The country has emerged as a primary target in the White House’s global offensive against Western liberal culture, writes Shannon Ebrahim.
The Trump administration is targeting South Africa as a destination in need of its Alt-Right ideology. If Trump decides to send South African Joel Pollak, the editor-at-large of Breitbart news as the new US Ambassador to South Africa, then the agenda of the White House in South Africa is clear.
The primary reason to send one of Trump’s most valuable ideological weapons to South Africa would be the perceived need to overturn a ruling party which is a pillar in the world of progressive left wing and inclusive politics. The goal would be for one of Breitbart’s foremost ideologists – Joel Pollak – to lay the foundations for a right wing party in South Africa to take power at the next elections, which could eventually buy into Trump’s far right worldview.
This was the trajectory of Pollak himself – from DA speech writer for Tony Leon and family friend of Helen Zille, to an electoral candidate for the Tea Party in the US, to a grand proponent of the alt-Right as editor of Breitbart news. Pollak positioned himself as a mouthpiece of his boss Steve Bannon. Not only did he defend Bannon on US national TV shows, but he called Bannon a national hero for saving Trump’s campaign. During the US election campaign Bannon had described Trump as a blunt instrument for his ideological goals.
Breitbart news has prided itself on being the platform to spread alt-Right ideology both in the US and globally, and it disseminates the ideas at the core of Trump’s world view – that the West is at war with Islam. According to Breitbart’s former editor-at-large – the ultra-conservative Ben Shapiro, Breitbart became a party organ during Trump’s election campaign. Shapiro became critical of the prevailing view at Breitbart that any Muslim anywhere is a sleeper agent for jihad, and ultimately resigned. He was very close to Pollak.
Pollak’s main competitor for the job of US ambassador to South Africa is said to be Mike Cernovich, who is known as the alt-Right’s social media firebrand. He has been vocal in his ambition to influence South Africa’s foreign policy on race relations and to counter its support for Palestine. One of his infamous tweets was that “the white genocide in South Africa is real.”
Shapiro had predicted that the new Trump team will include Breitbart staffers. Trump has already rewarded some of Breitbart’s staff, with its immigration reporter Julia Hahn brought onto Trump’s advisory team, and Breitbart’s National Security Editor Sebastian Gorka becoming Deputy Assistant to the President. Pollak had actively sought the role of Trump’s speechwriter, but when that failed, he was touted as ambassador to South Africa.
Whether Cernovich, Pollak, or another alt-Right ideologue, what has emerged quite distinctly is that South Africa is a primary target in the White House’s global offensive against western liberal culture. In strategic terms, South Africa is considered one of the last remaining pillars of left wing politics in the influential BRICS group, in addition to China. India, Russia and Brazil have already shifted to the political right. Trump’s advisors have long been beating the drums of war as far as China is concerned, and now regime change in South Africa is likely the unspoken order of the day.
If the DA is the only viable vehicle for right wing politics in South Africa, then its coffers are destined to be injected with cash, with an elusive paper trail that leads all the way back to Washington. This is juxtaposed against the ruling ANC which has become sidetracked and pre-occupied with its internal political succession battles and struggles against corruption, leaving it vulnerable and unprepared to counter and overcome sophisticated attempts at regime change at the ballot box.
And while the party of liberation is distracted, those in South Africa who subscribe to Trumpism are growing their base. Rhoda Kadalie, former ANC struggle activist and current academic at the University of the Western Cape, who is now a member of the DA, has become one of Trump’s greatest cheerleaders in South Africa. In November 2016, she called the Trump win “a victory of good over evil,” and claims that Trump would be good for the world.
Kadalie has strayed far from her ideological roots. Her ideas have likely been influenced by the fact that Pollak married her daughter Julia Bertelsmann in 2009, the wedding having taken place in the official residence of Helen Zille. This suggests that it is not impossible for the proponents of the alt-Right to garner a following, even in South Africa.
The only realistic counter to this alt-Right ideology that is finding fertile soil across America and Europe, will be for South Africa’s ruling party to forge a strong and respected leadership that will promote social cohesion. It will need to focus on consolidating its people-centred agenda, delivering services to its people, and prosecuting those guilty of corruption. If it fails to realise such objectives, the political vacuum that emerges will allow for the forces of exclusivism, xenophobia and Islamophobia to gain currency.