Wed. Feb 19th, 2020

How South Africa has become “the world’s second-most populist country”

Populism south africaSecond only to Brazil. South Africa is increasingly putting its faith in candidates who rely on “populism”: But what does that mean for the 2019 Elections?

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Only a few percentage points behind Brazil, research carried out by YouGov and The Guardian has determined that South Africa is right at the top of nations fuelled by “populism”. But what does that mean exactly, and what impact will it have ahead of the general election next week?

What is Populism?

This is the dictionary definition of the term:

“A person, especially a politician, who strives to appeal to ordinary people who feel that their concerns are disregarded by established elite groups.”

Online Dictionary

Populism is rooted in anti-government, anti-elitist sentiment. It’s often what you see from politicians who portray themselves as outsiders to the system, despite receiving all the same benefits and perks of the government officials they rally against. Think Donald Trump, Nigel Farage, or even our very own Julius Malema.

Populism can be seen on either the left or right wing of politics. Even the Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn and US Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders have also strayed into this territory, vowing to take on “corruption” at the very top. It’s this word – “corruption” – that now has a very broad appeal in Mzansi

Populism in South Africa

We have been through the most in this country: From the Gupta influence to the Bosasa scandal, the people of South Africa have been exposed to an onslaught of corruption over the past few years. According to the data, more people in this country now base their political choices on those with anti-government, anti-corruption policies:

Around 39% of us are deemed to have populist views, which is the second-highest number of the “big 19” countries surveyed. Brazil – who recently elected the far-right and wildly controversial Jair Bolsonaro on an anti-corruption platform – comes out on top, whereas Thailand and Mexico complete the top-four:

  1. Brazil – 42%
  2. South Africa39%
  3. Thailand 30%
  4. Mexico – 29.9%
  5. Turkey – 28%
  6. Poland – 26%
  7. France – 24%
  8. USA – 23.5%
  9. Spain – 22%
  10. India – 21%

How can populist beliefs impact the 2019 Elections?

With a surge in populism, South Africa is likely to see the EFF – headed by Julius Malema – make significant gains on what they polled during the 2014 Elections. Some polls even have the red berets pushing the 15% mark, which is a huge increase from the 6% they received five years ago.

But populism is not exclusive to Malema and co. The DA’s Mmusi Maimane never passes an opportunity to criticise the ruling ANC for their history of corruption. In fact, we’ve now got a scenario where President Cyril Ramaphosa also blasts the thieves within his party, as he distances himself from any of the supposedly-corrupt actions.

All three major parties are trying to come across as the option who are “for the people, and against the elite”. With corruption essentially making up the fabric of South Africa’s political landscape, populist sentiment is inescapable.

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