Saturday, 12 July 2014

Is Julius Malema the new Oswald Mosley?

Every country throws up populist leaders from time to time. They usually emerge in times of national tension or weak institutional leadership, or when the government of the day is directionless. They play on the anxieties of their constituencies, let down by competing ruling elites scurrying around to protect their interests while they vie for power.

 Often, these populist leaders fall foul of the dominant faction in their party or power block and have no choice but to break away. Think of Mzilikazi who fell out with Shaka and went on to found the Matabele nation in what is now Zimbabwe, or Sir Oswald Mosley who founded the British Union of Fascists in 1932 after leaving the Labour Party.

Now, in our own time, we have Economic Freedom Fighters Commander-in- Chief Julius Malema.

At first glance a comparison between Julius Malema and Oswald Mosley would seem laughable. Malema comes from an unsophisticated rural backwater in Limpopo province, is barely educated and his heroes are Lenin, Hugo Chavez and Robert Mugabe. Mosley was the 6th baronet born into the British aristocracy, married a society heiress and admired Adolf Hitler.

But were not the Fascist blackshirt uniforms paraded with gusto in the 1930s the equivalent of the red overalls and maids' pinafores seen in Parliament these past weeks?

Mosley's militaristic demeanour challenged the pacifist orthodoxy of Britain in the 1930s while Malema's red berets, aping his idol Chavez, enjoin the ANC to revert to its radical roots and eject the colonial oppressor.

There are other striking similarities on both a personal and political level. Both were compelling orators. They held their audiences spell bound, choosing to speak without notes using highly colourful language. They were/are skilled at pressing the populist buttons of nationalisation, high tariffs to protect local industry and state investment in infrastructure to solve the unemployment crisis of the day.

This statement by Mosley in 1939 shows him to be anti-establishment, criticising vested interests and money-politics in the name of the people:  “The battle is between big money combines who spend a thousand pounds or more on every constituency they fight. Or when they speak democracy, they don't mean government by the people...they mean financial democracy, in which money counts and nothing but money.”

Malema sells himself and his party as pro-poor, for the people and anti-capitalist. He uses hatred of whites to mobilise downtrodden blacks voters eager to take over the land Malema promises them as well as the mines and banks now in the hands of whites. His bare-faced racism in calling Helen Zille South Africa’s Number 1 racist stirs an underlying anxiety among blacks that they have been sold down the river by an ANC in cahoots with white monopoly capital.

Mosley’s Fascists were authoritarian (like the EFF), outwardly disciplined but internally riven by faction-fighting (like the EFF) and broke away from the governing party (like the EFF). Mosley’s rapidly rising star was cut down to size by Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald who offered him a junior position in the Labour administration in 1929. Shortly after then he left to form the New Party which later became the British Union of Fascists.

We all know what happened to Julius Malema, who once would 'kill for Zuma' but was later expelled by the ANC in a kangaroo court presided over by non other than Cyril Ramaphosa. He certainly has an axe to grind.

Malema and Mosley cleverly mobilised people who were disillusioned with the status quo, establishment politics, playing on their eagerness for change and strong government which stood for strongly national principles. 

Shortly after the outbreak of World War II, Mosley was interned in a London prison as he was perceived as a threat to the war effort, labelled a traitor for supporting Hitler. He was released into house arrest in 1943 but left England first to live in Ireland then in Paris. His Fascist movement sputtered and died.

Will the same fate befall Julius Malema? Already the ANC in Parliament is closing down debate forced on it by the EFF – witness their expulsion in the first sitting of Parliament after the State of the Nation address. The EFF is yet to hold its first electoral conference, due in December, but that has every chance of descending into farce as Cope’s did.

While the DA believes in open debate, we believe Julius Malema’s breed of politics and incendiary, ill-conceived policies are bad for South Africa. We will contest him and the EFF on the political battleground alongside the ANC where we will win the hearts and minds of those tempted to vote for him, but who eventually see empty promises, hypocrisy and internal strife as an electoral turnoff. 

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