The EFF understands that there are limits to what people will believe, even people who believe Malema is in it for them.
Image: Ziphozonke Lushaba

Populism is getting some bad press around the world, but let’s not throw the baby out with the Nazis. Because let’s be honest: populism is a great strategy if you can’t do anything else. Which is why the ANC has embraced it, opting to change the Constitution, maybe, to allow land expropriation without compensation, probably, except where it won’t, or neither, almost certainly, or not.

Fundamentally a low-skill organisation offering sheltered employment, the ANC decided some time ago to cut its losses and concentrate on doing just one thing well: corruption. And, to be fair, it’s done very well in that regard. One might even say that when it comes to transforming the state into a predatory extraction machine, it has developed a culture of genuine excellence.

Which is why it made sense for the party to ramp up the low-key populism it has dabbled in since 1994.

The appeal of populism is rooted in its basic psychology. And it is pretty basic. Its driving energy is a powerfully seductive and deeply primitive idea: that there is an endless struggle between “the people” (who see things as they truly are and embody all the best aspects of humanity) and a shadowy cabal of monocle-wearing, sword-cane-swishing cads, called variously, the Establishment, the Political Elite, the Mainstream Media, or, if you’re Julius Malema, whoever criticised you that morning.

To read Eaton's full column in Times Select.