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The Economic Freedom Fighters of South Africa

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Contrary to the Westernized, popular belief that South Africa is a “model democracy”, it is one of  Africa’s most dysfunctional democracies.

South Africa’s apartheid regime is remembered as one of the worst crimes against humanity of the 20th  century. The economic system that underpinned it remains alive and well today.

Whites comprise only 12 percent of the population but, thanks to the racist exploitation of blacks over the past 350 years, still own 75 percent of the country’s land.

U.S.-based bank, Citigroup, recently ranked South Africa as the world’s richest country, in terms of its mineral reserves, worth an estimated $2.5 trillion. Whites and foreigners own a staggering 80 percent of this wealth.

South Africa is unquestionably, the world’s most racially unequal society.

Democracy is not about holding elections, simply to choose which particular representatives of the elite class should rule over the masses. True democracy is about equalizing the economy and giving economic power back to the majority.

The Economic Freedom Fighters party is campaigning on a platform of three pillars, designed to democratize the economy and overthrow the economic legacy of apartheid. First, expropriation of land for redistribution amongst the masses. Second, nationalization of mines and banks for the benefit of the people and, finally, free education and health care for all.

This week marks the most important election in South Africa’s post-apartheid history. The EFF is the party of the poor, and if given power by the electorate, it will do what the ruling ANC has failed to do since 1994: provide economic freedom for the poor African majority, at the expense of the predominately white capitalists.

Despite twenty years of South African democracy, five white-owned companies still control 75 percent of South Africa’s stock market. It’s the largest concentration of wealth and power on earth.

Corporate powers, which underwrote apartheid in South Africa, are reminiscent of the great German companies that ran the Third Reich’s economy.

The only difference between the Third Reich and apartheid is that ‘reconciliation’ in Germany did not leave pro-Nazi financiers in business wheras in South Africa, those financiers are still firmly in control.

During apartheid, Britain was the single biggest investor in South Africa, followed by the United States, yielding the highest return on capital in the world. The United States and the other Western capitalist governments not only supported, but benefited from the racist apartheid regime. With  economic control still concentrated in the hands of the white elite, we see no difference between the old and the new South African regimes. Blacks have reclaimed the political crown, but whites have remained with the crown jewels.

Today, Western media demonizes Julius Malema, the EFF’s commander-in-chief, because he is the most outspoken proponent of economic justice. It is no surprise, considering Malema’s ideologies threaten the economic stability of some of the most powerful white capitalists in the world.

To this day, a large portion of South Africa’s budget pays apartheid-era debt to Western nations. This means the people pay for their oppression twice over. Clearly, the fabric of apartheid, which the Western media claims is long dead, still generates large sums of money, lining the pockets of the very same Western capitalists.

Neo-apartheid companies in South Africa made record profits for Western shareholders since democracy in 1994, all the while shedding hundreds of thousands of jobs.

In fact, among the 295 companies on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, only 4 percent of the CEOs are black. Far from being a “model democracy”, South Africa is an example of how not to practice democracy.

The equitable redistribution of land is the first pillar of the EFF’s manifesto.

Under the 1913 Land Act, blacks were not allowed to own, or even rent, land outside designated native reserves.

By 1994, some 87 percent of agricultural land was in white hands. Precious little has changed during the intervening twenty years. One exception is that black people in rural areas have lost 600,000 jobs since “independence”.

At face value, the Economic Freedom Fighters’ call for agrarian revolution may appear to be simply about land. But, it is about so much more. For Africans, land is not merely land. Land is a place to be born, a place to grow up, a place to call home, and a place to be buried. Land is a source of food, a livelihood, and an asset to bequeath to our next generations. Above all else, land is a source of African pride. Land is never merely land.

The second pillar of the EFF’s manifesto is the nationalization of mines.

Pick up the financial report of any major South African mining company, and one will understand why Mr. Malema is advocating nationalization.

If you examine a sample income of 100 dollars from a typical South African mine, $22 flows directly into the mine owners’ pockets and $17 goes to the corporate executives. Crucially, over 90 percent of these beneficiaries are white.

The rest is shared between suppliers ($18), capital goods providers ($16), labour ($14), government in the form of taxes ($9), and debt providers ($4).

So the notion that “the nation’s resource wealth is in the hands of a few white industrialists and foreigners” is not one of Mr. Malema’s populist fictions, but a cold, hard and uncomfortable fact.

The EFF plans to use Venezuela as a model of how to nationalize mineral wealth for the benefit of the people. Venezuela, under Hugo Chavez, used its natural resources to go from being one of the most unequal countries in Latin America to the most equal one, in terms of income.

Democracy is not merely about elections. True democracy is also about equal opportunity through education and the right to life through access to health care. In Venezuela, the government has used nationalization of mineral resources to pay for free health care and free education for the masses. The EFF plans to do the same.

Every year, wealthy Western shareholders repatriate hundreds of millions of dollars from South African mines to Western countries in the form of rent, dividends and profits. Nationalization would channel money towards building bridges and clinics at home, as opposed filling Swiss bank accounts abroad. Unlike the ANC, the EFF will put the interests of local labour above foreign capital.

Any true African revolution has three stages: political, agrarian and economic. The ANC has failed on the second and third stages.

The ANC liberated South Africa politically, but economically the ruling party shackles the majority by presiding over its white monopoly of bourgeois capitalism.

Under the ANC, corruption is booming and the economy is stagnating, at a time when the rest of Africa is starting to boom. The EFF has vowed to tackle corruption by pledging to do away with Ministerial cars and houses. All EFF parliamentarians will be forced use public hospitals, private cars, and send their children to public school.

South Africa is the continent’s most powerful nation, however it is also the continent’s most economically colonized nation. Therefore, an EFF election victory would not only democratize and decolonize South Africa, it will encourage other African nations to do the same.

A full half century after the first African nation gained independence, the World Bank estimates that a staggering 65 percent of Sub-Saharan Africa’s best arable land is still controlled by white settlers or multinational corporations.

The World Bank also estimates that as much as 70 percent of the net wealth in Sub-Saharan Africa is owned by non-indigenous Africans or foreigners.

The EFF stands to become a future model for all white-dominated, African economies. If the continent’s most powerful nation can achieve political, agrarian, and economic independence, then the rest of Africa will follow suit.

“If the ANC does not deliver the goods, then the people must do to it what they have done to the apartheid regime”, once remarked Nelson Mandela. Truth is, the ANC has failed the people of South Africa. The current ruling party has been thoroughly co-opted by neo-liberal, big business. It clearly no longer represents the interests of the poor and middle class. The Economic Freedom Fighters are now the party for progressive Africans to support.

Garikai Chengu is a research scholar at Harvard University.

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Garikai Chengu is a scholar at Harvard University. Contact him on garikai.chengu@gmail.com.

CounterPunch Magazine

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