JOHANNESBURG - In many ways Julius Malema should not pose much of a threat to South Africa. He loudly articulates the basest desires of racial nationalism. The track record of the project he advocates is so horrendous that no reasonable person can be in any doubt about what the consequences would be if it were to be fully realised here. His faction's agenda is transparently aimed at looting and self-enrichment.
Faced with the combination of bad men that Malema represents, enough good South Africans should be able to associate to safely see off this threat. Or, at least, this would be the case if Western intellectual opinion also pushed back against the noxious racial nationalism that threatens to destroy our future. One reason this country is edging ever nearer to the abyss is that it has not, and still does not.
There has been a very disturbing subtext to much of the Western commentary on the events of the past week. This is that while Malema might be a nasty little thug, who says odious things, the real problem facing South Africa is the continued prosperity of the white minority.
In a facetious piece in The Times (London) Hugo Rifkind commented that Malema "has a fondness for singing a song called Kill the Boer. With more than 3,000 white farmers having been murdered since the end of apartheid, this obviously makes him pretty evil. And yet, in this vast and disproportionately white-owned country, there is a clear moral case for land reform. In a very, very tiny way, despite being chubby bum-faced scum, he sort of has a point."
What point is that? Seventy seven years ago members of the Hitler Youth went around singing Jude Verrecke in their vast and disproportionately Jewish-owned country. Does Rifkind think that there was a clear moral case for Aryanisation, and "in a very tiny way, despite being chubby bum-faced scum," they also sort of had a point? At the time many sanctimonious Western intellectuals thought they did.
The Financial Times editorial (April 7) was even more sinister. The newspaper had two pieces of advice for Jacob Zuma. The first was to make Malema shut his mouth. The second was to accelerate racial land transfers from the white minority (what it also euphemistically termed ‘land reform.') The editorial stated:
"Mr Zuma should address one of the substantive issues that Mr Malema has exploited: the glacial pace of land reform. In 1994, nearly nine-tenths of arable land was in the hand of white farmers. Despite 16 years in power, the ANC has largely failed to redistribute it. This is a running sore and stirs up the rural violence. The longer meaningful reform is delayed, the greater the risk that unscrupulous politicians may turn to Zimbabwean solutions to cover up their own failures. Mr Zuma has to his credit sought to revive land reform. He must follow through. Having raised expectations, he cannot afford to dash them."
The editorial confuses the 87/13 apartheid-era political divide between 'white' and 'black' South Africa with the allocation of arable land (i.e. land on which it is possible to grow crops). Since the homeland areas were generally located in the high rainfall areas to the east of the country, and much white farmland in the arid West, the black/white division of arable land was actually far more even.
Setting this aside, there is a curious moral logic to the editorial. It accepts that the property and lives of white farmers are under threat. But what is its solution? The ANC government must move quickly to take away more and more of their property. To avoid a Zimbabwe solution South Africa must adopt a Zimbabwe solution. The fact that these farmers acquired their property completely legitimately and their enterprises feed the entire subcontinent is irrelevant. Their continued success and productivity is a provocation to Western intellectuals and racial nationalists alike, and they should be dispossessed.
It is striking how in its editorial on April 8 the racist Zanu-PF mouthpiece The Herald expressed much the same view as the FT had done the day before. It stated:
"Wisdom should have convinced the white community in South Africa that they need to co-operate with the South African government to address the inequalities prevalent in that country. In the same way that Zimbabweans got frustrated with the willing buyer-willing seller approach, the South Africans will also begin to take what is rightfully theirs by force if they see no progress in land redistribution. Their patience is wearing thin with each passing year."
In a sense, what is truly frightening is that a significant body of Western opinion instinctively sides with our racial nationalists; and backs the application to our country of the same principles that have brought such ruin to the rest of Africa.
Although the bulk of ordinary opinion in Britain and America is humane and decent, and sympathetic to the plight of minorities in Africa, the interpretation of events in South Africa is dominated by a stratum of intellectuals with a very different attitude. This group regards it as intolerable for a racial minority, in a nationalist democracy, to own a share of the economy too much greater than its percentage of the population. In their analysis one can see the same emotional impulses (and mental short-circuiting) at work that underpinned earlier debates around the ‘Jewish question' in the 1930s and the ‘Asian problem of East Africa' in the 1960s.
In 1940 the German journalist Sebastien Haffner wrote of how after the Nazis took power in 1933 ordinary decent liberal minded Germans looked westwards for rescue and liberation from the barbarous regime that had taken control of their country. Over the following five years their hopes - that the Western powers would act to protect the basic values of European culture (and them) - were repeatedly betrayed. Haffner observed:
"In all the years up to 1939 there was no active opposition to Nazism from Western Europe. But spiritual resistance was also lacking... The world's problems and topics of discussion were dictated, without opposition, by Hitler. He decreed anti-Semitism, and the docile world discovered the ‘Jewish Question'. He attacked Austria, and there was an ‘Austrian question'...To make a ‘question' of Hitler, the Nazis, the German Reich, occurred to no one...In those years European-minded Germans experienced a physical and spiritual sense of being utterly forsaken and lost, such as no one can realize who has not felt it."
It is a 'spiritual sense' familiar enough to those liberal-minded southern Africans who have resisted the ANC's racialist agenda. If Western intellectuals are going to perform any kind of constructive role in South Africa at this critical moment in its history they need to recognise and get over their prejudices and start making a 'question' not just of Malema but also the racial nationalism that he so bluntly articulates.
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