Malema, Goebbels & the dark art of racial propaganda

James Myburgh says the media is underestimating quite how dangerous the EFF leadership’s rhetoric is

It is unarguable that local and Western intellectual opinion is probably more sensitive and opposed to what it sees as “racism” than it has ever been. This label is quickly applied to a variety of offences ranging from the relatively serious to the completely trivial. The recent 20 second video of Theo Jackson and Willem Oosthuizen assaulting and threatening Victor Mlotshwa, and forcing him into a coffin, was quickly reported on across the world because of the apparent racial connotations of the shocking visuals.

It is becoming increasingly evident, however, that the ability of this same opinion to recognise and oppose racial propaganda, at its most dangerous, is profoundly enfeebled. This was highlighted recently by the subdued and indifferent response of much of the left-leaning local and foreign media - and civil society organisations - to the recent anti-minority rhetoric of the EFF leadership. Julius Malema’s comment that he was “not calling for the slaughtering of white people, at least for now” certainly provoked a strong ripple of discomfort; but his and Mbuyiseni Ndlozi’s other remarks met with little serious critical reaction.

The purpose of this article is try and describe the operation of racial propaganda, at its most insidious and effective. For the sake of simplicity, given the potential scope of the topic, it will try and do so through focusing on a single document –the front page of Der Angriff - the Berlin newspaper of Reich Minister of Propaganda Dr Joseph Goebbels from 11th November 1938.

Before doing so it is necessary to briefly sketch out some of the basic historical background.


On coming to power in 1933 the National Socialist Party in Germany had moved very quickly to displace Jewish Germans from state employment and the professions. Legislation was also passed, by decree, limiting the number of Jews in universities to their percentage of the total population. This drive was justified by inter alia the claim that the Jews had “monopolised” all the best positions under the Weimer Republic. In 1935 German Jews were formally deprived of their citizenship through the Nuremberg laws.

In the initial years of National Socialist rule moderates within the government had tried to limit interference in private business for fear of the damage this would do to the economy. By 1936 however the drive to force Jews out of business – through boycotts and other methods - was proceeding apace.

It was only in 1938 though that the regime turned to directly and finally dispossessing Jews of their businesses and property. In terms of a decree of 26 April 1938 issued by Hermann Göring every Jew was required to declare and give the value of their entire domestic and foreign fortune to the authorities by 30 June on pain of a 10 year prison sentence for non-compliance. Göring was also empowered to ensure the utilisation of such property “in conformity with the interests of the German economy.” The stated goal of this decree was to determine what part of the national wealth was in the hands of the Jews, and to facilitate their elimination from the economic life of the country.

At the time it was unclear what compensation, if any, Jews would receive for the loss of their property. Der Angriff commented, “We can safely assume that a large part of these rather substantial fortunes have been acquired by illegal means” and this would permit the seizure of such fortunes without compensation. A New York Times (19 June 1938) report on the latest anti-Jewish drive in Germany (now including Austria) noted that the Jews “have already been read out of the Germany racial community but have had full control of their property.” This had now changed. Germany’s 600 000 Jews still had property worth an estimated 10 000 000 000 marks and “according to National Socialist doctrines these possessions were extracted from the German people and should be returned.”

Throughout 1938 there was a steady escalation both in the scope and the degree of anti-Jewish persecution. Then on the 7th of November Herschel Grynszpan, 17, a German Jewish refugee living in France went into the German embassy and shot the young diplomat Ernst vom Rath in the stomach severely wounding him. This was in retaliation for the deportation of Grynszpan’s family to Poland a couple of weeks before. Grynszpan had asked to see the ambassador and vom Rath had had the misfortune of being sent to find out what Grynszpan had wanted.

The National Socialist propaganda machine immediately began seeking to mobilise popular outrage against the Jews of Germany on the basis of this crime. A report in Der Angriff demanded that the “sharpest measures against Jews” be taken and that the nations of Europe unite “for a ruthless war against the international Jewish menace and against Jewish murder and Jewish crime”. In a report (8th November) The New York Times stated that because of this press campaign “new fear is gripping the Jews of Germany, although excesses against them so far have been reported from only one town.”

