Johannesburg - The TV cameras were out in force this week as the EFF, led by their self-styled commander-in-chief Julius Malema, descended on restaurants at a shopping mall in Midrand, ostensibly to check on the nationalities of piece workers in the hospitality industry.
It was an ill-concealed publicity ploy, targeting a very low-hanging fruit. It is no secret that staff in the hospitality trade, especially the food and beverage sector, have a predominance of foreign nationals – the late Robert Mugabe once irascibly noted there were more Zimbabweans waiting tables in South Africa, and particularly Gauteng, than there were at home in his bankrupt country.
There’s a reason for that: there’s no job security, it’s all casual labour and the pay is often based on the generosity of patrons’ tips – which is why South Africans are loath to do the jobs themselves. It’s not unique to us: the same thing happens in the US and, pre-Brexit, the UK. There’s nothing unique in what Malema did this week either. The Nazis did it in Germany in the 1930s.
Identity politics is a very, very dangerous game to play. The world still has to pay the price for Putin and Trump and the tin pot array of demagogues they inspired across Europe. Africa is still counting the cost of colonialism and genocide. South Africa still has to come to terms with apartheid. It hasn’t even begun to count the cost of the xenophobia that burnt like a veld fire through Gauteng in 2008 – and has smouldered every year since.
Our feckless politicians either turn a blind eye or stoke this hatred for their own ends. What Malema did this week plumbed new depths. He had no right to do what he did. He and political opportunists like him have to be stopped before blood runs in the streets of our cities and townships once again.