An EFF-ing Bunch of Hypocrites

2014-06-22 19:23

Julius Malema (Source: SAPA)

It has been amusing, over the past week, to watch the breath-taking hypocrisy of the EFF in action. It has been even more amusing, however, to watch the media and the EFF’s political adversaries, alike, be scandalised by such behaviour. Noone should make any mistake that for the next five years we shall be entreated to the most remarkable doublespeak and double standards that our polity has yet witnessed. And it should come as no surprise.

The EFF’s emergence as a political force is as a result of two, interlocking, things.

One is Julius Malema’s personal brand and popularity. Malema was able to spin his expulsion from the ANC as a result his being a firebrand. His ‘firebrand’ qualities were, so the narrative goes, due to his pushing the ANC to become more radical and, so he says, truer to its roots. This is debateable: others would suggest Malema was expelled because his power got to his head and, in becoming a threat to President Zuma, he was dealt with accordingly.

The other factor, which flows from the first, is that Malema has tapped into a sense of disenchantment that a million voters feel with respect to the two dominant parties. In addition to his economic populism, he has now given expression and agency to many who feel as though both the ANC and the DA are elites which remain too disconnected from their daily lives. Whether this is true is also debateable. Malema may be capitalising on voters’ double-displacement but it cannot be doubted that seeks what the ANC and DA do too: political power in the status quo (the very definition of elitism).

While his, and his ilk’s, intentions are clearly dubious, as displaced by his divisive and worrying remarks made during his maiden speech in reply to the State of the Nation Address, the rank opportunism that underlies the EFF’s actions explains what lies in store. If their meaningless grandstanding by walking out is anything to go by, expect more high drama but at the cost of receiving very little substance.

It should come as no surprise that while they reject parliament’s health insurance on one hand (on the grounds of it being anti-poor), they still accept huge parliamentary salaries on the other (which are definitely anti-poor). Nor should it come as any surprise that they commit to wearing overalls as a symbol of the working class but are, by and large, all removed from it. Neither should it shock us that the fighters demand that politicians use public services but Malema refuses to send his son to a public school.

Malema and the EFF’s actions are not unique and it is undoubted that more of their charlatanism will continue.

Much like the anti-establishment movements in the UK, they say one thing but do another. Sinn Fein refuses to take their seats in Westminster as mark of their objection to the British presence in Northern Ireland, yet all of Sinn Fein’s MPs draw their parliamentary salary. Similarly, like how UKIP’s Nigel Farage finds it convenient to whip up anti-European sentiment, he too enjoys the benefits of his MEP status. Not to mention the love and support of his German wife.

The rationale for this is simple. The more simplistic and uncritical dislike populists can engender, the more likely they are able to ride the wave of increasing public dissatisfaction for their own benefit. They are the ultimate inside-outsiders: inside the establishment because it suits their agenda but appearing to be outsiders because that does too.

As Professor Harry G. Frankfurt wrote in his seminal essay, ‘On Bullshit,’ the posturing from the EFF is particular dangerous, not because they articulate falsehoods (which respect the truth by attempting to undermine it) but rather, because they have no regard for the truth whatsoever. The EFF do not mind what they say or do provided they grab the headlines and are being given attention. It is even more dangerous because their goal in doing so, while being fully aware of the impact of what it is they are agitating for, is not to bring about the change they say they stand for but rather to centralise power and influence in themselves. As with most workers’ movements, failure comes from the idea that freedom from elitism can be achieved through the creation of a new elite that will act as a caretaker government before radical redistribution can occur. Human self(ish)-interest has proven that such is unlikely if not impossible.

While this short-term populism may mean they gain political support and traction, like Jacob Zuma experienced himself, it comes at a price. When it comes to delivering on your promises and you are unable to do so, your support is likely to diminish. Moreover, so too is the legitimacy of any issue that you are trying to highlight. Although, I may disagree with Malema and much of what he says; it saddens me that his drawing attention to the serious systemic obstacles to (black) economic emancipation remain in place and the (ruling party’s) inadequate solutions to deal with them will be discredited in the process. Not only does it undermine the efforts of others who are attempting to address this issue, it is likely to further alienate an already disenchanted part of the electorate and incentivise further, and largely unproductive, radicalism fuelled by anger more than anything else.

It is not as though the EFF may try to hide the truth or prevent it from surfacing, itself a recognition of how important the truth is and that it is to be respected, they merely say and do things without even considering it. Unhindered by truth, complexity, and nuance, the EFF is particularly dangerous as they create a sound-bite narrative that has catchy phrases and sayings but which amounts to very little substantively. Just like how they call for a change in the style of leadership but their leader stands accused of perpetuating more of the same, so too can much of their puffery be disregarded.

We must be particularly critical of the EFF and how little their symbolic action amounts to. This is especially as they choose to moralise to South Africans about the evils of the establishment which they remain a firm part, and beneficiary, of. If there is one thing that Malema and the EFF have shown they are consistent at doing, it is how hypocritical they are in the practise of their politics.

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