from Africa in Transition

South Africa’s EFF and Charleston

June 24, 2015

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Blog posts represent the views of CFR fellows and staff and not those of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.

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The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), a populist , far-left “revolutionary” political party led by Julius Malema is now the third largest in South Africa’s National Assembly under the system of proportional representation, though it received only about 6.35 percent of the votes in the 2014 elections. It has issued a statement on the Emanuel Church massacre in Charleston, South Carolina. It will have credibility, especially to those unfamiliar the United States.

After expressing its condolences to the families of the victims, the EFF statement advances the argument that what happened in Charleston was “an anti-black racist killing.” Few would quarrel with that conclusion. The statement goes on to say that, “The African-American community in the United States of America has been under racist attack by the policing system which continues to treat them as sub-citizens without the full protection of the law. Black people under the U.S. criminal system, purely because of the color of their skin, are permanent crime suspects whom the police harass and kill with impunity.” For most observers of the American scene, this is a gross over-statement. Nevertheless, in the aftermath of the highly publicized police killings in Ferguson, Missouri, and Staten Island, New York, the reluctance of grand juries to indict police, and the disproportionate size of the black U.S. prison population, the EFF overstatement has credibility, especially with an African audience. The statement reaches the conclusion that “…America is light years from attaining a human face. It remains the breeding ground for racist whites even after both Mandela and Obama.”

The EFF statement then goes on to harness the Charleston tragedy to its political agenda, including the removal in South Africa of apartheid and colonial symbols “because they continue to inspire white supremacy.” After invoking the universality of the black diaspora, it calls on the African Union to “…promote and support African-Americans because they are clearly not safe under Obama and will never be under all the successive governments of the U.S.”

The EFF statement is a reminder that for many Africans, the image of the United States is too often inseparable from white supremacy, racism, and violence. This is at least part of the basis for the assertions by many African intellectuals that the United States is hypocritical in its advocacy of human rights and its criticism of African “big men” and corruption. Within a South African context, the strident anti-white tone of the Charleston statement may foreshadow more radical EFF rhetoric. The statement even includes what might be a threat against American whites: “As Africans in Africa we want to send a strong message to white America that we are watching the continuing brutal murder of our brothers and sisters and we must not be pushed to a place where we will have to respond.”

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