Julius Malema and the Roots of Fascism in South Africa

In Tearing Ourselves Apart, The Politics of Politics on May 15, 2010 at 6:19 pm

by Zackie Achmat, Kagablog

I met a young man called Lubabalo Folose because I regularly pass through his place of work – O.R. Tambo International Airport near Johannesburg. Neatly dressed and always smiling, he shines shoes. A few years ago he persuaded me to let him shine my shoes “because if you are in the Treatment Action Campaign you must have clean shoes” he said.

Lubabalo’s shoe shining techniques are good but his analysis and questioning of contemporary politics is always more astute than many commentators. We have become friends because I have learnt more about sacrifice and hard work from this man who reminds me of my parents and grand-parents than from all our political representatives.

Most days, Lubalo wakes at 03:00 and makes his way to the airport where he shines the shoes of lawyers who can earn R30 000.00 a day and business men (black and white) who make much more all use his services. At the end of the month (after working 240 hours excluding 100 hours travelling to work) Lubabalo takes home about R1000,00.

He completed matric and wanted to become a nurse or teacher but he does not have enough money to improve his grades or to study through UNISA. He lives in a shack and he refuses to marry or father children until he has saved money. Lubabalo Folose works hard and earns about R4.00 an hour. Can he be regarded as fortunate because the majority of his peers will never have an income?

The average male farm worker in Vanwyksdorp where my friend and comrade Jack Lewis has a small-holding earns R300.00 per week and he has to decide whether to feed himself or his family. Women farmworkers earn even less.

Similarly, clothing and textile workers earn starvation wages while many casual workers in the service sector hardly earn R2000.00 per month.
Class and race inequality, the conditions of immiseration, unimaginable hardship combined with a riot in luxury are at the roots of an emerging fascism in South Africa.

Julius Malema is a cunning, dangerous and popular decoy for people in the state and powerful ANC leaders linked to business. They aim to cement their power, weaken democracy and extract every ounce of fat from the state. They use the anger of the unemployed, alloy it with sexism, patriarchy and envy to create a movement.

Two obstacles bar the way of Malema, corrupt civil servants and business leaders to the bank: the over-privileged and very often racist white minority and the vast mass of poor and working people.
White people are an easy target but not the central obstacle.

The Democratic Alliance and their business allies have similar objectives to Malema: ensure greater profits for business and protect privileged lifestyles. The mines, farms, the hotels, the casinos, retail outlets and tenders owned or eyed by Malema and his backers can only make excessive profits if they drive down wages and conditions of workers.

The divisive racism against white people must be combated but it is also a smoke-screen for an even more dangerous agenda. For enfeebled, entitled and greedy black business (and their powerful white counter-parts) to profiteer, the solidarity and organisation of working class people must be destroyed.

Both white and black business and their representatives want to use the poorest, most vulnerable and marginalised people against the working class. How often do we hear the refrain from economists such as Nicoli Nattrass at UCT to political leaders such as Tony Leon and Helen Zille that the labour laws and the trade union “aristocracy” prevent business growth?

These paragons of constitutional virtue would not object to a constitutional amendment that removes fair labour practices Representatives of privileged and upper-class interests have no roots among the socially disenfranchised and this is what makes Malema dangerous.

The arrogance of over-privileged white people also relies on the insecurity of white, coloured and Indian middle-classes to build a political power base. The AWB is an expression of the broad climate of racist invective from faceless white people on the internet, talk shows and private conversation that developed even before Malema.

The big black business faction of the ANC cannot inscribe “Enrich yourself” on its banner instead it has to wear the garments of Robert Mugabe. Nationalisation and land occupations represent their route to power. The business people in the ANC who regard themselves as progressive have to openly condemn Malema.

The presence of the trade unions in the African National Congress together with an independent progressive civil society and socially engaged religious communities represents the real alternative and the possibility and probability of a more equal and just distribution of income and wealth. They are also the real target of Malema and his business faction.

Right now, Cosatu must take the initiative to call together leaders and organisations of civil society, religious bodies and all labour federations to condemn the emerging fascism that uses the ANC for black business. Julius Malema must be condemned by every trade union leader.

Cosatu must build and lead a political campaign for fair global labour and trade standards, equal education, health for all, and sustained public investment. In addition, it must demand just and fair economic union in Southern Africa because our growth path will be strengthened with the development of Angola, DRC and the smaller countries in our region.

The ANC leadership has allowed this situation to develop. Only after they faced international media condemnation because of Malema (and his cruel antics that insults people of Zimbabwe) the leadership developed some backbone. As an ANC member, I ask that Julius Malema and his clique be removed from our movement.

Zackie Achmat
09 April 2010


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