Peace is a universal desired end and its achievement is as cherished even as the concept remains often elusive.

“Peace with honour” is an even better idea, suggesting that its attainment can be founded on principle.

It is just a pity that the term is imperishably associated with the man who first claimed to have achieved this rare combination – Neville Chamberlain, prime minister of Britain (1937-1940). He flourished a piece of paper after meeting Adolf Hitler in Munich in September 1938, declaring “peace for our time”. That lasted all of one year, when Hitler reneged on his commitments, obliging a reluctant Chamberlain to declare war on Germany in September 1939, after Nazi Germany invaded Poland.  Appeasers generally make lousy war leaders, and so in May 1940 Chamberlain made way for Winston Churchill and the rest, as they say, is history.

Chamberlain, as certainly Churchill himself acknowledged, was not a bad or dishonourable person, and as opposed to some others in the appeasement establishment, did not seek peace with the Nazis from a base or dishonourable motive. His guilt lay in his guilelessness, believing the words on the paper inked by Hitler could ever be relied upon.

From old history to current times on these southern shores. There was something of the whiff of Munich in the “agreement” struck between Clicks Group and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) last week.

At first blush it might be more offensive than the deeply offensive hair-care advert which gave rise to this dispute, to compare legitimate outrage over a racially hurtful campaign and the response of Clicks with the capitulation of Chamberlain to the Nazis.

Still, back in in 2014, when the EFF first brought its street tactics of mayhem and chaos into the hallowed halls of the national assembly in parliament – a  trick it would wearingly repeat for the next six years – then ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe used the Nazi analogy on the EFF. This drew outraged howls from “Juju”, as Malema is dubbed.

Last week, before the meeting between Clicks and the EFF, which had blockaded its stores and worse, in response to the infamous TRESemmé SA hair product campaign, in slightly less extreme terms the DA called on Clicks “not to kowtow to EFF fascists”.

But bend at the knee and more, Clicks apparently did. Not that there is any sign or signal of this occurrence on the Clicks website whose press releases contain nary a word of the meeting nor of its consequences.

It was a triumph for a party which enjoys just 10% of electoral support, but 100% of the use of extra-parliamentary enforcement mechanisms, and the EFF took it upon itself to issue a statement under its logo and on its letterhead to capture the detail of the accord. Extraordinarily, it issued the statement on behalf of both itself and Clicks.

Littered with words describing the Clicks Group, which enjoys 24.9% of all retail pharmaceutical sales in the country, as “abject” and “remorseful”, it lists a series of concessions it strong-armed the group (“robust” was its word) to provide as testimony of the retailer’s regret. Perhaps the most striking paragraph of the entire statement was itemised in clause 5: “The EFF will work with law enforcement agencies to ensure that agent provocateurs involved in the vandalism of Clicks stores are brought to book.”

Thus we have only the EFF word – apparently uncritically accepted by Clicks – that from the firebombing of its stores to intimidating its staff and customers there is nary any responsibility at all on the party which organised the pickets and protests, manhandling the public and journalists and  shutting down hundreds of stores.

By any measure, and whatever the merits of its other concessions, this is an extraordinary and dangerously naïve assumption by the Clicks Group. It is almost an invitation to the EFF, and other extremists, when next outraged and dissatisfied to embark on even more extreme and ever more violent action to obtain a concession here, an act of appeasement there and a shakedown somewhere else.

There is a huge difference between rectifying a wrong, which Clicks did with a range of actions at its own volition early on after the saga erupted, and “kowtowing” to the EFF – whether the label “Nazi” (courtesy of the ANC) or “Fascist” (as per the DA) fits the party better.

The road of least resistance usually leads downhill, as countless other examples from our recent history have proven. The great danger in all this is that a small group of extremists, using the methods of thuggery, now holds a veto power over the rights of peaceful commerce and normal trade in the country. As Tacitus, the Roman historian, said before the Vandals wasted the empire: “We have made a desert, and we call it peace.”

For its part, the EFF gets a big win and perhaps its tactics are more Russian than German or Italian. After all, it was Vladimir Lenin who said of the country’s condition before the Revolution he led, “the worse the better”. That might just click somewhere else today.

Leon, a former leader of the opposition, now chairs Resolve Communications.

Featured in Times Select