Wits University’s Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Adam Habib, has warned that the violent and intimidatory behaviour of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) in shutting down Clicks stores over a racialised advertisement reflects the emergence of ‘a new post-apartheid fascist political project in South Africa’.
In a strongly worded article in the Daily Maverick, Habib warned: ‘If we remain silent against the rise of a new generation of racist and violent young activists, we do so at our peril.’
EFF leaders and supporters involved in the Clicks shutdown ‘are among a cohort who romanticise war and violence. They speak of Fanon and Biko, but their ideas are more akin to those of Mobutu Sese Seko, Idi Amin, and Hendrik Verwoerd. They and their supporters do not speak on behalf of the majority of young people, and they are the building blocks for a new post-apartheid fascist political project in South Africa.’
He said that, the EFF, ‘long corralled by Covid-19 and awaiting an opportunity for political spectacle, grasped the moment’ to exploit the controversy over the racialised advertisement for hair products.
‘The act was, of course, a blatant power grab by the EFF. It has no formal authority to act in the manner that it did. The act was essentially equivalent to a local gang muscling businesses to do as they suggest or be forcibly closed down.’
Furthermore, ‘(there) was also no leadership from the political authorities on the matter. Government remained silent on this blatant violation of the law. And there were many others in civil society including journalists, activists, and other commentators who easily got distracted by the racism and ignored the threats of violence and the extra-legal character of the EFF’s response.’
He said that every generation ‘has this layer of extreme and intolerant activists, but the voice of this one is amplified by Twitter and other social media’.
‘The deep inequalities of our society, and the racial form that they assume, make it a fertile ground for this anger. The failures of our political class to not only transform society but their own individual complicity in corruption and incompetence, leads many of them to deflect from their own failures. And the incompetence of government and the police ensures that violent actions can be undertaken with impunity.
‘We remain silent in the face of all of this at our peril. Now more than ever we need to openly talk about how to confront and manage this cohort of racist and violent young activists.’
There had to be ‘consequences’ for ‘abhorrent behaviour’, Habib warned, saying this was the ‘single biggest challenge of progressive thinkers, leaders and activists’.
‘For too long progressives have avoided confronting the challenge of security in a democratic society.’