On the 9th of November vom Rath died of his wounds with word of his death reaching the National Socialist leadership that evening at a dinner commemorating the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch. After a whispered discussion with Adolf Hitler, who then left early, Goebbels signalled that “spontaneous demonstrations” were to be “organised and executed” that night. The head of the Gestapo, Reinhard Heydrich, issued a secret instruction to party and SS leaders across the country to meet to discuss the organisation of demonstrations. Synagogues were to be burnt down – care being taken that damage not be done to non-Jewish owned property - and businesses and apartments belonging to Jews destroyed. The police were not to interfere. “As many Jews, especially rich ones, are to be arrested as can be accommodated …”

What followed was the extraordinary wave of racial violence, now known as the Kristallnacht pogrom. In a report filed that night The New York Times’ correspondent Otto D Tolischus reported on the events as follows:

“A wave of destruction, looting and incendiarism unparalleled in Germany since the Thirty Years War and in Europe since the Bolshevist revolution, swept over Great Germany today as National Socialist cohorts took vengeance on Jewish shops, offices and synagogues for the murder [of vom Rath]. Beginning systematically in the early morning hours in almost every town and city in the country, the wrecking, looting and burning continued all day. Huge but mostly silent crowds looked on and the police confined themselves to regulating traffic and making wholesale arrests of Jews ‘for their own protection’. All day the main shopping districts and innumerable other places resounded to the shattering of shop windows falling to the pavement, the dull thuds of furniture and fittings being pounded to pieces and the clamour of fire brigades rushing to burning shops and synagogues. Although shop fires were quickly extinguished, synagogue fires were merely kept from spreading to adjoining buildings.”

By nightfall on the 10th November, Tolischus continued, “there was scarcely a Jewish shop, café, office or synagogue in the country that was not either wrecked, burned severely or damaged.” The violence ended only after Goebbels issued a proclamation stating:

“The justified and understandable outrage of the German people over the cowardly Jewish murder of a German diplomat in Paris found expression during last night. In numerous cities and towns of the Reich retaliatory action has been taken against Jewish buildings and businesses. Now a strict request is issued to the entire population to cease immediately all further demonstrations and actions against Jewry, no matter what kind. A final answer to the Jewish assassination in Paris will be given to Jewry by way of legislation and ordinance.”

According to the National Socialist regime’s own confidential estimates, compiled in the immediate aftermath of the pogrom, 119 synagogues had been set on fire and another 76 completely destroyed, 36 Jews killed and another 36 severely injured (later estimates put the death toll at close to a 100), 20 000 Jews arrested, and 7 500 shops wrecked.

In his remarks to the foreign press in the aftermath of the pogrom Goebbels defended and justified the action, but denied that it had been orchestrated. The reaction of the German people to vom Rath’s cowardly murder, he stated in one article, “must be explained by the nefarious baseness of the deed. In it the nation followed its healthy instincts.” In other remarks that “the popular reaction proved that the people saw the disproportion between the status of the Jews and their own sentiments.”

A newspaper front page

Der Angriff of 11th November 1938 was thus the first issue of the newspaper published after the pogrom. An annotated image of the front page follows below:


The top headline (A) refers the death of Turkish President Mustafa Kemal Atatürk on 10th of November. The headline below that (B), on the left, is “Sorrow over vom Rath” with reports on condolences from Adolf Hitler and Hermann Göring sent to vom Rath’s family. The headline below that is “Jewish flight out of Paris: Government wants to clean up”.

In an editorial comment (C) the newspaper stated that an innocent German, just carrying out his duties, had once again fallen victim to the “murder instruction” of international Jewry. This (act of) murder had now rebounded on the entire Jewish people. Just as vom Rath had had to answer for Germans, without asking for it, so must every single Jew now be held to account. “For every suffering, every crime and every injury that this criminal race inflicts on a German anywhere, every individual Jew will be held responsible. All Judah wants is war with us and it can have this war according to its own moral law: an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”

The main picture on the page (D) is of vom Rath on his death bed. There is no picture of any of the destruction wrought the day before and no news report on the front page on it either. To the degree that the newspaper deals directly at all with the violence of the previous day it is by publishing Goebbels’ proclamation under the headline “It was justified outrage! Reich minister Dr Goebbels stops the anti-Jewish retribution action” (E).

The box on the top right (G) announces the start of a new series of articles, on the inside pages, titled “Jewish Murderers”. The series had been announced the day before in an article which claimed that in shooting vom Rath Grynszpan had also destroyed the “legend that the Jew is no murderer. On the contrary – wherever he thinks he can get away with murder, he raises the hand against another life!”

The article running down the right hand side (F) – under the heading “Criminality under the David Star” – is a long article by Karl Kossak-Raytenau introducing the series and taking issue with the view put out by Jewry that the Jew was no murderer, but generally just a harmless individual. From this day onwards Der Angriff ran one feature article after another on every murder committed by a Jew that it could find.

The art of racial propaganda

There are three distinct but intertwined techniques of racial propaganda that can be discerned here.

