Today’s young generation needs to insist on being properly represented by the appropriate structures.
It has been 42 years since the black youth of South Africa defied and threatened the system of apartheid. The youth of 1976 took to the streets in protest against Bantu Education and the injustice of apartheid. Looking at our history as South African youth is important not only for inspiration but for lessons on how to steadfastly shape the future without repeating the mistakes of the past.
It is simple and uncritical to dismiss the youth of today as “born frees” – meaning that they did not experience the shackles, oppression and despotic system of apartheid politically and socially. However, labelling today’s youth as free is dishonest and inaccurate as these young people still experience the legacy of apartheid in the form of structural racism encompassed by racialised inequality and poverty.
Today, post-apartheid South Africa has been flirting with a descent into a political quagmire while facing systematic challenges as the structure of our state has not been transformed in a way that gives government the power to create an economic system that allows both for growth and inclusivity.
We are in Youth Month but have little to celebrate as 60% of South African youth is unemployed and 15 million young people are outside the education sector despite the 2017 announcement of free education.
Perhaps more important, young people are under-represented in the state – stemming from the lack of strong youth leadership in the governing party. In context of this economic and political exclusion South African youth feel despondent, disillusioned and filled with bitterness towards the cruel system which has been built by apartheid and upheld by the ANC.
The SACP in 1962 conceptualised South Africa’s social formation as Colonisation of a Special Type, as a system in which the oppressor concentrated and centralised the wealth, land and property while the oppressed is just a worker. This is an apt description of the South African social formation, not just during colonialism and apartheid, but also today.
The current dispensation has been slow to change the social formation left by colonialism and apartheid – in which young black people are the mules of society. In a capitalist white supremacist society all young black people have ever been is a source of cheap labour and this continues to be true for the poor majority who are either cheap labourers or completely excluded from the economy.
In the new South Africa young black people exist as political tools for political parties, they are pandered to with populism and false promises but are not represented in the state. From tribal authority, municipalities, provincial government to national government (the executive and Parliament), young people are missing.
This is especially evident in the ruling party. The ANC boasts the ANCYL as its youth wing that grooms future leaders, cultivates political consciousness in the youth and mobilises young people on behalf of the ANC.
However, we see that it fails to do this on all fronts. Under the leadership of Collen Maine the ANCYL has become a reactionary body that has lagged behind on recent youth movements such as #FeesMustFall and #RhodesMustFall as well as being silent in the broader discourse on land redistribution and transformation of the financial sector.
Post #FeesMustFall and free higher education, the youth of South Africa struggle to access universities due to space. The youth of 1976 fought for education to be accessible by all means possible. Indeed, black people now are legislatively allowed to attend any university but there is a space constraint for every young eligible person to access space at universities. For example, South African universities accommodate 500,000 students while there are 15 million young people who cannot afford and access universities.
Apartheid was characterised by social, political and economic segregation whereas post-1994 continues to reflect this segregation without explicit racial discrimination. It is evident in persisting structural inequalities and the untransformed economic system.
Social status and classism are the order of the day for the post-1994 South African government which tries to silence youth dissent through using police brutality to clamp down on #FeesMustFall, thousands of service delivery protests in townships and workers’ protests like Marikana. Social status and class being the determining factors on whose voice is heard and who receives economic opportunities from the state has made the majority of the youth bystanders to South Africa’s economy and social spaces because it grants access to those who are politically affiliated.
The proximity to power through kinship and political party patronage have betrayed youth struggle and caused youth to feel hopeless. For instance, Duduzane Zuma is a billionaire today because of his kinship, by being Jacob Zuma’s son, whereas Maine is the ANCYL and president at the age of 38 and ANC National Executive Committee member through manipulation of election processes that have excluded the best youth leaders from taking the reins of the ANCYL.
Both Duduzane Zuma and Maine earn legitimacy, high social status and class in our society due to kinship and patronage politics.
The reality is that politics are becoming unfashionable and the youth rapidly becoming uninterested in any broad political organisation. This is because party politics have been stripped of legitimacy and coherent political programmes to emancipate the youth from unemployment and poverty.
While the youth of 1976 experienced the ANC as a leader in the liberation struggle they believed in so deeply that they were willing to die, the generation of today is subjected to a different struggle created by the ANC.
The introduction of black economic empowerment (BEE) was an attempt to produce non-European middle class black elites. The result of BEE is the production of black oppressors and gatekeepers of economic transformation through corruption within political units.
The ANC missed the goal of creating a black bourgeoisie as Thabo Mbeki, the former president, reported to the Black Economic Forum in 1999:
“The struggle against racism in our country must include the objective of creating a black bourgeoisie.”
The limitation of this creation of a black bourgeoisie is that it is based on credit-capital and government tenders that are likely to involve corruption.
Post-1994 the ANC was misguided when it chose the apartheid methodology of using the state to build an African bourgeoisie. The reality is that towards the end of World War II there was no single Afrikaner bourgeoisie. But after 1948 the National Party managed to produce an Afrikaner bourgeoisie because of the massive exploitation of the black people in addition to creating the Bank Holding Corporation of SA: Sanlam. This eradicated the poverty of Afrikaners which included white youth through apartheid structures but it required a class of black people, particularly black youth, to be exploited.
Now a question stands: who will be sacrificed in the process of creating the black bourgeoisie?
The current ANC political units which include Maine have demobilised the youth of South Africa since they create the possibility of getting-rich-quick through the tender system or cadre deployment to government structures. That is why today we are trapped by State Capture which involves the president of the ANCYL allegedly being handled and funded by the Guptas.
The reality is that ANCYL is not an integrated structure that is able to represent the youth of the ANC. By being embroiled in the Gupta email scandals it has been stripped of legitimacy and integrity to represent us as the youth of the ANC. It has completely undermined the work of the 1976 generation.
In remembrance of the youth of 1976, today’s youth must re-imagine political freedom as a vehicle of thoroughgoing transformation, not a vehicle of patronage and capital schemes. Of course, political freedom can usher economic freedom if the political agents use the state to transform the economic structures as was done in Brazil, South Korea and Singapore among others.
If youth is the significant component of every nation’s economic trajectory, South Africa’s youth must focus on production, innovation, skills development, technology development and so forth to build the economy.
The normalisation of racial poverty and inequality including youth unemployment is a ticking time bomb. Therefore, the government must aggressively respond to the high youth unemployment rate and the youth must also assist by always organising and mobilising themselves to place pressure on the state in service to our communities.
The youth of today must heed a lesson from the youth of 1976, to stand for what they believe is right for their future. DM