23/03/2018 11:20 SAST | Updated 23/03/2018 11:20 SAST

Ghaleb Cachalia: Richard Poplak Has An Undergraduate Delight With Words

"This is where the alt-right meets the loony left."

The Huffington Post South Africa

Richard Poplak's diatribe against the DA in the Daily Maverick, when stripped of the undergraduate's delight with words that he revels in, contends that land reform is the issue of the day and that it would be foolhardy to imagine we are drifting towards a Zimbabwe-like scenario.

He credits the EFF with hitting the political sweet spot and dragging the ANC to its agenda, whilst disingenuously exposing the DA, who he says are selectively outraged by expropriation without compensation, all the while Herman Mashaba champions the same in Johannesburg.

Poplak maintains that land expropriation without compensation has been de rigueur forever and that there is no need for a fuss or any exaggeration of its effect – an exaggeration that has been fuelled by the lunatic racist right in Australia and the US.

The DA, he says, is failing to deal with the Cape water crisis and is unfairly targeting Patricia de Lille who is facing outmoded secret hearings. This same DA, he says, is, moreover, ridden with toxic personalities at the top, not least Athol Trolip who is about to be ousted as mayor by the EFF, and not to mention the Twitter-happy Helen Zille.

Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters
Leader of South Africa's Democratic Alliance (DA) Mmusi Maimane speaks during a news conference in Johannesburg, South Africa April 1, 2016. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko/File Photo

Maimane, according to Poplak, has less than full mandate and the DA's boys' club is at loggerheads with itself over a post-Zuma strategy. The party, he says, is led by white boys with big egos, conducts its politics in the law courts and fails to understand that you can only defend yourself against how your enemies define you.

He identifies the Mayor of Tshwane, Solly Msimanga, who is up against "the almost supernaturally unpleasant Athol Trollip" for the party's chairmanship, as the panacea for the DA's ills.

He (Poplak) ignores the fact that all have subsequently entreated the postcolonial dispossessed to return after this foray into failure.

He ends, as he began, with the land issue, by pointing out that the DA has latched onto this, and has drawn the battle lines around the primacy of individual land ownership and the constitution, notwithstanding its imputed failure to deliver on this in the Cape, where it governs. He further contends that it has resorted to fake news about scared investors.

He concludes that the land issue will expose the DA's core support as grounded in white fear and that the liberal/constitutionalist values are a smokescreen. The subtext is that only hope lies in the ascendency of Msimanga.

Now, all that Poplak's convoluted verbiage really says, is that the EFF has landed a palpable hit; that there's nothing really to worry about; that the DA, run by toxic white boys is in disarray; and that its only hope lies in someone like Solly Msimanga taking over the reins if it is to move beyond the fear-founded white vote that currently is its mainstay.

He fails to understand that the positioning of populist politics of land in postcolonial sub-Saharan African countries with a settler component – from Zimbabwe, through east African Uganda and Kenya to Lusophone Mozambique and Angola – has resulted in dispossession, the economic consequences of which have resulted in varying degrees of economic retardation.

Retardation, that has impoverished entire societies and empowered elites, impacting mostly, the very sections it sought to uplift. Moreover, he ignores the fact that all have subsequently entreated the postcolonial dispossessed to return after this foray into failure.

He further fails to understand that the DA's response is a principled one that champions, in line with its liberal tenets, the primacy of freedoms and rights that are enshrined in our constitution, our bill of rights and the UN's universal declaration of human rights – underscored by essential precepts of local and international law.

At root is a characterisation of the DA as a party that is ostensibly torn between those susceptible to fear mongering and those who wish to embrace the deemed necessary realities of party reformation.

Notwithstanding his willful failure to understand this, he then seeks to attack the DA and lay at its door scurrilous race-based accusations of an agenda which he imputes will be its undoing. Behind this is a hope that the DA will morph into an organisation that is relatively indistinguishable from the ANC, thereby negating the essence of ideologically differentiated opposition.

AFP Contributor via Getty Images
South African opposition Parties leaders Julius Malema (R) for the Economic Freedom Fighters and Mmusi Maimane (L) for the Democratic Alliance give a press conference on August 7, 2017 at the South African Parliament in Cape Town. (Photo credit should read GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images)

He does this by championing the EFF, its populist racism notwithstanding, and by naively ignoring the dire consequences of their agenda. At root is a characterisation of the DA as a party that is ostensibly torn between those susceptible to fearmongering and those who wish to embrace the deemed necessary realities of party reformation.

In doing so, he may have identified some tensions within the party. What he doesn't see is that all political parties have forces within that stretch them and that the DA will resolve these – not by appealing to the forces of fear or fix – but by the robust contestation of ideas. His gratuitous ad hominem insults and innuendo are simply a reflection of his self-positioning as a fellow traveller of identity politics and privilege theory.

As Mark Lilla, professor of humanities at Columbia University, says in his book "The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics" (Harper, 2017), "there is a good reason that liberals focus extra attention on minorities since they are the most likely to be disenfranchised. But the only way in a democracy to assist them meaningfully – and not just make empty gestures of recognition and 'celebration' – is to win elections and exercise power in the long run, at every level of government.

"And the only way to accomplish that is to have a message that appeals to as many people as possible and pulls them together. Identity liberalism does the opposite and just reinforces the alt-right's picture of politics as a war of competing identity groups".

This is where the alt-right meets the loony left.