithstanding. But seeing as we are on the topic, no: I called myself a ‘South African’, in my opening words to this blog; but for Mr Malema and his ilk, I imagine (who knows, I might be wrong?) I am not a South African, but a white person, and therefore, by attribution, by definition, not possibly a ‘real’ South African; not in any sense of the word an “African’, and maybe – maybe – not even a ‘person’.
As I have said, this is not what perturbs me. The world, and the political systems of its countries, is rife with bigots and racists and opportunists of all colours and ideological persuasions. There is space, even in this country – which I happen to love – for Mr Malema and his acolytes. One has only to think of the rabid, loony, hate-filled far right politics of US conservatives, the religious right, and the radio talk shows for whom Sarah Palin is a thoroughly modern mom, to see that Mr Malema’s vitriol and bile is not uniquely South African; not uniquely black South African; and certainly not an authentic expression of the African National Congress, that geriatric but beloved political organisation, whose long (and mostly honourable) history still encapsulates the history, the experience, the hopes and aspirations, of the majority of South Africans.
No, what disturbs me is that the ANC excuses, pontificates, obfuscates and absolves the little shit; that ordinary people (like myself) find it so hard to stand up and condemn and reject, not just the man (or boy, have it your way) but what he represents; that our society, having gone down the dead end of apartheid, repression and legitimised racism, is too busy looking the other way to learn from its history – and thereby, to quote another student of history whose name I have forgotten – may yet be condemned to relive it.
That is what scares me about Mr Malema.