I often see South Africans on social media calling Julius Malema and his supporters “liberal”. The same people using the word “liberal” as an insult to refer to EFF supporters, are also often people who believe that Donald Trump and the Republicans are the best solution for America’s politics. This can be rather confusing, since Donald Trump and Julius Malema share very similar political ideals. How could one be described as a liberal and the other a conservative?

Of course, skin colour plays a role. In some circles, “black” has become synonymous with “liberal”. While Donald Trump and Julius Malema both hate the media, have a general disregard for facts and regularly spew hate towards other racial groups, people find it difficult to believe that they could fall on the same side of the political spectrum.

History also adds to the confusion. Most African nations had liberation parties that fought against European colonial governments in order to gain equal rights for all their citizens. Juxtaposed to the racist colonial governments, the freedom fighting parties could be regarded as the liberal options. In 2018, however, a lot of those parties have stances on human rights that are more closely related to America’s conservative Republican party, rather than the liberal Democratic party.

In the US, political discussions are usually dived into two groups, which is understandable, considering that they basically have a choice between two political parties: the one liberal, the other conservative. With the semantics of US politics playing off on a global stage, we are all now trying our utmost to divide all people and all institutions into those two groups.

Somewhere between all of this, the actual meaning of words are getting lost.

To help clear up some confusion, we will be taking a look at the definitions of some political terms. In this article, we are looking at the definitions offered for “liberal” and “conservative”.


Oxford English Dictionary

“Middle English: via Old French from Latin liberalis, from liber ‘free (man)’. The original sense was ‘suitable for a free man’, hence ‘suitable for a gentleman’ (one not tied to a trade), surviving in liberal arts. In another early sense ‘generous’ gave rise to an obsolete meaning ‘free from restraint’, leading to liberal (late 18th century).”


“liberal noun

lib·er·al | \ˈli-b(ə-)rəl \

Definition of liberal : a person who is liberal: such as one who is open-minded or not strict in the observance of orthodox, traditional, or established forms or ways.”

Merriam-Webster also defines liberal as: “a person who believes that government should be active in supporting social and political change.”

Encyclopaedia Britannica

“Liberalism is a political and economic doctrine that emphasizes individual autonomy, equality of opportunity, and the protection of individual rights (primarily to life, liberty, and property), originally against the state and later against both the state and private economic actors, including businesses.”

“Liberalism is the culmination of developments in Western society that produced a sense of the importance of human individuality, a liberation of the individual from complete subservience to the group, and a relaxation of the tight hold of custom, law, and authority. In this respect, liberalism stands for the emancipation of the individual.”

Google Dictionary

– willing to respect or accept behaviour or opinions different from one’s own; open to new ideas.

“liberal views towards divorce”

– favourable to or respectful of individual rights and freedoms.

“liberal citizenship laws”

– (in a political context) favouring individual liberty, free trade, and moderate political and social reform.

“a liberal democratic state”


Oxford English Dictionary


Late Middle English (in the sense ‘aiming to preserve’): from late Latin conservativus, from conservat- ‘conserved’, from the verb conservare (see conserve). Current senses date from the mid 19th century.

– Averse to change or innovation and holding traditional values.

‘they were very conservative in their outlook’ – (in a political context) favouring free enterprise, private ownership, and socially conservative ideas.

– A person who is averse to change and holds traditional values.

‘he remains a conservative in constitutional matters’”

Cambridge Dictionary

“not usually liking or trusting change, especially sudden change:

– a conservative society/outlook

Older people tend to be more conservative and a bit suspicious of anything new.”


“If you are conservative, you aren’t necessarily a card-carrying member of the Republican party (though you might be); it means you resist change.”

“Conservative has the word conserve in it, which means to hold on to, or save. In a drought, you want to be conservative in your water use. If you don’t get paid that much and don’t want to use credit cards, you’d better be conservative with your money. When we talk about environmental conservation, we mean the protection of natural resources.”

Primary Meanings of ‘conservative’

adjn. a person who is reluctant to accept changes and new ideas

adj. avoiding excess

adj. having social or political views favouring conservatism”


“Conservatism (or conservativism) is any political philosophy that favours tradition (in the sense of various religious, cultural, or nationally-defined beliefs and customs) in the face of external forces for change, and is critical of proposals for radical social change. Some Conservatives seek to preserve the status quo or to reform society slowly, while others seek to return to the values of an earlier time.”


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