As ANC Youth League president Julius Malema leads a revolutionary march from Johannesburg to Pretoria, not everyone is enthusiastic to make the long journey – at least not without a few questions answered.
Dear Mr Malema
As a member of the much maligned and indeed broadly disenfranchised beings called the youth in our country, I thought I would write you this letter to apologise and explain my absence at the march to which you so kindly invited me.
As you know, growing up we were taught that if you were invited by your neighbour, you had a duty to explain why you couldn’t come. My grandmother would drag me along to the neighbour’s house the day after the event to help perhaps with whatever work was left over, or present herself to find out how the event or festivities went. This is my attempt at fulfilling such a tradition.
As I say, I will not be able to attend this march for various reasons. But I must assure you that this is no indication of a disinterest in the cause you champion, which according to your invitation on the radio, includes job creation, fair labour practices, and indeed, delivery of basic services to all our people.
The major reason I cannot make the march is that I have to be at work during the time scheduled for the march. You see, I live in one of Joburg’s upper-class suburbs and drive a fairly fancy car. Necessarily, I must present myself at work regularly, and dutifully so, as to make sure that I keep the job I have and am in line for whatever position is better than what I currently have. I must also be seen to be reasonable on the issues of the day and not political or extremist as politicians tend to be. Being political is a career-limiting move, something I cannot afford at this stage.
So do understand that whatever social-justice and human-advancement ambitions I may have must come secondary to my career ambitions, and indeed to my absolute need to keep my standard of living.
But be assured that despite my inaction to solve many of the problems you wished to highlight with the march, I’m always ready to talk about them, and do so regularly over a glass of whiskey, wine or premium beer. I won’t say here which brands for fear of being labelled some sort of king, but I trust you have some idea for I’ve heard you make mention of them. I also talk about these issues on social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. But action is another thing all together. As I say, I cannot be seen to be political, and tend to be too busy for that political stuff.
But if I may, I must also admit that the timing of the march struck me as rather inappropriate. You may know that this is the period that many of our peers at school and tertiary institutions are preparing for and writing examinations. Do you not believe that participation in such a march would prove disruptive to this end? As I’m sure you know, part of the problem we face with unemployment and growth of the economy relates directly to the low levels of education, literacy, and skills among much of our young people. How could we claim to be interested in empowering the youth, while we advance actions which disrupt such processes as their education which are meant for their own advancement?
If I may also move to more tjatjarag ground and ask, respectfully, how does it work that you are a member of the party of government, but have not been able to champion the solutions to our nation’s problems with your fellow comrades? Does your membership of this titanic organisation not grant you any access to its levers of policy, programmes and government? How would a demonstration outside its inner circle achieve anything you could not achieve inside? Would we not be labeled as “howling”, as has been the case of Desmond Tutu?
Again, I ask these questions not because I’m interested in the politics of an organisation I’m not a member of, but to understand what you were inviting me to do.
I want to re-emphasise that the pain of marginalisation of many people, especially black youth, is a pain I understand. There is not a day I don’t lament the terrible situation that I see in the streets of my suburb as I drive through in my air-conditioned car. I watch every morning as I go to work, and every evening as I return, women who work very hard as servants in middle-class and rich households, braving the hot Joburg sun, often travelling in dangerous taxis to get to work. To think that despite their years of work under these conditions, this has not much bearing on the future of their children. This is a pain I feel as much as you do. To imagine that in their lifetime of hard, sometimes demeaning work, they may never see economic freedom for themselves or for their children is a stain on my conscience.
The youth of the Arab nations and of June 16 here at home, taught us a thing or two when they took to the streets to demonstrate their will. We may now be able to say that our dignity and pride, and claim to humanity, is not in the things we say, but in our demonstrated and principled acts of integrity.
I hope you understand and accept my reasons for being absent at this momentous occasion. Sometimes, at the bottom of my whisky glass, I see hope and change. And in the air-conditioning of my car and office, feel secure in the coolness, amid a nation sweltering in its own failures and continued marginalisation of its majority.
But I worry sometimes that it may not always be so, and a bunker may not be as ridiculous an idea as many have claimed.
Yours in youth
Xhanti Payi is a writer short of a few best selling books and a Nobel Prize. He works as an economist, researcher and advisor to various institutions. A staunch believer in clever blacks and would-be clever blacks short of opportunity. Proper pronunciation of the click is optional.