In the municipal elections of 2016, the EFF won more than 11 percent of the vote in Gauteng province, the province that includes the slums surrounding Johannesburg and Pretoria, and more than 16 percent in Limpopo, the northernmost province that contains a higher proportion of poor people than any other in South Africa.
The ANC’s conversion on the land-seizure issue reflects not the ANC’s militancy, but its fear. Ramaphosa—whatever his other failings, a person keenly aware of realities—understands very well what uncompensated land seizures will mean for South Africa’s economic future. Even now, he’s inserting caveats into his endorsement of the concept: It’s still being studied, nothing will happen soon, he proposes to redistribute state-owned land rather than privately owned land.
But parliamentary elections are approaching in 2019. If the EFF takes larger bites out of ANC support as the election nears, prepare for a more radical ANC land policy.
And if that happens, prepare for two more things: accelerating South African economic decline and state failure—and intensifying racial messaging from American white nationalists. Americans have often seen South Africa as a distorted reflection of their own country, its fate an alternative or a foretelling of their own. On its own, South Africa is an important place: It is still, despite everything, the most advanced, stable, liberal, and democratic country in Africa. But the transatlantic-reflection effect makes South Africa especially important for Americans at this moment. Trump supporters such as Carlson are testing many themes for the election of 2020—and the message that A vote against Trump is a vote for white-race suicide already heads the list.
Race baiters feed off one another. In our interconnected world, the cross feeding can now cross borders. Trump’s tweeting empowers provocateurs such as Malema, who can now condemn the more cautious approach of the Ramaphosa government as craven truckling to an internationally despised U.S. president. In turn, Trumpists in the United States can seize on the provocations of Malema as proof of the malign intentions of dark-skinned people worldwide, as in this August 25 Breitbart News story, by Joel Pollak:
Radical South African politician Julius Malema confirmed President Donald Trump’s concerns Thursday, declaring defiantly that the point of the country’s proposed new “expropriation without compensation” policy would be to take land from white farmers.
South Africa and the United States are very different societies, but their histories have traced some similar trajectories—and they often exert cultural influence on one another. At the zenith of American self-confidence, in the 1980s and 1990s, the United States prodded and assisted South Africa toward a future of free markets and racial equality. Now—at this lower moment in U.S. history—South African mistakes could empower the most reactionary forces here, as well as impoverish South Africa itself. Liberalism and illiberalism have both gone global. Humanity’s best hopes and worst prejudices sustain each other or degrade each other, across borders, together.