South Africa: Malema is just plain wrong

Julius Malema might be stopped if impoverished South Africans recognise that his populism can neither deliver freedom nor prosperity.

Placing him in the dock only stokes the flames of dissent, awards him martyr status and raises his profile. If the ANC wants to further enhance Julius Malema's brand-awareness, they're sure going about it the right way. But they don't, of course. 

There may be a more effective route to silence him. Through the force of argument.

The background 

Poverty, high HIV and crime rates, unemployment and frustration at the lack of progress in addressing these issues provides Malema with fuel. His firebrand, divisory politics are cleverly concocted to propel him to power on the back of a popular wave washing the old-guard ANC away.

However, his policies are not merely incendiary, they are just plain wrong. Take his stance towards Botswana for example. He says that Ian Khama's government is a "puppet" regime and has called for a united Botswanan opposition to remove it from power by democratic means. 2014 is the earmarked date it seems.


The charge that a US "puppet" regime is in power in Gaberone 

One of the charges against President Khama's Botswana Democratic Party government has been that it's in negotiations with the US to relocate the Africom military base from Stuttgart in Germany. While a US Congressional Research Sevices Report in 2007 did indeed list around eleven African countries including Botswana where this base might be sited, no final decision was ever taken either by former Botswanan president Festus Mogae, or by Khama. And, according to the Mail & Guardian, Africom commander General William Ward said when in Botswana last year that "while there had been speculation that the US intended setting up a military base in Africa through Africom, it was not true."

Yet what is Botswana's economic performance? 

Equally importantly, surely, should be Botswana's performance. Per capita GDP (PPP) is US$15,489, or one third higher than South Africa's. HIV infection rates in Botswana are frighteningly high, yet unemployment is lowish at around 7.5% - a far cry from South Africa's staggering 24.9%.  It's not all rosey in Botswana by any means though as the number of people counted as below the poverty line is 30%, but that's an improvement of South Africa's dismal poverty statistics where 50% are deemed to be in dire poverty. 

Or democratic record? 

And the democratic record: it's true that Khama's BDP has won every election since independence, the last being in 2009 when it won by 53.26%, but it has done so fairly in a functioning democracy which has brought increasing prosperity to what had once been one of the poorest countries on earth. Anyway, a recent split in Botswana Democratic Party ranks might cause an electoral upset in 2014 without any outside interference from Malema or ANC Youth League. 


By way of an aside, how Malema can claim Ian Khama's legitimately elected government is a "regime" when he himself admires the Zanu-PF autocracy in Zimbabwe is plainly laughable.

Of course that statement might not go down well in many South African circles, where Robert Mugabe is awarded almost mythical status as a ultimate commander and anti-apartheid protagonist during the Frontline years.

It's his political record (particularly since the death of his first wife Sally in 1992) that I take issue with. And he is now anyway, by all accounts, merely a figurehead behind which a ruthless team exerts supreme authority, supresses the people and rapes the wealth from the land. 


The plan to confisgate farmland 

Anti-Boer rhetoric is designed to whip up anger against white farmers yet doesn't deliver realistic solutions to the quandary of land re-distribution and ownership. In 2007 "South Africa became a net importer of food for the first time" notes Moeletsi Mbeki. Already, South Africa has lost over 600,000 farm jobs and the "eviction from the commercial farming sector of about 2.4m people from 1997-2007", says Thabo Mbeki's younger brother. How can the current ANC leadership justify the elimination of farm subsidies leading to such a debacle, while simultaneously targeting increased employment, is a problematic puzzle. How much more devasting to employment levels would land seizures be? 

In Zimbabwe, once the bread basket of Africa (now the "basket case" according to the Times), farm seizures gifted party stalwarts with handsome land parcels, decimated productive agriculture, led to the collapse of the Zimbabwean Dollar, rampant hyperinflation and dire poverty. Zimbabwe's experience is evidence enough of the effects of confiscation politics. 

South Africa's sizeable urban population would be hit just as hard as their rural counterparts as this policy progressed. Productivity and increased employment are more powerful weapons in the fight to achieve higher living standards than Malema's vindictive dogma.

The nationalisation of the banks and mines 

The rabble-rousing continues with calls for banks and mines to be nationalised. Experience overseas would suggest such action would be highly detrimental. After the UK government nationalised coal and steel proction inefficency reigned, and these industries had to be privatised to raise capital and increase tax revenues so the government to function effectively once again. In Jamaica, PM Michael Manley's nationalisation of bauxite production led to a US embargo,which was followed by the collapse of the Jamaican Dollar, higher unemployment and civil disorder. Any list of failed nationalisations might prove to be rather extensive.

Joint ventures formulated in Ghana between that government and private interests in both gold and oil sectors has proved productive and remunerative. National wealth has spurted as GDP has grown, and employment levels have improved. Wile the trickle-down effect has proved slower than desired, people can see progress being made as infrastructure is rebuilt and more are educated. 

The result 

So, Malema is misguiding his audiences by his assertions. If his supporters really presume that nationalisation will return wealth to people, they'll likely be disappointed as the most likely scenario is the opposite.

Julius Malema might suppose he's a president-in-waiting. However, the South African masses could be far better served by electing another sort of leader entirely: a positive-thinking, learned and embracing one. On first hearing, firebrand populism might sound great, but often later demagogues get overthrown in violent revolution, resulting in turmoil. Better to steer clear of them altogether, as who would wish devastation on their own country?  Who would want the cherished "Rainbow Nation" to end its days in tears and in bloodshed?

Incidentally, in both Jamaica and Zimbabwe: only by introducing the American dollar was order returned to their respective financial systems. Losing one's country's currency is a hard pill to swallow. And when and if South Africa tailspins would then the greenback still be a reserve currency? Depending on when this might occur, Melema's government could have to adopt the redback, the Chinese yuan.

Check out all commentaries here.

1 comment:

  1. Good article as ever, and although I can't find much to disagree with, I must point out two things:
    Firstly, Malema's followers don't have to be rational or even act in their own best interests. Populist rabble-rousing usually works through rhetoric not facts, plus of course lack of sophistication of the rabble in question.
    Secondly, they are receptive as they aren't having their political and social needs looked after by anyone else. The ANC has not delivered the universal prosperity they were offering in 1994 (of course, it was an impossible promise).

    Malema is simply filling a vacuum caused by poverty issues that should, by now, have been better addressed. He is offering a "more African" Africa, and I suspect many of his followers reason they could do better for themselves in that world than the one they presently inhabit. I suspect that this situation would not have arisen had the ANC been more overtly socialist and explicitly redistributive from the start, although that would also have had consequences too of course.

    Besides, it's hard to see how nationalising anything in Africa would actually make it less efficient - I imagine this would be constrained by an inverse form of the law of diminishing returns!