We beat conventional wisdom with a stick
12 December 2017 10:57 (South Africa)
Opinionista Oscar van Heerden

Decline and decay rule while young South Africa sits it out

  • Oscar van Heerden
    Oscar-van-Heerden.jpg
    Oscar van Heerden

    Oscar van Heerden is a scholar of International Relations (IR), where he focuses on International Political Economy, with an emphasis on Africa, and SADC in particular. He completed his PhD and Masters studies at the University of Cambridge (UK). His undergraduate studies were at Turfloop and Wits. He is an active fellow of the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflections (MISTRA) and is a trustee for the Kgalema Mothlante Foundation

The success of the next 100 years of the ANC will be judged on the ability to raise a new generation of South Africans that have equal access to opportunities and developmental resources to build a prosperous nation.

It is for the elder man to rule and for the younger to submit’

These were the famous words of Plato with regards to the gerontocracy in Greece during his time. You see, the elite in Ancient Greece were among the first to believe in this practice. They were of the opinion that power accumulated over time to those who ruled and that therefore the elderly were the rightful leaders and could most appropriately exercise/wield such power.

It seems we here in South Africa suffer from the same adage.

Ever since the ANC leadership from exile re-entered the country with the collapse of the apartheid regime they have been at the forefront of the leadership contest. Over the last 30 years they have made sure they remain in the driving seat of power. From the time the Conference for a Democratic South Africa (Codesa) was convened, the leadership of the ANC insisted that Cosatu not be allowed to participate as an organised formation, since their membership at the time was in excess of two-million and the ANC at the time was not as yet a mass-based organisation. The United Democratic Front also abdicated their power and soon the entire Mass Democratic Movement followed suit.

These leaders were absorbed into the ANC but it is rather apparent now in hindsight that the exiled ANC leaders remained in power. When Mandela wanted to rectify this by suggesting that a younger cadre should perhaps be his deputy, since at the time he was the Secretary-General of the ANC, this was met with fierce opposition.

I mention all this because today we hear that a certain candidate is being considered who, if successful, will be 71 years old when taking high office, and to state the obvious, the candidate if serving both presidential terms will be 81 when retiring. And even if the candidate only serves one term, the age of the candidate will be 76.

I’m sure we will all agree that President Mandela was understandable and necessary for Mzansi at the time.

Consider that the recent former President of the United States of America (Obama) is only 55 years old and in fact was 47 when taking office, similarly, the former Prime Minister (David Cameron) of the United Kingdom is 50 years old and was younger when first taking office.

Why then are South Africans such gerontocracy types?

There are currently three generations in the ANC that will have to slug it out for leadership positions and power in 2017 even if the current exiled types step aside. These are:

  • The Kgalema/Tokyo/Jeff Radebe/Lindiwe Sisulu/Gordhan/Hanekom generation, among others;
  • The Rapu generation/ Makhura/ Cassel Mothale/ Magashula/ Sihle/ Supra, amongst others;
  • The “lost generation of the ‘80s”: Mbalula/ Bhengu/ Gigaba/ Febe Potgieter/ Mthethwa/ Fiona Tregenna/ Solly Mapaila, among others.

This fight, which in many ways is already playing itself out, will only get uglier and it is all because the older leaders simply do not want to move aside and give the necessary space for the younger generations.

A few names come to mind with regards the youth leaders of the late ‘80s – David Maimela, Lebogang Maile – but, because of this gerontocracy phenomenon, the current youth is being captured and organised by the likes of the EFF.

How long must this phenomenon continue?

I suspect one of the solutions to this is the fact that perhaps the ANC should not take the stance that succession politics and its discussions are taboo. Perhaps what is required is an open and frank and dare I say a deliberate conversation about the future of the ANC and its leadership.

It is precisely because of this extended stay (when you have overstayed your welcome) by the older generation that our younger folk will have to contend with increasing discontent and descent among voters. In short, by the time the youngsters eventually take control of the party, there will be nothing left to govern.

Our nation is represented by a staggering unemployment rate, with close to 2.8-million young people between ages of 18-24 being unemployed and not being in any training or educational institution.

Thus the success of the next 100 years of the ANC will be judged on the ability to raise a new generation of South Africans that have equal access to opportunities and developmental resources to build a prosperous nation.

It requires that it establish a youth development regime that is focused on breaking the cycle of poverty through education and training opportunities to enable them to engage in meaningful economic activities.

This will not be achieved if geriatrics remains at the helm of power; they don’t possess the understanding nor the acumen to deal effectively with the plight of young people in our country.

I say this because I feel that since the real threat to the ANC’s parliamentary majority will come with the 2024 general election, the Gigaba and Mbalula generation must prepare themselves to occupy the opposition benches in Parliament so as to further cement and consolidate our democracy.

The question, however, is are they prepared for it or do they too have this stupid belief that they will rule till Jesus comes back? The clock is ticking. DM

  • Oscar van Heerden
    Oscar-van-Heerden.jpg
    Oscar van Heerden

    Oscar van Heerden is a scholar of International Relations (IR), where he focuses on International Political Economy, with an emphasis on Africa, and SADC in particular. He completed his PhD and Masters studies at the University of Cambridge (UK). His undergraduate studies were at Turfloop and Wits. He is an active fellow of the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflections (MISTRA) and is a trustee for the Kgalema Mothlante Foundation

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