Embracing our common humanity
DR IMRAAN BUCCUS Buccus is senior research associate at ASRi and post doctoral fellow at DUT.
HERE, in the US, where I am attending a political science conference, the prospect of Donald Trump coming to power induces tremors of trepidation.
Most agree that as is typical with the far right, he is a man unbound by the conventional courtesies that grease the wheels of power. With Trump, the cracks in the US will continue to grow as politics became ever more polarised and rancid under the new master of spectacle.
And the recent electoral advances of extreme right leaders in the Netherlands and Argentina have sent shock waves across the international community.
Like Trump and former Brazilian far right president, Jair Bolsonaro, Gert Wilders in the Netherlands and Javier Milei in Argentina are demagogic populists who deny climate science, favour the rich and take dangerously xenophobic positions.
Trump’s xenophobia intersected with Islamophobia, most notoriously via the Muslim travel ban, and Wilders is notorious for advocating measures such as banning the Qur’an, shutting mosques and implementing strict immigration policies to curb what he calls “the Islamisation of the Netherlands”.
The victories of Wilders and Milei demonstrated the persisting appeal of populist leaders who incite ethno-nationalist hallucination, especially when combined with economic grievances and establishment resentment.
Wilders and Milei are not some sort of aberration. Across the world, far-right parties frequently exploit economic anxieties and fears of cultural change to garner support, creating a divisive narrative that portrays immigrants as threats to national identity and security. Such xenophobic tendencies within farright movements can exacerbate social tension, undermine social cohesion and pose challenges to inclusive, multicultural societies.
Milei’s victory has been a huge boost for the far right in Brazil where Bolsonaro’s supporters are desperately seeking to return to state power.
In Europe, Wilders’s victory has galvanised the kindred reactionary movements gaining influence in countries like Sweden, Germany and France.
In all the countries, far right parties – namely, the Sweden Democrats, the Alternative for Germany and Marie le Penn’s Comités Jeanne – are openly Islamophobic and often aim to restrict Islamic religious symbols and expressions in public spaces, along with proposals for tighter immigration controls. This contributes to an environment that marginalises and stigmatises Muslim communities.
In the UK, former home secretary Suella Braverman adopted extremist anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies.
She declared her dream was seeing asylum seekers physically deported en masse.
Braverman also described legal refugee influxes as an “invasion”, echoing the same level of crude dehumanising terminology that we often see applied to Palestinians.
In the US, the international “wins” for brazenly intolerant politicians suggest potential pathways for Trump’s own comeback bid, as his trademark immigrant-bashing could draw renewed passion with European and South American allies cheering him on.
The imposition of travel bans targeting predominantly Muslim countries, the border wall proposal and the separation of families at the US-Mexico border sent shock waves across the world, and left migrants and Muslims in America feeling acutely vulnerable.
More broadly, the creeping global normalisation of raging against Muslims and migrants makes their oppression likelier, from Palestine to India, while curtailing religious freedoms across the West.
Unchecked reactionary demagogues have repeatedly restricted pluralism after conjuring minority groups as threats, to let national elites off the hook for declining standards of living among the middle and working classes.
In economically precarious South Africa, where mass unemployment, terrifying levels of crime, infrastructural decay and gross corruption have alienated citizens from the storied but now rotten governing ANC, newly-disruptive populist factions deliberately stoke dangerous divisions along xenophobic lines.
Here Islamophobia is not a problem outside the more reactionary parts of the white community but there is rampant xenophobia against poor and working-class Africa and
Herman Mashaba, the former mayor of Johannesburg, formed his own nativist movement fixated on immigration after quitting South Africa’s largest opposition party.
Mashaba flames anxieties by scapegoating migrants for issues that range from unemployment to violent crime.
These are real issues, but are not a result of migration. His cynical ploy consolidates appeal among alienated constituencies by falsely branding immigrants the sole internal obstacle to their advancement rather than incompetent governance.
Another dangerous figure is Gayton McKenzie, an ex-convict-turned-business-magnate, whose Patriotic Alliance party pledges to reclaim power for economically-abandoned communities from privileged elites. McKenzie also rails against immigrants “stealing and plundering” resources rightfully owed to South Africa citizens’ denied economic mobility.
The EFF have, famously, flipflopped on the question of xenophobia, but its opportunism is rank, and it is not possible that it returns to xenophobic attitudes if its leaders felt it would serve it at the hustings. And while demagogic figures like Mashaba and McKenzie are extremists on the question of migration, the mainstream parties, the ANC and the DA, are also increasingly xenophobic.
Indeed, Aaron Motsoaledi’s unhinged xenophobia places him in the same category as the lies of Braverman and Trump.
Ascending ethno-nationalist movements display striking parallels across borders sowing social divisions for electoral gain through inciting hatred and scapegoating migrants.
The trends risk severe democratic erosion. Perhaps the most extreme cases of this kind of politics are India and Israel. Both countries have reached the point where it’s difficult to call them democracies with a straight face.
Across the world, we need leadership focused on inclusive uplift rather than short-term political gains from sowing bitterness. Anchoring rhetoric and policy in economic justice and principled internationalism can transcend divides.
The mission endures to cultivate hope rather than hate, by embracing our common humanity – no matter origin, language or faith.
Coalitions spanning grass-roots organisations to governments must co-author new social contracts where no one remains economically exploited or marginalised or politically stigmatised.
Recent successes for the left in Brazil and Columbia show that the turn to the far right in the Netherlands and Argentina is not the inevitable future for other countries. But progressive politics requires progressive popular organisations, and outside of some trade unions and social movements this is often sorely lacking in South Africa.
Ultimately, South Africa’s political destiny will bend toward wherever citizens collectively steer it.
The ball, as the old cliché has it, is ultimately, in our own hands.
African News Agency