JOHANNESBURG – While South Africans were busy analysing Ramahlwe Mphahlele’s wonder goal against SuperSport United on Sunday, the US electorate was at the height of an elections frenzy that pitted Donald Trump’s populism against the world.
Trump has thus far been true to his slogan of putting US interests above all else. The strategy has paid off, with millions of marginalised Americans seeing in Trump the true value of going it alone.
And in Trump’s inimical way, he upped his rhetoric, telling hundreds of Republican faithful that they had to be afraid – very afraid – of immigrants who were planning to launch an alien-like takeover of the US.
In his language, immigrants are people of a pigmentation that is darker than his.
He even tweeted a racist campaign ad featuring a courtroom video of an illegal immigrant from Mexico convicted in the 2014 killings of two police officers, juxtaposed with scenes of migrants headed through Mexico.
The ad fell flat after fellow Republicans, NBC, Fox News and Facebook found it to be in bad taste and pulled it off their platforms.
But he had made his message: immigrants were a threat to the global world order and each country should take responsibility for keeping its citizens within its borders.
It was a chilling irony coming from the head of a country that was largely founded by immigrants from the four corners of the winds following what is known as the American dream.
As has been the case, Trump could not let the Democrats off that easily, blaming them for everything from wanting to erase US borders to planning to spend $100 billion (R1.43 trillion) on immigrants and inviting caravan after caravan into the US.
At the same time, his son Donald Trump jr was assuring Republicans that the future looked good for America.
The young Trump said if there was anything his father had ever lied about, it was that Americans would be sick of his father’s wins.
He assured hundreds of party officials that this was not a joke.
And it wasn’t.
Under Trump, the global order – which was based on mutual respect and co-operation that could bring peace through prosperity in the world – has become a myth coined by some canny economists who want to piggyback on the success of the US.
The strategy has yielded the desired results, with investors fleeing the global economy for safety in the US as worries about trade tensions with every country Trump does not like spook markets.
Trump’s theory is that the US is faced with some mythical enemy that mutates in form from the Chinese to Iranians – so much for the land of the free.
But the scary part is that his mastery of such populist exclusivity has attracted the attention of the world, pushing the global trade order into the list of endangered species that once roamed the world.
It has reignited what was previously the marginalised far right-wing, who take issue with anyone who does not look like its nationals.
In Europe, the Swedish Democrats, an anti-immigrant party with white supremacist roots, increased its share of the vote share to 17.6 percent from 12.9 percent four years ago.
Poland’s Law and Justice party won 38 percent of votes in 2015, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel has had to change her tune when a pushback on her open-door immigration policy saw the right-wing AfD (Alternative für Deutschland) gaining 13 percent of the national vote in 2017, while Italy’s Lega Nord has entered a coalition government.
It has brought a new order that has seen falling economies give rise to brash populism.
It has pushed the developing world into further under-development as geopolitical risk curbs exports and faltering trade conditions curtail growth.
In South Africa, business activity in the private sector has fallen to the steepest decline rate in more than four years, weighed down by the slump in commodity appetite from China.
Oil prices have risen steadily, pushing transport and food costs higher.
Unemployment has neared 30 percent and the poor have been condemned to further indignity.
The economy is in a technical recession.
A large part of this subdued outlook is as a result of risks that are beyond South Africa’s control, while some is home-brewed.
Scientists have, however, found no evidence of it being brought about by the existence of foreign nationals within its borders.
On the contrary, foreign nationals continue to contribute to our overall economic welfare and most pay taxes like every other person plying their skill in any economy.
That is why it is disturbing to see people such as Joburg mayor Herman Mashaba taking aim at illegal immigrants.
Mashaba has made it his favourite pastime to blame undocumented immigrants for perpetuating unemployment and crippling the country’s economy. His stance has permeated the DA hierarchy which has now adopted an anti-immigrants attitude as part of its campaign to win the elections next year.
Even party leader Mmusi Maimane says that for a country with resources as scarce as in South Africa, uncontrolled immigration cannot be allowed.
While this has worked to divert attention from real problems, it could reignite a violent reaction against foreign nationals.
We have seen it when communities blame foreigners for the ills that have afflicted South Africa.
It is a dangerous game to play.
Just last week, Brazil voted in Jair Bolsonaro, a rabid racist nationalist who has made fun of the global trade order, same-sex relations and told harrowing jokes about women.
In a country with unemployment levels of more than 12 percent, foreigners were always going to be an easy target.
Brazil is also struggling to recover from a seismic recession that has dragged on for more than two years, before officially ending in 2017.
All Bolsonaro needed to do was to point to foreigners as a problem.
The world needs to redefine itself and determine whether it is ready to restore some humanity in the geo-global political and economic order.
It has to return to the roots of global solidarity that has held for more than 70 years, because of emphasis on co-operation, non-protectionism and civil liberties.
It has to make space so that people like Roxane Hauzeur – the Belgian fashion designer who has dedicated her life to helping immigrants in a country that is also facing an anti-immigrant sentiment – do have a place in our midst.
And that even in immigrant-infested communities such as the US, Europe, Latin America and South Africa, we can still afford a shred of decency towards our fellow human beings.