Could Julius Malema be SA's next president?

14 November 2016 - 15:34 By Katharine Child

Could Julius Malema be South Africa's next president? That's the question Harvard Professor of History Niall Ferguson believes South Africa should be asking about the populist leader.

Speaking at at the Discovery Leadership Summit on Monday‚ Ferguson said populism explained the British and American electorate's choices of Brexit and Donald Trump as US President this year.

Brexit and Trump's win in American elections surprised pollsters and mainstream media but could be understood by populism and a backlash against globalisation he explained. He said there was a feeling that not everyone benefits from globalisation. History and studying South America's populist presidents could predict the rise of populism and what happened next.

The four points that can predict populist electorate decisions such as Trump are:

- Increased immigration into the country.

- People perceiving corruption of the elites and political class

- Growing inequality in a country

- Economic shocks and recession.

He said these four issues lead to disenfranchised voters who vote for populist or demagogue leaders who "channel" people's frustration and anger about corruption‚ inequality and struggling economies.

Ferguson asked if these issues described South Africa‚ saying subtly: "recent events hinted corruption could be a problem". "Is the economic shock in South Africa sufficient to destabilise the country and then is Mr Malema the demagogue who comes along and says: 'I alone could fix this'. This is question you should be asking about South Africa‚" said Ferguson. "I don't have expertise [ to say if] there is a populist future for this future There are multiple futures that any country can turn to‚" he added.

Populists such as Trump and the former president of South American presidents promise to end migration‚ improve the economy and speak to people.

However‚ after an initial improvement in the economy‚ things end badly in the same way as they had in countries such as Argentinian and Venezuela which had elected populist presidents‚ he said.

Life does not improve for disenfranchised thanks to populists‚ because stopping migration and stopping free trade does not build economies‚ he warned.

The populist presidents often get found out to be corrupt too and they don’t like holding free and fair election for a second term.

"Watch Trump and his family and see how business‚ political and personal interests collide."

Ferguson said 2016 was the year social science models and pollsters failed to predict elections. Economic models which failed to predict to the 2008 elections "can be flushed down the loo".

All there was left was history to help us understand the present and future‚ he said.

- TMG Digital/The Times