What motivates a young black student leader — and we’re not talking here of a self-hating Uncle Tom-like figure but of one well to the left of Malcolm X — to fulsomely declare his admiration for Adolf Hitler? It is surely common knowledge that extreme anti-black racism was an inextricable part of the Nazi ideology. Grappling with the question becomes even more difficult when taken in conjunction with that same individual’s equally deeply felt anti-white sentiment. Added to this, the two notions are not even compartmentalised, that is, expressed in isolation from one another. Rather, even while lauding the Nazi dictator for his (supposed) organisational, nation-building and, of course, oratorical skills, the above individual makes an allusion to Hitler as a way of illustrating his belief that the evil qualities he displayed are intrinsic to members of the white race?
Until recently, I doubt many people would have believed that so absurdly far-fetched a scenario could actually come about. However, come about it has. Mcebo Freedom Dlamini, the now former president of the Wits SRC, made headlines recently when he posted “I love Hitler” comments on his Facebook profile, and thereafter firmly stood by what he had written. As he told the Wits Vuvuzela, “What I love about Hitler is his charisma and his capabilities to organise people. We need more leaders of such calibre. I love Adolf Hitler”. What he had also written on Facebook, however, was that every white person had “an element of Adolf Hitler” in them, and that was clearly not meant as a compliment. But Dlamini stood by that viewpoint too, while also defending himself against charges of ignorance about the Nazi dictator (“I have researched about President Adolf Hitler. I have read books about President Adolf Hitler. I have watched documentaries about President Adolf Hitler”).
Not much has been made in the media about Dlamini, in exchanges on a Facebook comment thread, having also roundly endorsed several vitriolic comments about Jews as well. They included:
One would like to simply conclude that Dlamini is an unrepresentative crank who somehow insinuated himself into a leadership position, but that would be self-delusory. In reality, overt racial antagonism against whites, frequently inter-woven with malignant notions about Jews in particular, are surfacing more and more among young black South Africans. Up until about a year ago, variations on the well-worn theme of “Hitler was right to kill the Jews — pity he never finished the job” were confined almost entirely to white right-wingers and Islamists. Now, as can be seen on university campuses, in the social media and on radio phone-in shows, they have for the first time become commonplace in the black community.
Not to labour the point, but given the common taunt that Jews like to “cry” anti-Semitism, here is a selection of some of the things that have been picked up over the past 12 months or so: “Hitler was right to kill these cockroaches”; “we will approach President ZUMA and demand that he investigate the SAJBD for blood money that it get for killing Christian children and trading their body parts”; “the Jews must decide NOW if they are SA patriots or murdering mob sleepers on our shores”; “How many bricks, how many roads, did Jews build in SA? None! Queens and kings in my country of birth!”; “we miss u hitler, but we will finish your job, great man”; “You are covertly trying to take over our country and subject us to oppression like the one you did during apartheid. This time we are prepared and ready for you. We will ambush you in your homes and rape you and your cats [sic – ‘kids’, surely?) and drive you to the sea”.
I even merited a personal mention in one of these communiques: “We know your names and addresses David Saks and the rest of the Jewish Mafia that is eating our blood and subverting our democracy. WE ARE COMING AFTER YOU.”
At this point, I would like to stress very strongly that I am not trying to “get at” black people here. After all, if sentiments of the above nature have always been found just as frequently within sectors of the white and Muslim communities, then why should they not be present among blacks as well? Alan Dershowitz comments that a pretty good working definition of anti-Semitism is drawing attention to negative behaviour that is common to all humanity and then only blaming the Jews for it. The same principle, naturally, applies to all other groups.
Rather, the reason why I have focused solely on comments emanating — at least ostensibly — from members of the black community is that this is a strikingly new phenomenon and therefore worthy of comment. For my sins, part of my professional brief is to monitor anti-Semitic discourse in South Africa, and from this vantage point I can assert that up until a year or so ago, sentiments of this nature were hardly ever reported as coming from this sector.
Why, then, are they emerging now and why is it going hand in hand with virulent antagonism towards whites in general, African migrants and even the whole notion of non-racial democracy itself?
RW Johnson — a classic example of “a liberal who has been mugged” — may be overly scathing at times about South Africa’s post-liberation performance, but the following explanation he provides seem to me to be sadly on target: “The “short answer is that 40% unemployment and the evident failure of the ANC government has engendered a bitter, indeed toxic mood among militant black youth. They are looking round for targets. First there was the Rhodes Must Fall campaign. Then the streets erupted into murderous xenophobia against immigrant workers. But the RMF campaign is over (he has fallen) and now that it’s clear how disastrous the xenophobic riots have been to the country’s image, there is universal condemnation of them. So a new target is needed. Historically, it has never been long before people in such a mood alight upon the Jews.”
The broader question that all of this inevitably raises is, is South Africa in danger of going the same way as did Weimar Germany in the 1930s? In that case, there was a massive popular backlash against the whole institution of democracy (which had been imposed on Germany after World War I), enormous unhappiness about the economic situation combined with myriad conspiracy theories regarding who was to blame and an obsessive grievance culture in which it was widely believed that Germans had been “done down” by the world at large. Permeating this whole toxic mix, of course, was an ever-escalating rise of radical anti-Semitism, from the intelligentsia downwards. In the end the German people — enough of them, at any rate — chose to repudiate democracy in favour of a dictatorship underpinned by notions of racial superiority, and inferiority, with consequences for themselves and the world at large that are only too well known.
Substitute “Germany” for South Africa in 2015, and the parallels become scarily apparent: Widespread disillusionment with democracy, a shaky economy, xenophobia, a blame culture against the outside world in general, the related prevalence of anti-Jewish conspiracy theories, social unrest frequently involving violence — it’s all there.
That South Africa might follow a similar course as Weimar Germany is, I believe, only a distant possibility. After all, whereas a democratic order in Germany was imposed on a resentful population by a victorious enemy after World War I, in our case, non-racial democracy was embraced from the outset by vast majority of the population. Even so, it is something people should keep at the backs of their minds. These are dangerous times, when emotion all too often trumps facts and logic, and it would be foolhardy to assume that “it couldn’t happen here”.