Donald Trump pulled off the unlikeliest of political victories when he became US president last year.
Blame it on their (mathematically) flawed voting system – electoral college; blame it on Hillary Clinton, their stagnant economy, joblessness, a renewed sense of patriotism (or hate-tropism) or the American public’s growing disdain with the rank and file on Capitol Hill.
Elsewhere in the world – most notably in Europe – the UK’s vote to leave the EU or Brexit, the rise and traction of the political right in countries like France, Belgium and the Netherlands have dented liberal sensibilities.
Trump and say French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen’s nationalistic dogma have resonated far beyond little enclaves of those who perceive themselves on the margins of mainstream society.
Fear and rhetoric make for snug bedfellows.
However disagreeable these politicians may be to our sensibilities, their anti-globalization shtick and protectionist capitalist policies which promises more jobs for born and breeds have a struck a chord with their respective citizenry.
In South Africa, populist politics have taken on a new dimension with the loud brand of political participation of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).
Rhetoric which is up there with Trump’s lip-service to the American people, include: “The EFF is (the) last hope for massive industrial development to create millions of jobs.”
With their now famous red overalls, hard hats and red berets, brand EFF is quite the marketing force and dare one say it, sexy.
The dullness of Parliament has been smacked squarely on its stately jaw by this red wave of virulence and political pantomime.
So how do we measure whether they can one day rule South Africa, a possibility that their leader Julius Malema has boldly proclaimed as a reality.
We can’t really, can we?
Perhaps a look at their manifesto will give us an idea of what they stand for and how they see South Africa of the future.
The EFF describes itself as follows: “…is a South African movement with a progressive internationalist outlook, which seeks to engage with global progressive movements. We believe that the best contribution we can make in the international struggle against global imperialism is to rid our country of imperialist domination. For the South African struggle, the EFF pillars for economic emancipation are the following”:
Expropriation of South Africa’s land without compensation for equal redistribution in use. Nationalisation of mines, banks, and other strategic sectors of the economy, without compensation.
– Building state and government capacity, which will lead to the abolishment of tenders.
– Free quality education, healthcare, houses, and sanitation.
– Massive protected industrial development to create millions of sustainable jobs, including the introduction of minimum wages in order to close the wage gap between the rich and the poor, close the apartheid wage gap and promote rapid career paths for Africans in the workplace.
– Massive development of the African economy and advocating for a move from reconciliation to justice in the entire continent.
– Open, accountable, corrupt-free government and society without fear of victimisation by state agencies.
It is quite odd, that for party who has recently foretold of South Africa falling victim to Zanu-fication in its description of how it views the country today, fails to recognize that its mission statements of how it believes South Africa should be transformed, is more than just tinged with policies that have led to the complete erosion of the Zimbabwean economy.
Populist politics, driven by hollow sloganeering, makes for great news headlines, and may add a few crosses at the ballot boxes, but it doesn’t really drill down to how you will run the government machinery differently and more importantly, more effectively to the benefit of all the country’s citizens.
Much like Trump has found out: his words that have landed him the most powerful job in the world, is meaningless if you don’t have a clear understanding of government processes and functions.
The EFF may have a fantastic track-record at muck-raking during Parliamentary sessions, but they have zero experience at governance.
The party will either fade into the nebulousness which is Cope (remember them?) or cease to exist, if, as many are predicting, Malema return to his original political home of the African National Congress.
The EFF are certainly the jokers in the political pack in the South African deck of cards, but, other than the theatre they provide, can they be taken seriously as a political force?
For how long will they continue to be content with being spoilers during elections or kingmakers in municipalities (they won 0 awards during the 2016 municipal elections)?
In Malema, they have a firebrand leader that demands attention and there are many (especially older ANC leaders) who have called for his return to the party.
He knows that for him to really make a mark on the course of South African history, he would need a bigger platform. and backers with deeper pockets.
And that the EFF cannot provide him with.
With the country in perilous economic waters, it will take more than sexy rhetoric and clichés to steer South Africa into more prosperous and calmer waters.
Antagonistic, nationalist populism is not what is needed at this juncture. At this moment in our country’s history, the moment is ripe for clear, unambiguous and inspired leadership borne out of a sober assessment of our socio-economic and political landscape.
We can ill afford to be seduced by the promise of empty rhetoric. We have to ask ourselves this: Can the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) be trusted to run parliament in the interest of all South Africans?
The short answer is no.