Thursday
Jul262012

South Africa: The Fear of Populism

The slow progress in changing economic institutions since 1994, which we have discussed in the last two posts (here and here), whatever its cause, creates another problem, or maybe two.

One is the obvious one that the lack of progress will create a huge populist backlash against the ANC. In 2009 after Thabo Mbeki had been forced out of power by his own party, the ANC opted for Jacob Zuma as the president. Many saw this at the time as a lurch towards radical chance in the platform of the party. Indeed Zuma’s theme song of “Bring me my machine gun” seems to be a radical departure from the pipe smoking cerebral Mbeki. You can see Zuma singing it here at the ANC national conference:

The translation of the words reveal that this is a song with a simple message.

My machine my machine gun
Please bring my machine gun
My machine gun my machine gun
Please bring my machine gun
My machine gun my machine gun
Please bring my machine gun
Please bring my machine gun
You’re pulling me back
My machine gun, Please bring my machine gun

Many others in the ANC would like to reach for their machine guns as well. A notorious one is Julius Malema, former head of the ANC Youth League, who reveled in singing another song of the struggle against Apartheid called “Shoot the Boer” (Boer referring to white South Africans of Dutch descent) whose (Zulu/English) lyrics are:

Ayasab’ amagwala (the cowards are scared)
dubula dubula (shoot shoot)
ayeah
dubula dubula (shoot shoot )
ayasab ‘a magwala (the cowards are scared)
dubula dubula (shoot shoot)
awu yoh
dubula dubula (shoot shoot)
aw dubul’ibhunu (shoot the Boer)
dubula dubula (shoot shoot)
aw dubul’ibhunu (shoot the Boer)
dubula dubula (shoot shoot)
aw dubul’ibhunu (shoot the Boer)
dubula dubula (shoot shoot)
aw dubul’ibhunu (shoot the Boer)
dubula dubula (shoot shoot)

Malema has demanded the expropriation of land and assets from whites without compensation and has praised the Zimbabwean model. Yet Malema, though there is clear evidence of his popularity amongst some of the population, was convicted of “hate speech” and expelled from the ANC. Zuma rushed to distance himself and the party from such class and has yet to reach for his machine gun since becoming president. Despite many anxieties and increasing inequality so far populism seems only a distant threat in South Africa.

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