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Red Berets and Economic Accomplices


Over a Lebanese dinner in London, a Dutch friend and fellow artist recently told me about a leak in the Dutch press relating to Martin Bosma, a prominent figure in the Party for Freedom (PVV) in the Netherlands and best known as the speechwriter and ideologue of the notorious Geert Wilders. The PVV is a right-wing political party that advocates for the withdrawal of the Netherlands from the EU and is attempting, together with Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France and Nigel Farage’s Independence Party in the UK, to create the first anti-European block in the EU parliament. The leak concerned Bosma’s failed attempt to publish his book Handlangers van de ANC-apartheid (Accomplices of ANC apartheid), in which he tries to make a correlation between the political scene in the Netherlands and that of South Africa. Bosma frames South Africa as a country where the ruling African National Congress (ANC) is plotting an apartheid-esque reverse subjugation of its white minority population. He focuses specifically on Afrikaners and their not so distant Dutch past. Things become even stranger when he compares this fabricated South African setting to his homeland, where he claims conservative, right-wing supporters are being legislated into oblivion by an ethnically and culturally diverse Dutch left. Such an analogy reveals the far right’s reinjection of naturalizing rhetoric into the political sphere. Bosma attempts to capitalize on the fear of the unknown, here represented by South Africa. He refers to Afrikaners as guinea pigs and to the rest of the masses, which he assumes to be supporters of the ANC, as lions.

Meanwhile, in the recent South African elections, a newly formed opposition party to the ANC, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), won 6.35 percent of the vote, making it the second-largest opposition party as well as South Africa’s youngest party. At their swearing-in ceremony in Parliament on May 19, the twenty-five seat-holding members of the EFF were dressed in miner’s overalls and maid’s uniforms (in red, head to toe), representative of the uniforms that the majority of South African workers wear each day. This red also represents the blood of the fallen heroes and heroines of the liberation struggle.

In 1990, Nelson Mandela was presented with a red S-Class by the workers of a Mercedes-Benz factory in East London, South Africa. The color, “revolutionary red” was chosen by the workers. Upon accepting the car, Mandela said that its color would remind him of the blood spilled by South Africans in the struggle to end apartheid. Simon Gush and James Carins’s video work Red chronicles the story of the infamous red Benz, delving into a South Africa where labor relations were stalling across the country as oppressive apartheid legislation slowly began to unravel. The Mercedes factory faced fifty-two strikes in 1989, with repeated threats of closure by its parent company, Daimler Chrysler. The new labor laws that would come into effect in 1995 were only just being conceived, and the country’s economic future had not yet been pinned to international capital markets. Red recounts the riveting events of a company and labor force trying to achieve an equilibrium of power relations where no such structures existed. Workers demanded better pay, better working conditions, and equal treatment irrespective of race.

Similarly, the main goal of the EFF is to redress inequality in South Africa by taking up the issues of “mine workers, farm workers, private security guards, domestic workers, construction workers, and unreasonably paid undergraduates.” The party was founded in August 2013 by Julius Malema, the axed president of the ANC Youth League. The far-left EFF sees its political ideals departing from the ANC’s collusion with international capital. One of its most important card-carrying members, Dali Mpofu, who is another defector from the ANC, links his own departure to the ANC’s Freedom Charter of 1955. In that year, the ANC sent fifty thousand volunteers into townships and the countryside to collect and document the demands for freedom made by the people. On June 26, 1955, the charter was read aloud to more than three thousand people at the Congress of the People in Kliptown. The charter, which called for democracy, human rights, land reform, labor rights, and the nationalization of key industries, was denounced as treasonous by the South African government at the time.

Read the full article here.