When Floyd Shivambu had a go at Ismail Momoniat in parliament’s portfolio committee on finance for “undermining African leadership” it sounded a bit like the usual EFF rhetoric, their constant dips into the racial cesspool that is SA politics.
Nothing unusual about that, every populist organisation or leader has their safe place to launch attacks. And for the EFF, hiding behind SA’s racial mess is the basis of their populism. When all else fails, race politics comes to their rescue. That’s what it appeared to be, until their commander in chief took the baton from his deputy over the weekend.
Malema did not hold back in trying to defend his deputy’s indefensible attack on Momoniat. He decided to have a full go at Momoniat’s roots.
“The majority of Indians are racist,” he screamed. He went on to demonstrate how racist they are in that “they do not marry black Africans.” And those that do are ostracised in their own Indian communities. This attack on a whole race of people simply to defend his deputy would have had apartheid’s architect Hendrik Verwoerd smiling in his grave.
It’s important that we go into the heart of why the EFF, and particularly Malema, loves dabbling in populist racist rhetoric. There is no doubt Malema has matured politically since being kicked out of the ruling party. He has put together a party who pride themselves in being a party of thinkers. They pride themselves in being a party that has made education fashionable.
But more than that, they are a party that has shown through action that a 6% share of the vote should not mean curling up into a corner and allowing oneself to be bulldozed by the 60%-plus of the ruling party. Numbers aren’t everything. Actions are. Up to a point.
While the EFF has achieved commendable victories from their tiny 6% in the national election, they are well aware that they need to be in control of something: a municipality, a metro, a province or even a government department. Without that they will continue to be a miniature dog with a big bark but very limited bite. The bite comes with the numbers.
There are deeply embedded divisions between African and Indian communities, especially in areas such as KwaZulu-Natal. Apartheid did very well in entrenching those divisions and has indeed created artificial class differences, with the Indian communities tending to be merchants and Africans more the menial labourers. In such a setting, resentment is inevitable.
But in the struggle against the evil injustices of the past there are leaders of Indian descent whose outlook transcended the artificially created race barriers. Mac Maharaj, Ahmed Kathrada, Ismail Mohamed and many others rejected the limited privilege the system bestowed on their race and took to the trenches alongside African people.
Malema uses rhetoric to gain the vote of black Africans who are victims of “Indian racism”. They want to go back and search for instances of Indians showing themselves to be better than blacks and use that to gain the sympathy vote of those who consider “the majority of Indians” to be racist.
But one day, when Indians and blacks are at each other’s throats in KZN, Malema and the EFF will be nowhere to be seen.