First Brexit, Now Trump. Could Julius Malema Be Next South African President?

Written by Dana Sanchez

Populism and a backlash against globalization explain the British and American choices of Brexit and Donald Trump for U.S. president, Times Live reported.

There’s a feeling that not everyone benefits from globalization, and South Africans should be asking if Julius Malema will be their next president, says Harvard history professor Niall Ferguson.

Ferguson spoke Monday in Johannesburg at the Discovery Leadership Summit, a global
thought leadership event on issues relating to business, economics, government and science.

Brexit and Trump’s wins surprised pollsters and mainstream media but could have been predicted by studying South America’s populist presidents, he said.

There are four things that can predict populist electorate decisions such as Trump for president, leading disenfranchised voters to vote for populist demagogues, according to Ferguson:

  • Increased immigration into the country.
  • People perceiving corruption of the elites and political class.
  • Growing inequality in a country.
  • Economic shocks and recession.

Populists such as Trump and former South American presidents speak to people, promising to end immigration and improve the economy. At first everything seems fine. However‚ after an initial improvement in the economy‚ things end badly in the same way they did when Argentina and Venezuela elected populist presidents‚ he said.

Life does not improve for disenfranchised people when they elect populists‚ because stopping migration and stopping free trade does not build economies‚ Ferguson warned.

Populist presidents often are corrupt too and they don’t like holding free and fair elections for a second term.

“Watch Trump and his family and see how business‚ political and personal interests collide,” Ferguson said.

Practically no one saw any of this coming, Tony Leon wrote in Rand Daily Mail. He cited Nassim Nicholas Taleb, whose “Black Swan” thesis describes events of low probability but of devastating impact:

Who would have bet that last December we would run through three finance ministers in just four days? More recently, the admired old-new Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan stands like Horatio on the bridge trying to hold back the ratings agencies armed with their lethal downgrade-axes. Who would have bet that he would be charged with crimes by an agency of the same state whose reputation and resources he desperately defends?

There is some Trump in South African political, even among those opposed to his ideology — if he has one, Leon said.

Malema trades in Trump-like hatred, stirring his audience with incendiary words. But there are differences. Trump‘s populism will get him to the White House. “Malema is a rather unpopular populist,” Leon said. In the August election, he got 8 percent of the vote — the same amount Trump got from African Americans. Trump called some Mexican immigrants “rapists” and still got a quarter of the Latino vote. Malema lacks minority support. He pulls from the majority. “Of course, all this can change, especially in the face of an ever-weakening ruling party,” Leon said.

There‘s a lot of Trumpism in Zuma too: a disregard for the constitution and an attraction to Russian strongman Vladimir Putin. Putin has been accused of having  leverage over Trump in the form “of debts to Russian sources that keep his business empire afloat,” Business Insider reported. The same has been said of Zuma and hidden debts to Russia’s nuclear industry.

“Then there‘s the fact that both of these men (Trump and Zuma) have been accused of sexual assault,” Leon said.

Malema told supporters Monday in Bloemfontein that former president F.W. de Klerk would be in jail if his party was in power, Independent Online reported. De Klerk was president from 1989 to May 1994 and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 along with Nelson Mandela for his role in ending apartheid.

Malema’s statements are like those made by Trump whose controversial views fueled his popularity, said Themba Mthembu, secretary of the South African Communist Party of KwaZulu-Natal.

“He (Trump) was selected for saying the wrong things. It is a demonstration of how people lose faith in the system to a point that a lion can come roaring and people still vote for it,” Mthembu said, according to Independent Online.

Malema’s statements are misunderstood, Mthembu said.

“The intention is not what people think. It is pure populism using the sensitive history and experience of our people.”

The next presidential election in South Africa is scheduled for 2019.