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Gerbrandt van Heerden
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South Africa's own French Revolution?

19 March 2014, 10:55

It will be interesting to see how the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), who has enjoyed extensive media coverage in the last few months, will fair at this year’s elections.  The party describes itself as a “radical and militant economic emancipation movement” and it is in its radical nature where the threat to our society’s future lies.  Despite government efforts, the triple challenges (inequality, poverty and unemployment), continue to persist in South Africa.  According to the South African Institute for Race Relations (SAIRR), youth unemployment is at 51 per cent.      

The EFF’s proposed solutions to tackle these problems are considered highly controversial and rightly so.  In September 2013 Julius Malema, leader of the EFF, spoke at the Theo van Wijk building at the University of South Africa (Unisa) and stated that white people should agree to land distribution without compensation if they are to avoid a genocide from taking place.  “One day, people will rise and claim the land and it will not be controllable,” Malema added.  Even though South Africa continuous to face major socio-economic problems, a radical approach to fixing the economy is not the answer.  I will support this statement by referring to the events that occurred during the French Revolution between 1789 and 1799.  Members of the Third Estate (commoners) grew wary of the fact that most privileges were only intended for the clergy (First Estate) and the aristocracy (Second Estate) to enjoy.  Continued marginalisation of the Third Estate encouraged the members of this neglected social class to start a revolution.   During the Revolution, the assault on the Bastille, the drafting of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, and the march on Versailles occurred.  In 1792, the first French Republic was created.  Unfortunately, the Revolution took a radical and militant turn when individuals like Maximilien Robespierre came into power.  As a member of the Committee of Public Safety, Robespierre together with the Jacobin Club, initiated a period known as the Reign of Terror, in which presumed enemies of the revolution (more than 40 000 people) were executed.  In South Africa, a similar story is developing.  Just like the Third Estate overthrew their elites during the French revolution, so has the black majority of South Africa mobilised to defeat the Apartheid regime that sustained white minority rule, in order to establish a more democratic and egalitarian society after 1994.  Although the first phase of transition is complete (the democratisation of South Africa), the second phase of transition (economic transformation) is yet to occur after twenty years of democracy.  Thus, radical groups such as the EFF (the Robespierres and Jacobins of South Africa) have arisen promoting more drastic measures to solve the country’s problems.  Yet, their proposed answers (nationalisation of the mines and expropriation without compensation) could ironically cause more economic instability by driving away much needed foreign direct investment (FDI).  FDI is usually linked to economic growth which in turn contributes to the creation of jobs and a reduction in poverty.  One must not forget that Western governments assured the ANC during the negotiating processes between 1990 and 1994, that South Africa could expect a large amount of FDI should the new government forego their socialist tendencies and implement more market-friendly policies.  I am well aware that my argument is one-sided and simplistic, but I encourage the reader to consider this: New strategies are needed to combat the triple challenges that South Africa faces.  I believe that South Africa needs to achieve and sustain a high economic growth rate in order to effectively reduce poverty and unemployment.  Policies such as Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) hamper growth.

There is no place for radicalism in our already vulnerably society.  If radicalism becomes the norm, more damage than good will occur as observed in France when the radicals hijacked the French Revolution.  

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