Alliance sees the ghost of Hitler in Malema

2015-03-16 06:30

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Caught off guard by the rise of the EFF, the alliance has likened the party and its leader to the Nazis. Caiphus Kgosana examines these claims

The emergence of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), with a loud and in-your-face style of parliamentary politics, has caught the ANC and its alliance partners off guard.

With the EFF turning up the heat on President Jacob Zuma to #paybackthemoney and Parliament descending into chaos, resulting in unprecedented strong-arm reactions from security forces, leaders of the ANC and one of its alliance partners have used varying labels to describe the EFF and its leader, Julius Malema.

“Hooligans”, a “rowdy bunch”, an “unruly mob” are just some of the labels that have been bandied about.But perhaps the most telling of all has been the regular comparison of Malema and his EFF to Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party.

In July last year, a few weeks before the EFF interrupted President Zuma’s questions session in the National Assembly with their now-infamous “Pay back the money” slogan, ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe labelled the new kids on the block fascist, telling journalists that, just like the Nazis, they were out to overthrow the state.

“This movement uses uniform to mobilise in the same way Hitler used brown shirts in the 1930s. The worrying factor in this regard is its use of anarchy and destruction as their modus operandi.

“This anarchy and destruction fits into the paramilitary content of their strategy, which shows early signs of a rebel movement – designed and calculated to undermine democracy and state institutions,” he said.

Former Young Communist League secretary and now deputy minister in the presidency Buti Manamela also used the Nazi comparison in relation to the EFF.

Speaking during a parliamentary debate on the presidency budget vote, also in July, Manamela told of a young man in Germany in the 1920s who used to be at the helm of that country’s political elite, but was sidelined – dismissed as unstable and politically immature.

The young man, he said, started mobilising politically, drawing in those who were moved by his rhetoric and who stood to benefit from his ascension to power.

“Addressing beer halls and public theatres, and using other valuable public platforms, he drew some of the German unemployed and working class into a singular vision and dream that their plight was not because of the global economic crisis at the time, but the problem was the Jews.

He said: ‘They eat our bread. They sleep with our desperate and hungry wives.’”Manamela’s comparison of Malema to Hitler and the EFF to the Nazis was ruled unparliamentary after numerous objections.

The latest to link the EFF to the Nazis is SA Communist Party (SACP) first deputy general secretary and Deputy Public Works Minister Jeremy Cronin.

Writing in the SACP’s online newsletter, Umsebenzi, a few weeks ago, Cronin reflected on the emergence of the Nazi party in Germany back in 1928, when it received less than 3% of the vote, winning just 12 seats out of a total of 491.“The Nazis were undeterred by their low vote.

Having members in the Reichstag was an important bridgehead for their ruthless agenda. They declined to behave like a regular parliamentary party.

Their MPs wore boots and uniforms in the House and, according to one account, ‘conducted themselves as a storm-troop unity’.”Like the EFF, he wrote, the Nazi party members of Parliament adopted a strategy of disrupting Parliament with spurious points of order and disrespecting its Speaker.

By 1933, Hitler had seized power in Germany, entrenching a fascist regime that butchered its opponents. Cronin believes there have been similar signs in our current parliamentary discourse.

“There are troubling additional historical echoes in our present – the cult of a megalomaniac personality with an oratorical gift; militaristic pretensions; a demagogic populism that mobilises on the basis of grievance and victimhood,” Cronin wrote.Malema laughs off the comparison.

He says the ANC and its alliance partner the SACP are resorting to labels because the EFF has positioned itself in the ideological space they deserted.

“The current leadership of the ANC and its erstwhile left ally, the quasi-communist SACP, were caught off guard. And because they have since abandoned scientific ideological tools of analysis, they revert to labels on what they think the EFF is.”

He notes that the comparison to the Nazis is a continuation of the labels they have tried to stick on the EFF, including describing his party as lumpen proletariat, angry youth, rebels, an ANC outside of the ANC, the confused left, fascists and now Nazis.

But unlike Nazis, Malema says, the EFF does not intend to wipe out any racial or ethnic groupings from the face of South Africa, nor does it intend to “drive any of the groups to the sea or to the airport”.

“The ultimate vision of our struggle is not a white-less society, but a classless society, because it is primarily the private and multinational ownership and control of the key industries and economic sectors and instruments, such as land, mines, huge factories and huge retail stores.

These should be broken down and redistributed to the ownership of the people as a whole.”

Political analyst Angelo Fick cautions the ANC and its leaders against the use of highly inflammatory language to label political opponents, especially given the current political climate.

“I think it is morally repugnant to use 1930s fascism too easily to paint political opponents. There are real dangers in using that kind of example to describe contemporary political opponents.

We live in a country where name-calling in politics continues to have dire consequences.”

Fick says it is a sign of weakness on the part of the ANC, which won more than 60% of the vote only a year ago, to allow smaller organisations to set the political agenda and then react hysterically by labelling those same opponents instead of reclaiming the political discourse and setting the agenda.

“This anxiety in the ANC sounds as if the ANC is slightly uneasy when a small party is able to determine the mode and terms of engagement.”

He also notes that EFF leaders are using tactics that were acceptable when many of them were members of the ANC and its various alliance structures.

Some of its internal and external critics are asking just how long the EFF – built on the back of the political charisma of one individual – will be able to keep itself relevant using its aggressive style of politics.

One thing is clear though: it has touched a raw nerve among leaders of the ANC and its alliance partners.

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