US President Donald Trump’s conniptions and conspiracy theorising over last week’s presidential election defeat recall the “we wuz robbed” ringside shout-outs of late Johannesburg boxing supremo Alan Toweel.
They also find a slight echo here in the tactics and strategy of the EFF. The party on these southern shores has unavailingly and with more violence, but far less success at the polls, attempted to import, with local adjustments, the nationalist populism of Trump. Grievance, exclusion, and the hunt for scapegoats is a handy electoral trifecta, until a country tires of the politics of disruption and yearns for normalcy, even dullness.
Cue the election of Joe Biden in the US. His win (whatever the raging Trump and ever-more-unhinged former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani say) was obtained by turning out the base of Democrats and peeling off enough suburban Republicans to end a four-year presidency fuelled by grievance and narcissism.
While Trump, with 71 million voters behind him, will not go gently into the night of defeat and will find new targets aplenty to hit on over the next four years, the local populists in the red berets find, weekly, new targets of opportunism for their tactics of vandalism and destruction.
And so what if the latest ones, in the Cape Town Northern suburb of Brackenfell, are schoolchildren sitting for the matric exams?
Trashing retail stores, delivering a mafia shakedown to Clicks, calling the elected president of SA a “bastard”, brandishing firearms in public, physically intimidating public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan in parliament, invading public and private land.
It’s a long roll call of indecency and undemocratic, thuggish behaviour. And the startling lack of consequence for any of it simply fuels the thirst of these thugs and the political outlaws. The EFF’s sense of faux outrage is matched only by its inability, unlike Trump, to translate (yet) outlandish behaviour into votes at the polls.
This seemed to be the topic de jour when DA Western Cape leader Bongi Madikizela noted on the Trump medium for communications, Twitter, that “The Nazis had their brown shirts that went around terrorising minorities. SA has the red shirts. #BrackenfellHigh”.
At one level, I have always maintained applying the label “Nazi” to other strains of authoritarianism is usually intellectually lazy and historically inaccurate shorthand, which negates the unique evil of the German Reich.
Buckets of outrage and opprobrium, predictably on social media, have been thrown at Madikizela for the comparison. Even the SA Jewish Board of Deputies, custodian of the local Jewish community’s interests, is, according to a report, “currently meeting to discuss that tweet and said it would be responding soon”. The concern is also couched around the timing: the day of the Brackenfell High School incident and the Brown-shirt tweet, Monday, was also the 72nd anniversary of “Kristallnacht”, when, on November 9 1938, more than 1, 000 synagogues were attacked by the Nazi brown shirts in Germany and Austria. It was “the night of broken glass” and the prelude to the commencement of violence and mass murder against the Jews, a unique crime in human history, according to Richard J Evans, professor of modern history at Cambridge University in the UK. In his crisp expert view, “No crime in human history outdoes the genocidal extermination of six million Jews on the order of the leader of Germany’s self-styled Third Reich”.
In truth, though however inapt the Nazi label might be for the local EFF red brigades (fascist is probably closer to historical truth), it is noteworthy that the DA is being held up for exemplary attention on the overstretched comparison.
Actually, with very little pushback and barely any adverse comment, the ANC has long pushed this comparison.
However, in the same year, it was diminutive ANC deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte who provided another Nazi comparison so outsize and deeply offensive that it made any current shorthands pale by comparison.
In her statement on the second Israeli invasion of Gaza, Duarte offered the throwaway line that the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories was equivalent to the “Nazi death camps”.
The historical elisions and blatant inaccuracy of that comment drew little comment and less outrage. But if current commentators are concerned about the Nazification of any act of violence and thuggery, they know where the seeds were first planted.
Meantime, perhaps the schoolchildren at Brackenfell can continue to write their exams in peaceful circumstances.
Leon, a former leader of the opposition, now chairs Resolve Communications.
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