Turning inward Ranjeni Munusamy

2016-06-28 06:00

THE world woke up to the stunning news that the United Kingdom had voted in a referendum to leave the European Union (EU).

Much of the world was caught by surprise by this decision, and markets worldwide tumbled as it was not foreseen that those wanting to break away from the EU were in the majority.

Although the outcome of the referendum is not legally binding, the UK government now has to embark on a process to exit the EU.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, who led the campaign to remain in the EU, fell on his sword yesterday morning and announced that he would leave office in three months.

The decision has major implications for the global economy, international trade and investment, and border controls. It could also prompt other nations to reconsider their membership of the European community.

The outcome of this referendum is a worrying signal of the rise of the right wing in international politics, the prevalence of more conservative mind-sets and increasing rejection of integrated societies.

With migration patterns on the rise worldwide, support for Donald Trump in the United States and now the Brexit vote in the UK show that more people are succumbing to fear and hatred, and therefore opting to insulate themselves and their countries.

The majority vote to leave the EU was not based on what is best for the UK, Europe or the world. It was the triumph of fear-mongering and prejudice, fuelled by irrationality and narrow-mindedness about people of other nationalities.

But fear has become a powerful political tool in global politics. It is what carried the Donald Trump campaign from being a ridiculous long shot to the Republican Party’s lead candidate in the U.S. presidential race.

We have seen irrationality and fear cause turmoil in our own country this week. The announcement on Monday by the ANC that Thoko Didiza would be the party’s mayoral candidate in Tshwane triggered violence and looting in various areas in the capital.

Five people were killed in the spate of violence. The police have arrested 200 people for incidents of arson and looting. There are no clear answers as to why people went on the rampage over the mayoral announcement.

One of the explanations is that people who have jobs through the Extended Public Works Programme believed that they would lose their employment if the incumbent Kgosientso Ramokgopa were no longer mayor.

It beggars belief that people would resort to burning buildings and buses, barricading roads and even killing others, based on a false premise.

But there are growing suggestions of a more sinister agenda that drove the spate of violence, with allegations that some political leaders deliberately provoked people to go on the rampage.

Two ANC factions have been in a heated battle for control of Tshwane. The decision to appoint Didiza as a compromise candidate provoked anger, with both rival factions fearing they would lose access to power and resources.

Most of the people who went on the rampage did not know much about Didiza or whether she would be a worthy mayoral candidate. They resorted to killing and destruction in protest against her candidacy, based only on the news that their preferred candidate would no longer be mayor. Some people resorted to insulting Didiza for being Zulu and accused her of using sexual favours to get the nomination.

The phenomenon is not unique to Tshwane as factional battles have caused conflict and murders in other parts of the country. Some people view the August 3 local-government elections as a proxy vote to test President Jacob Zuma’s popularity. Some think it could weed bad leaders out of the system.

But these elections are largely about self-interest and access to resources, not an antidote for our troubles. As the Brexit vote has shown, polls are not necessarily the solution to a country’s problems but could trigger new crises.

• Ranjeni Munusamy is a political journalist and commentator for the daily maverick.

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