Populism has been the theme in world politics this year.

From Brexit to Donald Trump, the mainstream has been surprised at the turn the world has taken, discarding the liberal for the conservative – or the globalisation for localisation / nationalism.

Speaking at the Discovery Leadership Summit on Monday, Harvard Professor of History Niall Ferguson spoke on this topic, with his main question being “Could Julius Malema be South Africa’s next president?”

He went on to explain that there is a strong feeling that the idyllic view of globalisation is not benefiting enough people.

And how does Ferguson manage to predict the result of the rise of populism? Well, the history of South America’s populist leaders are a start. Studying that, he came up with four points that can predict populist electorate decisions such as Trump:

  • Increased immigration into the country.
  • People perceiving corruption of the elites and political class.
  • Growing inequality in a country.
  • Economic shocks and recession.

Looking at South Africa, we can tick each one of those boxes.

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.

And this is just what populists such as Trump – and even Zuma – have promised the people. However, after a few minor changes in the beginning, things always end up going the same way.

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.

And there’s so much evidence of that. We can already see Julius taking the more extreme stance, talking over the court and commanding people to take back their land. That’s a very dangerous game to play.

Next thing you know, Julius will be in power for the next four decades.

But listen. We can change the way things are – we really can. People need to be more empathetic and use their voice to stand up for what is right, not just sit in the shadows and sulk about the sudden threat on their life as they know it.

The only constant is change, and it’s up to you to do what you can to make that change for the better.