South Africa, EFF and political vulgarity
May 2, 2016
In April 2016 South African opposition politician Julius Malema said in an interview that he is willing take up arms and “remove the government through the barrel of a gun”.
The African National Congress (ANC)-aligned military veterans issued a similar statement against the government over benefits that have not materialised. The governing ANC has since opened a treason case against Malema.
The lack of political leadership is presenting a serious political challenge for South Africa. The neglect of political leadership by the ANC, the oldest political party in Africa, is manifesting itself negatively in the current politics of the country.
There is a widespread indiscipline and political naivete persisting in several political parties. And Malema’s recent statement demonstrates that naivete.
Carelessness in political speeches has had a devastating history in Africa. They have led to genocides, civil wars and economic collapse.
The economies of almost all developing nations – including South Africa – are vulnerable to any signs of political instability, and as a result foreign investors are still weary of the developing world.
Notwithstanding the endurance of South African democracy compared with many African countries, it is still not out of the woods.
Therefore, any political statements that suggest or point towards a possible political upheaval discourage foreign investment which the South African economy desperately needs.
Lack of political mentorship
The lack of effective party-sponsored political colleges and mentorship has culminated in political sophistry in South Africa. The government justification of the private residence of President Jacob Zuma is one case in point.
The underperforming post-apartheid political college of the ANC has failed to produce high-quality political leaders who can do well in international politics.
Politicians wait until they reach government positions before they can be enrolled in international political crash courses in preparation for the office.
Most former leaders of the ANC Youth have courted radicalism and political vulgarity as a form of political engagement. It is widely regarded as the best method of upward mobility within the ranks of the party.
The rise of Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) is a culmination of continued political vulgarity and misdemeanours.
The EFF was formed by a group of disgruntled ANC Youth League members with Malema and Floyd Shivambu. Malema and Shivambu were expelled from the ANC for bringing the party into disrepute and showing no remorse during the mitigation process in 2012.
Malema once entered a rowdy exchange of words with the BBC journalist Jonah Fisher, subsequently yelling insults at the journalist during a press conference. He was later forced to apologise to Fisher by the ANC.
Malema’s temperament and confrontational political rhetoric has on several other occasions landed him in trouble. During the rape trial in 2006 of his erstwhile ally, President Jacob Zuma, he was quoted as saying that he was “willing to kill for Zuma”.
This statement invited a barrage of criticism from the public and the opposition parties in South Africa at the time.
Later in 2011 he was taken to court and later convicted of hate speech for insisting on singing a sensitive anti-apartheid song Dubul Ibhunu (Shoot the Boer).
Shivamu, deputy president of the EFF, has not been clear from controversy either. He was taken, tried and later forced by the court to apologise for calling a white female journalist “a stupid white b***h”.
In November 2014, Shivambu was caught on camera showing his middle finger at the Deputy President of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa in parliament.
These cases clearly demonstrate lack of political discipline, and it is this political trajectory that has characterised the rise of the EFF.
What needs to be done?
While in developing nations the tradition of political education and mentorship thrives, Africa is still lagging far behind.
There are several reasons why this is the case in the developing world and in South Africa specifically.
The elongated struggle against colonisation by most African countries resulted in many African leaders missing the opportunity of political education.
Moreover, the sociopolitical imperatives of post-colonial dispensation have resulted in the neglect of political education and mentorship of future leaders.
Finally, the new power holders are reluctant to mentor owing to fear of raising political competition.
What most developing countries have to deal with as a result is regular political violence; and this circle continues unabated.
However, unlike those other African countries, South Africa has so far managed to establish a political system that encourages vibrant multi-party democracy.
Consequently Malema’s threat to take up arms against the government has been a great cause for concern in what most view as an African success story.
Thembisa Fakude is a researcher at the Al Jazeera Center for Studies.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.
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