Daily Maverick 14 March 2019
Opinionista • Siphokazi Mbolo and Ashley Nyiko Mabasa
The EFF antagonises without context and content while the country is trying to heal the social fractures that replicate injustice and inequality, and not replicate the practices of past governments.
South Africa, with its diversity and history of oppression, is struggling to form a nation-state due to the complex demands of balancing unity and differences among different cultural, ethnic and racial groups. These challenges are taking place against the background of an ANC occupied with constructing a robust national democratic society reinforced by principles of equity, equality, non-racialism and common citizenship.
The pioneers of democracy in South Africa like Nelson Mandela have always waived caution when dealing with identities and matters of African nationalism. Mandela highlighted the significance of normalising differences in South Africa if the nation is to create a unified, non-racial nation. Mandela was vocal about advancing South Africa as a home to all cultural, racial, and ethnic groups – including white people. Mandela conceded with the Freedom Charter by alluding that South Africa belongs to those live it, black and white.
However, in a regressive spirit through its actions and manifesto, the EFF continuously articulates alienating references, such as referring to some citizens as settlers, which undermines the post-colonial and post-apartheid task of nation-building. This discourse sparks questions of who belongs in South Africa and who does not. One then has to wonder, when do settlers become citizens? Based on the EFF’s comprehension, the “settler question” underlines complexities on the construction of common citizenship where white people are perceived as foreign.
The EFF propagates a dichotomic logic by classifying white people as settlers and black people as citizens. Clearly, the EFF’s conception of African nationalism calls for an interrogation of the idea of a national democratic society under the EFF government. A significant element of democracy is how different people are identified as citizens and non-citizens. In the EFF’s politics, white people are not treated as citizens and are continuously referred to as settlers in the EFF’s narrow discourse of African nationalism, even under conditions of post-colonial democracy.
The dangers of the EFF’s exclusive nationalism is that the discourse resembles colonial racial discrimination and its limited, simplistic conception of what the nation is and who belongs in the nation. This limited conception of the nation does not reflect the reality of a diverse South Africa and will, therefore, yield action and policy that does not account for the complexities and nuances inherent to a culturally and racially heterogeneous society.
The platform for this shift towards nationalist, identitarian politics is surrounded by justified public frustration due to inadequate eradication of inequalities and poverty. The 1994 democratic breakthrough merely awarded black people with citizenship and political rights. The transition period came with a lot of concessions and trade-offs which left white people in superior socio-economic standing compared to their black counterparts.
The birth of a democratic South Africa and conceptualisation of a common African nationalism romanticised the disparities between the historically advantaged and disadvantaged. Black people’s citizenship has not translated to socio-economic emancipation but has created an environment for black people to mediate their economic interest through political institutions and fight for complete liberation.
This signifies that a lot still needs to be done to achieve a South African state of utopia. However, as background to this, South Africans are optimistic about eradicating the divides between “settler” and “native”, to forge common citizenship for all, black and white. What the EFF is proposing through its manifesto and actions (assault, intimidation and hate speech by members, and even the CIC), is a divisive alignment replicating colonial arrangements.
The EFF is using the people’s legitimate frustrations to advance populist agendas and mislead the public into getting stuck on these terms instead of finding sustainable solutions to the current conditions of black people. Even though these regressive “settler” derogatory terms are rooted in legacies that continue to haunt black South Africans, the EFF’s approach is counterproductive.
South Africa needs an inclusive mechanism based on realistic visions for a durable South African nation-state. Post-apartheid, for the “settler” and “native” to achieve common citizenship, South Africa needs a government dedicated to inclusive socio-economic and political transformation. With elections just around the corner, one must wonder if the EFF is that government.
Though it has its notable shortfalls, the ANC needs to be commended for its strategic and progressive work within guided radicalism to heal and unite this country – this can be compared to the antagonist radicalism of the EFF which serves no other societal purpose than to attract sensationalistic media attention to the party.
We cannot achieve a healed, united, and non-racial African nationalism if we go back to antagonist derogatory terms and separationist practices. The EFF antagonises without context and content while the country is trying to heal the social fractures that replicate injustice and inequality, and not replicate the practices of past governments. The Ugandan scholar Mahmood Mamdani refers to this process as the establishment of a political order based on consent and not conquest. Establishing a political community of equal and consenting citizens. Is the EFF the right government to assist South Africa to realise this objective?
The question of settler and native is a political question where native is associated with inferiority and powerlessness enforced by the state. According to Mamdani, a settler is turned into a citizen through constitutional provisions and the formation of a new political community based on democratic and inclusive principles. In this light, are white people settlers and are black people natives? These two groups reinforce each other. One does not exist without the other. To do away with one is the elimination of the other.
In the words of Mamdani, “If the experience of Uganda is any guide, this cannot be without justice. And if the experience of Rwanda is any guide, this justice will need to be different from a victor’s justice. That different forms of justice, one that can establish the practical basis of a common political community between yesterday’s colonisers and colonise, is what I call survivor’s justice. Different from victor’s justice, it needs to be seen more like the practical embodiment of empathy than as the setting of a historical score. That, in my view, is the political challenge for contemporary South Africa.”
Finally, Frantz Fanon warned us about the shortcomings of the post-colonial national elites – predicting that leaders such as Julius Malema and Floyd Shivambu would use race and narrow nationalism to try and rise to power.