The first is the use of a clearly indefensible racially-motivated crime – the murder by an individual Jew of an innocent German - to mobilise against the entire Jewish population of Germany, and thereby to give full and final effect to the dispossession of that minority. As noted before, it is a very effective tactic to take the aberrant actions of individuals and then ascribe their guilt, and that behaviour, to the group. As Franz Boas wrote, it takes very little "to provoke the spirit that prevents us from recognizing individuals and compels us to see only representatives of a class endowed with imaginary qualities that we ascribe to the group as a whole." In addition the targeted group is put on the back foot morally and is desperate not to become identified with, or seen to be defending, such behaviour. This then leaves the way clear for the propagandist to drive their message home.

The second is the use of selection, focus and suppression to shape a particular narrative. In an interview with the American physician Leon Goldensohn during the Nuremberg trials Hans Fritzsche, a senior official in Goebbels’ Propaganda Ministry then on trial for war crimes (he was eventually acquitted), commented “propaganda is always done by bringing the attention of the people to one side and taking the attention from the other side.”

This can be achieved, to a large degree, by focusing on specific events or stories or facts that support your line of propaganda (none of which need to be untrue), and suppressing or underplaying those that may undermine it. This is well illustrated by both the focus on the front page on the death of vom Rath to the almost complete exclusion of the horrific and murderous violence perpetrated against Jews the day before; and the series on “Jewish Murderers” which trawled up every case that could be found and gave them great play.

To the extent that acknowledging certain realities was unavoidable – many ordinary Germans had personally witnessed the destruction of the day before – minimum coverage was provided. Tolischus noted that the German press followed a system of reporting “only local excesses so as to disguise the national extent of the outbreak.” The key point here is that goals of propaganda can be reached as much by not reporting on one thing as by an obsessive focus on something else.

This brings us to the third technique of racial propaganda on display here, namely projection. At every key stage of the destruction process the propaganda of Goebbels’ (and others) aggressively accused the Jews of having done what the National Socialists proceeded to do to them. Thus, the expulsion of the Jews from state employment and the professions was justified by propaganda claiming the Jews had unfairly seized the best jobs for themselves; the dispossession of the Jews by propaganda that they had stolen their wealth from honest Germans; the murder of the Jews by propaganda that they were murderers of Germans; the war on the Jews by the claim that the Jews had declared war on Germany; and so on.

This approach could be summed up by the commandment: “charge others with having done unto you that which you what you want to do unto them.” It is infinitely more effective than a direct call to action. It buoys up the perpetrators with a sinister sense of self-righteousness – the idea that they are out to remedy a wrong – rather than burdening them with the knowledge they are simply thinking and acting criminally. It can also turn the general discussion away from the perpetrators own (imminent) wrongdoing towards the guilt or otherwise of those being targeted. Thus, the first anti-Jewish campaign by the new regime in March/April 1933 triggered, the journalist Sebastien Haffner later observed, “a flood of argument and discussions all over Germany, not about anti-Semitism but about the ‘Jewish question’.” This was a trick, he wrote, the National Socialists successfully pulled off many times subsequently.

Recent EFF rhetoric

In November 2016 EFF leader Julius Malema gave two speeches, at Newcastle on the 7th and in Bloemfontein on the 14th November, outside of different magistrates’ courts where he was appearing on charges of incitement (see here and here). EFF spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi then spoke on 16th November outside the Middelburg (Mpumalanga) court where Theo Jackson and Willem Oosthuizen were appearing. To appreciate their force and effect – and the sustained, high-pitched racial hatred being expressed - they should really be listened to in full.

In his Newcastle speech Malema repeated his earlier calls for “White People” to be racially dispossessed of their land and property and ownership transferred into the “hands of the people” from whom it had been “stolen”. “Victory will only be victory if the land is restored in the hands of rightful owners. And rightful owners unashamedly is black people. No white person is a rightful owner of the land here in South Africa and in the whole of the African continent. This is our continent, it belongs to us.”

What was seemingly new in the speech was the claim that “White People” were (collectively) guilty of genocide against “Black People”. As he put it:

“We, the rightful owners, our peace was disturbed by white man’s arrival here. They committed a black genocide. They killed our people during land dispossession. Today, we are told don’t disturb them, even when they disturbed our peace. They found peaceful Africans here. They killed them! They slaughtered them, like animals! We are not calling for the slaughtering of white people, at least for now.”

Returning to this issue the week after in his Bloemfontein speech, following a minor controversy over his remarks, he stated:

“So, no law that seeks to protect White People will succeed in a democratic South Africa. They say I said in Newcastle we must slaughter White People. I never said that. If I wanted to say it I will say it. What I said was we are not calling for their slaughter. Unlike them, they SLAUGHTERED Black People. They killed Black People. They committed Black Genocide…. We are not talking violence, we are not promoting violence, but I cannot guarantee the future. I am not a prophet. I am talking now. We are not carrying any weapons. I will never kill white people. Why should I kill them? I will never revenge for what they did. I am asking politely for the land to be returned. And IF THEY DON’T RETURN IT, I cannot guarantee what will happen.”

