In the face of palpable indifference among young South Africans to being active in shaping their political futures, I wish I’d awoken earlier to how easily bad things could happen.
A while back I wrote about how young Zimbabweans had been reduced to being observers when it came to the future of their country. How we have turned out to be the most complacent generation in the history of the country. The sparkling hope and freedom which was fought for and handed to us as part of the first independent generation of Zimbabweans has fizzled out in our hands. Our lack of patriotic fervour is something observed every time a crisis hits our country. With each catastrophe, we are vocal and opinionated – browse through Facebook, Twitter and any major social media platform, and we are there. But it seems that’s as far as it goes.
Being based in South Africa, I have sadly started to notice similarities between Zimbabweans’ lack of interest and that in young South Africans – noticeably indifferent to their political futures. This apathy has been shown in a number of incidents. In the past couple of years Julius Malema took it upon himself to be “the voice” and single-handedly threw the reputation of ANC youth into disrepute. In one fell swoop he managed to alienate millions of people across all lines of differentiation as he went around, uncontrolled and unmanaged, spewing hate speech. Headlines of the national and international papers had Julius Malema’s inflammatory declarations supposedly stated on behalf of the youth (yet in most instances a large percentage of South African youth don’t agree with him).
In other sectors Terror Lekota and Mbhazima Shilowa allowed their personal power struggles to destroy what was a party with so much possibility. Cope, a party that was mostly youth-based, held such promise of growing into a strong political opposition. A year into politics they won 1,311,027 votes in the 2009 general elections and, had they continued on their upward trend, would have grown from strength to strength. But overnight it turned into a fiasco, the laughing stock of the political arena as the two leaders’ true colours were exposed and they became embroiled in a political showdown fuelled by greed and personal ambition. Allegations of financial mismanagement were thrown at Shilowa while Lekota was handed a vote of no confidence. The legal battle continues today to the detriment of the entire party.
When you look at the big picture, these are issues that will have a definite impact on the South Africa that’s up for inheritance, but through all this young South Africans were vociferous among themselves and on social platforms, but eerily quiet in the public arena.
Now I know why Zimbabweans became so impassive. A hedonistic and self-serving approach to life and others, focusing only on the betterment of my life and the lives of my immediate family led us and our country to the ruin it is now. We didn’t care enough to get involved and get our hands dirty until it was too late because, to be honest, those my age never had to fight for freedom or our dignity. We were born into it and it was handed to us. And when you haven’t had to claw with your bare hands just for the right to be you, you take things for granted.
But what reason do young South Africans have to be so apathetic? Yes, there are those that are trying to do their share, but for the most part, it’s not enough, because the Malemas and the Lekotas still have the final say – and the column centimetres. Many of them lived in the midst of the apartheid era and saw the fight for freedom unfolding around them. Why then would you allow something as precious as your political rights and chance to actively make a difference slip away? Your governmental and economic futures are in danger of being dictated by external mostly self-serving powers, and it’s going unopposed.
Hordes of Cope members jumped ship when the yellow started to fade and the proverbial hit the fan, instead of sticking it out and fighting both Lekota and Shilowa to defend what they had stood in line and for which they had voted. ANC members bitched about Malema over dinner tables instead of openly challenging him to retain party dignity and unity. Such a different picture compared to the previous generation which was littered with characters, across the racial lines willing to take the risk, sacrifice their lives, stand and fight (even if it was among themselves) in order that young people today would have the opportunities and self-respect they were not afforded. But looking around today no-one stands out with that same passion and drive to ensure the same for future generations. What names will go down in the history books other than that of Julius Malema? Have we developed a new age kind of selfishness that doesn’t think further than our lifetime?
A dangerous possibility is that the million-plus that voted for Cope in 2009, and the youth that have been put off the ANC by Julius Malema, will be too disillusioned to vote for either party, while the DA will still be struggling to pull in the younger demographic. Once voter apathy sets in, it’s downhill from there. I have seen how a lack of elector action and interest can blindside you when one day you remove your earphones and look up from your MacBook to find that Julius Malema is suddenly the president, the Constitution has been amended and there is corruption, nationalisation and land grabs galore. South Africa is a wonderful country now, but it doesn’t take that long for a wonderful country to fail.
It’s scary to comprehend, but we are the ones we have been waiting for. From someone who wishes she had realised that soon it could be too late to rescue her country, hear me when I say there is an urgent need not just to be heard, but to get politically involved and have the balls to make a stand. I converse with many young South Africans on social networks and in them I see the potential to be future leaders, but without action that’s all it is, just potential. Many people say South Africa will never be like Zimbabwe, but who has taken it upon themselves to ensure that?
I say, until the young people, who will ultimately take over this nation, step up and get involved, never say never.
Brendah works for a management consultancy during the day, you know, one of those companies that no-one really knows what they do. Before she defected and went uber-corporate she worked for UpperCase Media and the Mail & Guardian and now does her writing on a freelance basis. She has dreams of being the change Zimbabwe needs. And did we mention she is female? Black female?