The rise of populism globally has had no clearer manifestation than the election of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States of America. When the news broke of his presidential win, I clearly remember a deep sense of fear entering my consciousness.
This fear was as a result of the polarization of society and our current socio-political global context. My fear is that anyone who is in a position of power or leadership and who employs similar tactics and spews similar ideologies to Trump, could be elected to power or gain a critical mass of support .Particularly within the Western Cape, which would be fertile ground for such a movement with its history of segregation, disenfranchisement and high levels of inequality in the province.
Within the context of the Western Cape this individual would run a campaign which would speak primarily to the poor and disenfranchised uneducated Coloured electorate in the Western Cape. A large percentage of whom are unemployed or employed in very low paying jobs. This technique of to pandering to those whom are poor and feel disenfranchised, many of who are uneducated is a hallmark of those whom espouse Trumpian policies. This kind of rhetoric would strike a chord by any movement which uses it, especially in the context of Cape Town. Being a city marked by a history of slavery, violent oppression, division and extreme inequality. This results in the creation of fertile soil for these populist narratives to take root.
This “saviour of the people” would tell this population that their lack of employment was solely due to the fact that the ANC was engaging in policies of reverse racism. The notion of reverse racism and the debunking of this toxic narrative requires addressing. Targeted economic and social policies which seek to address the structural and economic marginalisation of Black peoples which occurred through Apartheid and colonisation are not reverse racism. They are a basic need in order to right the wrongs of our countries exploitative and discriminatory past.
I cannot recall the number of times I’ve heard Coloured individuals go on soliloquies about how during Apartheid they were in the middle of the peking order, with White people above them and Black people below them. However, now under the ANC’s leadership Coloured people are now actually at the bottom of the pile and in an even worse situation than they were under the National Party.
As South Africans we watched in horror with the world as African foreign nationals were subjected to violent xenophobic attacks. A narrative that emerged at the time was how foreigners whom have sought asylum in South Africa have taken their jobs and that they have put a strain on the economy.
This villainization and painting foreigners as the “other” and the associated action of shifting the blame of all problems in society to this other is a common tool used by Trumpian actors. Crucially this other is not all foreigners, they are only African nationals. This is much like those whom espouse Trumpian values, whom are also very calculated and selected about whom they deem the other. It is never those from the so-called developed world whom are targeted and villainized in the latter case but instead black immigrants from the so-called developing world.
This “saviour of the people” would therefore advocate for a clear stance which “puts Coloureds first “in the Western Cape which echoes that of Trump’s stance of making America great again. They would advocate for the banning of all asylum seekers seeking refuge in the Western Cape which echoes Trumps famous anti-immigration stance enumerated in the toxic slogan of “Build That Wall”.
Once such group which I have seen the rise of are “G@tvol Cape Town”. A grassroots movement whose spokesperson says that the movement is for the upliftment of Coloured people. Their spokesperson continues and notes that the liberation of Coloured people from the oppressive hand of the “Black ANC government” is crucial.
This group also states that all those living in Cape Town whom were not here pre 1994 should sell their assets and leave the province. This movement believes that it is due it the large influx of South Africans to the Western Cape, particularly of a province like the Eastern Cape whom have put a huge drain on the province’s economy.
This huge drain on the provinces economy has resulted in the Coloured population of the Western Cape becoming exponentially poorer. This group even argues that the Western Cape become an independent republic, due to the large amount of money that the province sends to the national treasury. Money, which in their view could be better spent on the upliftment of the Western Cape.
The problem with this narrative however is that it is not congruent with data on the issue. When on looks at the percentage of those in our nation that live below the poverty line, this figure for Black Men and Women lies at 43% and 48% respectively. Whilst this figure lies at about 23% for both Coloured men and women.
This above narrative is shown to be false once again when one notes that the annual household income for Black people in our nation is R92 993. This figure stands at R172 765 for Coloured people (Stats Sa, 2018). Finally, for Black people in our nation the unemployment rate stands at 31.1%, for Coloured people this stands at 24% (Stats SA, 2018).
I fear that within the current political climate a group such a one discussed above would gain great prominence and popularity. I fear that such a group would be able to manipulate the fear and anger of the disenfranchised uneducated coloured electorate within the Western Cape for their own political gain.
However, I hope and pray these predictions are wrong and that we as South Africans are far too intelligent and have a far too nuanced understanding of our country’s history than our American counter parts, whom fell hook line and sinker for Trumps campaign promises.
Mikhail Petersen holds a Bachelors of Social Science degree in Politics and Economic History as well as an LLB from UCT. Mikhail is an intern within the Sustained Dialogue Programme at the institute for Justice and Reconciliation, based in Cape Town.