After the video emerged of the coffin assault the EFF seized on this to racially mobilise. In his speech outside court Ndlozi attributed guilt and responsibility for the actions of Jackson and Oosthuizen onto the entire white population:

“Let me tell you why White People continue to be arrogant. Let me tell you why they have got the audacity to capture one of our own, beat him up, beat him up, as he asks for help they beat him more, as he prays for help they beat him more, then they put him in a coffin threatening to burn him alive. Why do White People 22 years after Nelson Mandela forgave them, why do they still do that? Why do they still do that? They came to this country. They massacred our people. They killed all those who were there when they arrived in Cape Town, in the Eastern Cape, in KwaZulu-Natal. They continued to institute apartheid, killing Hector Petersen, killing Robert Sobukwe, killing Chris Hani, killing in Sharpeville, killing in Boipatong. After all of that Nelson Mandela came and said ‘let us forgive them!’ Nelson Mandela came and said ‘Let us forgive them!’ Indeed, nobody took revenge. We are many, far more than they are, but none of us ever take revenge for what they did under apartheid. None of us took revenge for what they did under colonisation. Why then do White People in this country still feel they are the bosses? Why do they still view us like animals? Because they still have our LAND!”

The language used here (“White People”, “they”, “them”) combines all white individuals – the young and old, the long dead and the yet to be born – into a single group. Highly negative attributes (murder, criminality, genocide, viewing black people as “animals” etc.) are then ascribed to each member of this entity. This is done by taking crimes committed or allegedly committed by members of this group – recently or hundreds of years ago - and then attributing guilt to the group as a whole. The suggestion is then made that “White People” deserve to be punished, but because of the great powers of patience and forgiveness of “Black People” they have not (yet) been. However, if “they” continue with their crimes and “racism” against Black People, and refuse to return that which they stole, all bets are off the table.

In Malema’s rhetoric the propaganda technique of projection is very strongly evident. The claim that “White People” stole what they have is, if you think about it, simply a way of mobilising support around a programme of robbing a once politically powerful, but now powerless, racial minority of their possessions. As his “at least for now” slip revealed the claims of white on black genocide stem from fantasies – currently prevalent in the Fallist movement and elsewhere - of a final, violent black reckoning with the white minority in South Africa.


The EFF, though not without considerable influence, remains (for now) a relatively small opposition party, without the power to put its programme into effect. There are, however, very strong grounds for concern at the rise in racially virulent political rhetoric in South Africa, not just emanating from the EFF leadership. This propaganda is self-evidently inflammatory and dangerous. As Fritzsche confided to Goldensohn during the Nuremburg trials, he had come to the realisation that “crime does not begin when you murder people. Crime begins with propaganda… The moment propaganda turns against another nation or against any human being, evil starts.”

As concerning, in a way, is the failure of much of the local and international media, and civil society, to seriously report on or push back against even the most extreme and apocalyptic expressions of black chauvinism. When such reporting is unavoidable – as was the case with Malema’s slaughter remarks – a sly editorial is often inserted into what is ostensibly a straight news report to the effect that this simply reflects righteous frustration or indignation on the part of the black majority.

By contrast, every physical or verbal assault, or insult, or act of racial impertinence, directed by a white person against black people receives huge coverage and sets off wave after wave of condemnation. Demands are then made for the severest of punishments, no matter how disproportionate to the actual offence, and for ever more stringent measures to stamp out the scourge of (anti-black) “racism” once and for all.

When media loses its sense of balance and proportion in this way – and becomes fixated on the wrongdoing of individuals from a particular minority – it has turned away from journalism towards racial propaganda. This can create huge perceptual distortions among viewers and readers. The claim is quite often made on social media, and not in bad faith, that all or almost all racial discrimination and inter-racial violence in South Africa is white-on-black.

South Africa’s online media remains free and pluralistic so that the biases of one publication offset, at least to some degree, those of another. The foreign media, which only reports very intermittently on South Africa, is as a result particularly susceptible to lapsing into the “propaganda of selection” and reporting only on stories which confirm the prejudices of the correspondent, their editor, or the publication’s readers. If you were an American relying for your understanding of South Africa on reports and opinion in The New York Times, for example, you would probably believe that white South Africans were a deeply unreconstructed people, currently pushing black forbearance to a breaking point, who deserve whatever is coming to them.

None of this is to say that the worst will happen in South Africa. But as the situation currently stands this will be despite, not because of, the approach of a significant part of both the local and international media.