THE news headlines trailing Julius Malema’s visit to Europe suggest that the man is still living in the past and has a hazy view of the future. His key message borders on the usual socialist populist mantra of land redistribution, labour unionism, the racial victim card and revolutionalism in a world now driven by creativity and innovation.
Malema’s thinking, popular as it may be with poor South Africans, reminds of the story of one of our own freedom fighters, Disaster Bonga. After joining the liberation struggle in 1976, Bonga found himself in a situation which, according to him, needed him to seek safety in a cave as he had lost contact with the rest of his comrades.
Bonga holed himself up in that cave until 1986, surviving on fruits and river water, until he was choked out of the cave by children who were hunting in that bush. Bonga’s story has nothing much to do with Malema’s socialism as it was about safety, but the notion of extending the idea of safety beyond its relevance, for six years after the country had attained independence, bears resonance to Malema’s archaic ideas.
Malema’s speeches in Europe sounded like he was still caved in the ideas of the past, which he is trying to cut and paste into the future. For starters, redistributive measures are emotionally attractive, but have practically been unproductive and detrimental, as they have failed to improve economies and have worsened the lives of the previously marginalised groups. Most countries that have gone gung-ho on to that route have paid a huge price and found themselves in a worse-off situation. Malema has a good example in Zimbabwe.
In making this point, I am not in any way backing the racial imbalances of the past, but pointing that the redistributive approach is weak because it derives its ideological grounding on the existence of economic foundations established by the same — the settler investor or capitalist it seeks to displace. It separates the investor from the economy by creating an illusionary impression that the economy is thriving in a free sphere, where people can easily jump into and fleece themselves while marginalising others. It does not tell people that the economy is a web of hardworking people who invest and that anyone can prosper if they productively invest than wait for freebies.
It is on this basis that Malema’ view of the world becomes twisted, flawed and unrealistic. One can only fight for workers’ rights when there is an employer to give a job. Economic redistribution can only occur when there is an existing economy and in the case of South Africa, the economy remains in the hands of a few, but there are plenty of opportunities. The lives of the majority of South Africans today depend on that racially-imbalanced economy. And according to Malema’s thinking, South Africans must kill the goose that lays the eggs because the meat is tastier then the egg.
It is an ideological position which defies basic logic and undermines the ability of black South Africans to become part of the means of production unless they receive donations. This places white people in a position of power, as producers of the economy and black people as beneficiaries of free economic donations. This is one of the reasons it has not been easy for Africans to rise.
African countries that have adopted this approach have plunged into poverty and Malema needs to read the Zimbabwe story from November 14 1997, to the present day. He will understand why his country hosts Zimbabweans refugees as a result of the redistributive policies. He will also understand why highly qualified Zimbabweans are donating cheap labour in South Africa, when their country used to be the second biggest economy in Africa not so long ago.
The myopicism that has clouded panters of these policies has been largely because it eludes their minds that when such redistributive policies are implemented, those who drive the economy pack their means of production to the next destination.
They have the power to do so. The former Zimbabwe farmers are enjoying life in other African countries and yet the former farm worker is languishing in poverty. The former farms are now unproductive and yet the former Zimbabwe farmer continues to be productive in Zambia, Nigeria and other African countries. It is the same with those who owned the vibrant industry. The capacity to be productive and effectively manage the productivity is a very important factor.
There is enough experience from which future African leaders like Malema can learn. And this is important, seeing as the South African rand is fast taking the route to dooms land. These experiences require young leaders to be innovative ideologically and Malema has over the years shown that he belongs to the past. This is why every time he speaks, he is either talking about land and giving it for free or using revolution to threaten an investor, instead of inciting innovation among youth so that they can be part of the economic revolution than beneficiaries of handouts.
Perhaps Malema may not be the problem, but a victim and product of the African liberation struggle narrative. The entire story of the African liberation was built on false and realistic future promises of freebies, a future characterised by redistribution of the white settlers’ means of production and not one where the black person can be creative and innovative.
●Tapiwa Gomo is a development consultant based in Pretoria, South Africa