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What are the chances of SA being led by a person younger than 42?


Dr Maruping Phepheng is an author and scholar of the African immigrant and human mobility. His Twitter handle is @MP_Author.

It is highly possible that we could have a younger leader after the elections in 2019, especially if one considers that the governing party does not seem to have its house in order.

Seeing Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stand up for his country against Donald Trump was admirable. The US president criticised Canadian prime minister in a dispute about trade tariffs following the end of the G7 summit in Quebec at the weekend. Trudeau then gave a press conference in which he said his country would “not be pushed around” by its hounding southern neighbour. He’s only 46, Canadian Trudeau.

It made me wonder, also with the 40-year old French President Emmanuel Macron in mind, whether the world is not ready yet for young leaders. Is the era of sexagenarians (and older) leading countries coming to an end?

This question is germane especially now because this year marks 42 years since the Soweto uprising. Back in 1976, the youth abandoned school and took to the streets to protest and resist the undignifying imposition of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction.

But the apartheid government would have none of it. On the day, apartheid police sprayed teenagers with live ammunition, killing and injuring many. Incarceration and cruelty for blacks became the order of the day.

So what are the chances of us being led by a person younger than 42 in the next election, which is less than a year away?

There is Democratic Alliance leader, Mmusi Maimane, who just turned 38. And then there is Economic Freedom Fighters’ Julius Malema, who is 37. We might have one of them as president if opposition parties can manage to reduce the weakening ANC’s lead to less than 50%. This is highly possible, especially if one considers that presently the governing party does not seem to be having its house in order. In KwaZulu-Natal, the ANC is run by the courts (and also, it seems, by political assassins). The internal strife in the North West makes for entertaining drama. Ace Magashule is in Luthuli House, having left behind a putrefying Free State branch of the ANC. At this point the ANC does not seem demonstrably ready for 2019 elections. They have the weighty liability of finishing internal belligerence first, before they can focus on external political opponents and the electorate.

But assuming for a moment that the previously glorious movement will not be brought down next year, it means we will have to suffer them for another term at least. This would mean we will be led by that wealthy sexagenarian called Cyril Ramaphosa, the incumbent President.

But it being the 42nd anniversary of the Soweto uprising, where does this leave the youth? Indeed where is the youth in the previously glorious movement?

The youth of 1976 discovered their mission and fulfilled it, surely making the departed Martinican psychiatrist and theorist Frantz Fanon truly proud. Undoubtedly, the historic uprising is how the youth formed the course of our history as a nation. The brutal response by the evil regime to an otherwise peaceful march sprung the country into action. Suddenly many black communities woke up, literally lit up the scene and mounted a fight against the system. Since then, the voice of young people in the national discourse strengthened massively. Well, until recently. Specifically until around September 2015, the time Midrand gave birth to intellectually infantile, worn-out and run-of-the-mill Collen Maine.

Under Maine, what mission, if at all, shall we say the youth league of the previously glorious movement discovered for itself? If they have discovered any mission whatsoever, have the no longer young lions chosen to betray it? Worse, are they even aware that there is a mission to discover and fulfil? Indeed, at this point what extraordinary reason exists for the previously glorious movement to have a youth league? Does Collen Maine and the Midrand crowd even know Frantz Fanon? Have they taken time to read Steve Biko? Or am I being silly, asking too much of the pitiable “young ones”?

As we commemorate the 42nd anniversary of the Soweto uprising, surely even the wealthy sexagenarian at the helm of the previously glorious movement is also wondering why they have a youth league whose presence is, well, absent. DM

Maruping Phepheng is an author and doctoral candidate at UWC


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