THE far-reaching power of globalization, linking the most remote corners of the planet in lucrative bonds of finance, outsourcing and ‘borderless’ manufacturing, offered everybody from Silicon Valley tech gurus to Asiatic farm girls ample opportunities to get rich thanks to the very capitalist tools of trade, entrepreneurship and foreign investment.
Capitalism appeared to be fulfilling its promise of uplifting everyone to new heights of wealth and welfare and according to an article by Michael Schuman on March 25, 2013, Karl Marx was supposed to be dead and buried as the class conflict that he believed determined the course of history seemed to melt away in a prosperous era of free trade and free enterprise. Or so we thought. With the global economy in a protracted crisis, and workers around the world burdened by joblessness, debt and stagnant incomes, Marx’s biting critique of capitalism — that the system is inherently unjust and self-destructive — cannot be so easily dismissed. This is even so with the formation of the new Political Party in South Africa, The Economic Freedom Fighters of Julius Malema. Indeed, the infamous Marikana hill in the Nkaneng informal settlement in Marikana was painted red as hundreds of Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) members gathered for the launch of the party last Sunday. People wearing red berets and T-shirts braved scorching heat as they waited for Malema to arrive. The crowd was kept entertained by artists singing and dancing. Among the songs were “if you touch Malema you will see trouble”, referring to President Jacob Zuma and “Ha o le motho o supporta Zuma, a wa tsenwa (If you are person supporting Zuma, are you crazy),” they sang.
The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) received its registration certificate from the Independent Electoral Commission on Monday last week. On Saturday, eight cattle were slaughtered ahead of a ceremony at the hill in the Nkaneng informal settlement. The hill was where Lonmin workers gathered last year during their wage strike. Thirty-four mineworkers were killed on August 16, 2012 when police fired on them. Ten others, including two security guards and two policemen, were killed in the preceding week. The workers had gathered at the hill demanding to be paid R12 500 per month.
Malema was expected to later officially launch the political party he founded this year after he was expelled from the ANC for bringing the party into disrepute. EFF spokesman Mbuyiseni Ndlozi said the party was launched at the hill to vow to slain mineworkers that their deaths were not in vain. “We vow to pick up their spears and continue to fight for economic freedom,” he said. According to its constitution, the EFF is a radical, left-wing, anti-capitalist, and anti-imperialist movement. The party claims it provides clear and cogent alternatives to post-colonial economic systems, which in many countries had kept the oppressed under colonial domination. The party advocates the expropriation of South Africa’s land without compensation, and the nationalisation of mines, banks, and other strategic sectors of the economy.
The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) announced that it was however willing to consider partial nationalisation of mines in the initial phase of its project before completely phasing out private ownership. “We are arguing for mixed state and community ownership,” said EFF commissar Floyd Shivambu at the Sunrise Park Primary School in Rustenburg on Tuesday last week, where the party was holding community meetings, door-to-door campaigns and a social media drive in preparation for its launch rally in Marikana on Sunday. EFF leader Julius Malema said a giant had been born. “A different baby is born today, a giant… A child that walks immediately. The baby that fights for your living wage. You must be afraid of that child.” He further said: “This is the home for the hopeless,” to the applause of the crowd. He told the crowd that the land of South Africa belongs to the landless. “This is your land. You do not have to pay for the land. It has been already paid by the sweat of your fathers.” He said white South Africans were still refusing to hand over the land they had ‘inherited through theft’. “Till today they (whites) are not ashamed of killing our people. They want us to kneel before them. We are not going to do that. We are not going to beg for the land. Bring back the land.”
He told the crowd to “refuse to vote for a singer and dancer. We want a thinker to drive the policy of our country. We do not want an old man who dances like a teenager. Every time he dances, older people look down with shame,” he said. The crowd responded by waving their hand in a circle, indicating need for a change. “We must restore the image of South Africa.” Malema apologised to South Africans for having Jacob Zuma as president. “I apologise for giving you a mediocre non-thinker and non-reader. We must vote for statesmen, we must vote for the restoration of the image of South Africa.” The crowd shouted “Juju! Juju!” after he had spoken.
The EFF is the latest in a scattering of new political groupings that have emerged recently to try to challenge the ANC. The ruling party remains dominant and still likely to win next year, but internal splits and enduring inequality and poverty in post-apartheid South Africa have eroded its support, especially among restive young people born after 1994. Political analysts say that for Malema, arguably South Africa’s most high-profile politician in recent years, now shut out of the mighty ANC machine that nurtured his early career, he faces a tough reality check to show he has the backing, funding and organisational skills to form a viable party and run a credible campaign.
However, surveys last month by consumer Insights Company Pondering Panda found more than one in four young South Africans aged between 18 and 34 said they would vote for a party led by Malema in an election. In the poll, conducted by mobile phone, respondents who supported Malema said they did so because he would do more to help poor people than other parties. Malema says he is confident backing for him and the EFF will come from the workers, the poor and unemployed, and even the middle class to challenge an ANC elite he calls “a kleptocracy, a government of thieves.”
“Our funding will come from our people,” he said. Asked why he thought his radical revolutionary message will prosper on a fast-growing continent where most governments have embraced free-market capitalism, Malema retorts quickly: “Show me a country that practised market-related economy which has prospered in Africa, or created an equal society, free of poverty, where the wealth is shared among people.” Marx theorized that the capitalist system would inevitably impoverish the masses as the world’s wealth became concentrated in the hands of a greedy few, causing economic crises and heightened conflict between the rich and working classes. “Accumulation of wealth at one pole is at the same time accumulation of misery, agony of toil, slavery, ignorance, brutality, mental degradation, at the opposite pole,” Marx wrote.
A growing dossier of evidence suggests that he may have been right. Workers of the world are growing angrier and demanding their fair share of the global economy. Nevertheless, Marx ignored the inception phase of class conflict – the need for a trigger, as class consciousness is not automatic, but is engendered by some event (e.g., contact), agent (e.g., a leader), or cognitive transformation (e.g., class propaganda). In some societies preparations may last for years. On the surface all is stable, but underneath a transformation from class consciousness to overt conflict is underway. Let us hope the launching of EFF and Malema are not the trigger for class consciousness in South Africa and perhaps in the entire region.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of my employer and this newspaper but solely reflect my personal views as a citizen.
BY Paul T. Shipale