Defend Truth


Do young people bring a real difference to our politics other than their age?


Nkateko Mabasa is a journalist at Daily Maverick

So much of our body politic consists of the pervasive idea in the debate that young people are the solution to our country’s problems. And that it is them – the young, the brave and the innovative – who are the last hope for our future and the vanguard of the revolution. But does this young new crop of aspiring leaders offer anything different from what we have seen before, or is it the same indifferent type of politics but in new packaging?

What keeps me awake at night –metaphorically – is for how long young people in this country can be honest with themselves and about themselves. In their existential journey of self-actualisation, will the youth of today continue in the path of brave criticism of systemic inequalities, poverty and hypocrisy that pervades our body politics, or will they be co-opted and indoctrinated into a politics of greed, injustice and false humility?

What social media has offered to the youth, especially in black twitter, is a “safe space” where they can air their frustrations about inequality, and talk about their childhood traumas, racist encounters in society, inequalities in universities and inappropriate sexual behaviour as they enter the workplace. Among the vitriol of anonymous comments, there are sparks of solidarity in shared experiences.

Furthermore, the current debates among the youth have been about a revision of this country’s narrative of a rainbow nation. About how much of it was it a lie? And if part of it is a lie, does that delegitimise the entire narrative of what South Africa has believed itself to be?

This questioning, subsequently demands a self-reflection of ourselves as the youth – of the people we thought we were as we wiggle through the agonising transition to wokeness. What does it mean to be born-free? And what was the true chain of events that led to 1994, without romanticising a deeply complex historical moment that has ongoing repercussions?

Young people’s shared experiences of continued inequalities and the failed promises of democracy have fostered solidarities that led to the #RhodesMustFall, #FeesMustFall and Rape Culture protests within institutions of higher learning.

And in the course of this country’s trajectory, the youth have always played a critical role. This seems to be the result of a cyclical, ever-present spirit that visits the youth of each generation, recurrently, with inspiration for them to revolt and voice out their pain and multifaceted rage, at a time when everyone else has resigned to defeating compliance with the status quo.

The 1960s were animated by the youth wing of the ANC which broke off in frustration with the respectable methods of the party, to form the Pan-African Congress of Azania. This lead to a peaceful march of none-collaboration with the apartheid government with their pass laws. And ultimately resulted in the Sharpeville Massacre where a group of black people who had decided not to participate in their own oppression were gunned down.

This emboldened other movements to wake up, including the party that the youth had just left: the 1980s union strikes, where the youth decided not to be comfortable with enslavement, saw the same fighting spirit of 1976 youth. This born free generation has reacted the same way when they realised, from their own experiences at institutions of higher learning, the disillusionment of a rainbow nation.

We are a generation that is willing to learn and unlearn so much of ourselves, to review history, and engage in critical consciousness about what it means to be in a post-apartheid South Africa. And whether it is post-apartheid at all, while psychologically having to accept the deterioration of a liberation movement.

However, at the same time, we can be so engrossed in our painful experiences, that we are not able to see beyond generational suffering that has visited our parents and their parents and now us.

It is this young generation, afforded the best of times to reinvent the country, who have the potential to confront the hard truths of inequality and landlessness. But it also this generation which carries untold traumas of the past on our backs. Traumas of poverty, of simmering suppressed anger about unspoken things from our parents and the traumas of a generation what was comfortable with oppression.

We are at the tipping point of whether young people will rise up to the real ideals of what South Africa can become or if they too, will harden from the infection of hypocrisy and injustice. Political parties have already caught on to the scent of our yearning as a country for a youth voice that will intimate to us, subliminally and privately, that the future is safe.

It has become fashionable to include a number of young people in party parliamentary lists for the upcoming national elections. Any party that does not have young people risks being seen as outdated and not responsive to the desires of the people. But what political parties have always been able to do well, is recognise a trend when they see it and use it for their advantage.

It was political parties which also brought some divisions within the #FeesMustFall movement when they realised an opportunity to co-opt some students who belonged to their campus societies. They sought to make the movement their own and take credit for the victories that students had achieved.

Fallists – students belonging to the #FeesMustFall movement, as they like to be known – went to the extreme of banning political party regalia in their meetings and protests, but to no avail. Up against massive party machinery, political funding to pay fees for students and promises for jobs after graduation, the student movement had no chance but to fall under the shadow of either the ANC or EFF.

While speaking as a respondent at the Ahmed Kathrada 2018 Annual Lecture, Lindiwe Mazibuko was asked why she left the Democratic Alliance. For her, the problem was not the party she had left, but the way political parties desire hegemonic power. There is a level of control that parties exercise over its members about what they can say, and which issue they can champion or ignore.

It is, for this reason, she started Apolitical Academy, to nurture and train young minds about the nuts and bolts of policy implementation and governance, with the hope of fostering a new crop of young leaders who are capable to govern and not subject to the ideological restriction of political parties.

The land debate has also seen a unanimous opinion among youth about the importance of land reform – whether with or without compensation. But it has also surged old ideological debates about black consciousness, Marxism, pan-Africanism, liberalism, capitalism and democracy.

These old-aged ideological debates focus unduly on an important past but offer no solution to the current socio-economic situation of South Africa in a changing world.

It has also become fashionable to talk about the Fourth Industrial Revolution with a degree of false expertise, without ever presenting credible solutions about what the nature of work in South Africa will look like with an unskilled labour force. Suffice to say the youth are quickly falling into the political trap of all talk and no solutions.

It is yet to be seen whether the young people who are going to parliament after the 8 May elections will actually make a difference in our body politic or will they, just like every other youth from 1976, who has joined a party, has taken up the party line.

When the party pays your salary and is responsible for your livelihood, it is hard to see how the youth will ever go against established party norms and structures.

As a young person, I think representation is important – to see people of my age speaking out about my frustrations and daily struggles. But we need a new standard to judge whether someone can represent our interests rather than their age, gender and skin colour. DM


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