Defend Truth


Good trouble: We must harness young people’s spirit of resistance to reshape our democracy


Andrew Ihsaan Gasnolar was raised by his determined maternal family. He is an admitted attorney (formerly of the corporate type), with exposure in the public sector, management consulting, advisory and private sector. The focus of his work is about enabling equity, justice and leveraging public policy effectively. He had a stint in the South African party-political environment and found the experience a deeply educational one.

Young people across South Africa, due to socioeconomic circumstances, have been forced to the sidelines. As we reflect on Freedom Day, there is an opportunity to create a frame for the vibrancy of young people to reimagine our public square.

The structure of our political economy and civic culture has been consumed by the impoverishment of our politics.

An impoverishment that has squandered not just billions in service of a shadow state and the greed of those far more interested in consuming lavish lifestyles, but has continued to rob millions of South Africans. 

Theft that has maimed, killed, bludgeoned citizens, and worse, has continued to subject them to inequity, impaired outcomes in education and degradation of a healthcare system that has been pushed to the brink as a result of Covid-19. Freedom can only be honoured if we confront the inequity and impoverishment of our politics that continue to cause despair and dismay.  

Politics in a free and democratic South Africa should inspire and motivate citizens to commit to a renewed social compact committed to fairness, rooting out injustice and fulfilling the aspirations of our Constitution. Instead, we are confronted by despicable individuals masquerading as servants of the people – who seem only focused on securing as much electoral power as possible and never meaningfully addressing the needs of the people. 

The only option left to South Africans is to reject this systemic disrespect by avoiding party-political participation and, worse still, refusing to participate in our electoral system even though this tool could upend our broken system.  

Our party-political system has resisted reform at every turn and civil society has had to motivate for transparency at every turn, including around party-political funding and the process whereby members are put forward for positions in government and leadership in our country.

South Africans are not just burdened by poor outcomes in our governance and leadership, but also by the unimaginative and dated thinking across the political aisles. About 20 million South Africans are under the age of 35. This is the untapped potential the country must begin to harness. It must be the focus of our collective efforts to ensure young people across this country are included – that their voices, views and outlook begin to shape, strengthen and reimagine South Africa’s democracy. 

The unharnessed potential of young people continues to hamper opportunity and progress in South Africa, as do the barriers that exist for womxn and the violence that continues to beset them and members of the LGBTQI+ community.

Inclusion should be at the heart of our democracy, yet we have allowed exclusionary and violent practices to not only consume the public square, but also to inform and determine how policies are developed and how resources are allocated. Now is the time for South Africans to speak out against injustice in all its forms, and importantly to mobilise collectively through the efforts of people to address these issues.  

In 2019, the Electoral Commission of South Africa recorded a 47% decrease in young voter turnout – the crisis of our collective exclusion and apathy is a crisis confronting our national identity and civic culture.  The apathy is at the heart of the crisis of participation and exclusion.  

Young people today continue to be plagued by the consequences of a lost decade, looting across the country and the impoverished cohort of political leaders who claim to serve the people. Our generation has a unique opportunity to strengthen this democracy by forging ahead with inclusionary practices that leverage our diversity of thought and begin to reimagine participation beyond the voting booth.  

Disengagement from the voting booth should not surprise us as communities and citizens have been forced to protest actively to have their concerns heard. The electoral voice of South Africans has been relatively subdued, with politicians generally able to ignore the citizenry between election cycles and forcing citizens to protest to be heard and for the government to respond.  

South Africans are far from disengaged, but rather have committed their efforts to contributing outside the party-political fray. We may see this as an indicator of general civic apathy, but in 2018 Statistics South Africa reported that there were 2.7 million volunteers reflecting about 750 million volunteer hours contributed, or the equivalent of about 300,000 full-time jobs, which equates to an annual value in excess of R14-billion.

Young people across South Africa, due to prevailing socioeconomic circumstances, have been forced to the sidelines. The opportunity for South Africans, as we reflect on Freedom Day, is to reimagine and to create a frame for the vibrancy of young people to reimagine our public square – and to use that creativity and relentless talent to confront those who wish to undermine our democracy. This is the commitment that we must all make to inclusion – across race, gender, identity, class, sexual orientation and faith. Inclusion that ensures our democracy lives up to the aspirations of its citizens.  

The spirit of resistance among young people has come alive once more – not just here in South Africa but across the globe – and it is that spirit of resistance that we must harness to reshape and strengthen our democracy.

We must speak truth to power and hold our elected leaders accountable and responsible. The hope and spirit of optimism of this generation can begin the work of unshackling and rebuilding our society to ensure that it is fair, equitable and just. But young people will need to be brave, bold and honest – we will have to embrace the notion of causing good trouble, thinking boldly. Importantly we will need to be honest, civic-minded and committed fully to shaping a better South Africa not just for ourselves but for all the citizens of this country who have been silenced and sidelined.  

South Africa, as it reflects on its freedoms, must begin to consider how best to reimagine its democracy, and what it will require to rebuild not only after the traumas inflicted on us by the governing party of our own choosing and the ravages of Covid-19, but also the fraying of our social fabric. The efforts to rebuild cannot be delegated or entrusted to the party-political machinery that has brought us to this point. Rather, the rebuilding will require collective impetus and commitment from South Africans to rebuild our civic square. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Miles Japhet says:

    The NDR will destroy all hope for the young – failed ideologies and rampant racism along with corruption and incompetent management typify the ANC. History will judge them

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