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Patronage networks force Eastern Cape youth into becomi...

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Opinionista

Eastern Cape patronage networks force the youth into becoming migrant workers

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Lwanda Maqwelane is a PhD candidate at Rhodes University and serves as a research assistant to the SARChI Chair in Global Change and Transformative Social Learning. Her research interest lies in the sustainable development and integration of black farmers into commercial value chains.

Eastern Cape youth find themselves forced into becoming migrant workers not by choice, but due to systemic exile. The reasons are simple – the economic and political conditions demand that we seek opportunities that are not largely dependent on patronage networks.

It is that time of year again when we are immersed in the archives of history, remembering the youth of 1976. Struggle stalwarts will share their memories, rallies will be held commemorating the fallen. 

The legitimate historical preservation of the Struggle for freedom cannot, however, happen at the expense and marginalisation of current youth struggles faced under a democratic government. 

Trading Economics reports that South Africa’s youth unemployment rate is recorded at a near-record high of 63.9%. In light of the report and the multifaceted socioeconomic challenges that emerge from this reality, I am then forced to ask: What exactly are we expected to celebrate?

It was Frantz Fanon who said, “Each generation must discover its mission, fulfil it or betray it, in relative opacity.” The youth of 1976 discovered and fulfilled its mission. That said, the struggle for transformation, just and transparent government systems, and access to equitable socioeconomic opportunities did not end with the attainment of democracy. 

Democracy was and continues to be a work in progress where successive generations must discover their missions and fulfil them “in relative opacity”. 

We must acknowledge that we find ourselves operating in a government system that, to a large extent, has been captured by patronage networks. A system that has become arrogant in its power and subsequent rule. A culture of entitlement and self-preservation that no longer has the ability to connect with ordinary South Africans.

Amandla asemasebeni. Whether we like it or not, the answer is political. 

Being apolitical is a luxury we, as this generation, can no longer afford. Our economic reality teeters on the margins of survival, a reality that has been exacerbated by corruption and patronage networks.

We need a drastic political culture shift in terms of the values, attitudes, beliefs and practices that inform the current political structures and that inform the governance of state institutions. 

We need a clear programme on the repoliticisation of the youth where power is actively challenged and contested and where corrosive practices that are anti-development are tackled head-on.

Patronage networks clearly outlined in the Zondo Commission have eroded the separation of power and independence between public institutions and political interests. The Eastern Cape has not been immune to the corrosive impact of patronage networks. 

The exodus of skilled young professionals is testament to this, and has further compounded the long-standing practice of migrant labour, a challenge the province continues to face.

An overwhelming number of Eastern Cape youth find themselves forced into becoming migrant workers not by choice, but due to systemic exile that can be attributed to the chronic lack of job and economic opportunities, despite having the necessary skill sets and qualifications to contribute to the intellectual development and innovation project of the province. 

The reasons are simple – the economic and political conditions demand that we seek opportunities that are not largely dependent on patronage networks.

The skills shortage compounded by the offsets of brain drain in the Eastern Cape can be clearly experienced in the everyday quality of life in the province as it pertains to innovation, development, access to opportunities and the ability to change cultures of practice that no longer serve purpose.

It would be disingenuous, however, not to acknowledge that the province inherited structural and systemic challenges – but that said, it is still not absolved from generating equitable and transparent systems of practice that afford us to make contributions in our province of birth. 

Not all of us want to leave the Eastern Cape, but circumstance forces us otherwise.

For us, the youth, it is time we move away from the over-reliance on government structures and their ability to self-correct. Engagement at all spheres of government and sectors is needed in contesting complacency – a step, I believe, will at least attempt to align state priorities with public interests. 

Active citizen participation is needed in rebuilding trust between the two spheres of power.

It has become abundantly clear that as citizens, we can no longer rely on the state’s moral-ethical leadership as a compass in the obtainment of the “common good”.

It is a matter of urgency that the province work towards the reprioritisation of skilled labour necessary to resuscitate the local economy. 

Until that happens, I have resigned myself to the reality that I, too, will inevitably become a migrant worker. DM

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  • The democracy that was so hard fought for – and won – provides us with the only tool we need in order to change the political status quo, and yet, voting figures are lower every successive election, and still the installers of the patronage system prevail and remain in office, by hook or by crook (primarily the latter). Surprisingly, it’s the very group that has the most to lose that stays away from the ballot boxes en masse – the youth. And on the rare occasion that they do stand up for themselves, their attacks are aimed at “the settlers”, as if the state has played no role in the desperate position in which we find ourselves. Also, this migration scenario is not only a drain on the EC, but puts enormous pressures on the Western Cape. I am reminded of a term used by a certain vilified DA politician, “economic refugees”. Sounds to me as if this author is saying the same thing. As she also says, the only solution is political. But we are so blinded by our prejudices that I fear we will never find our way out of this mess without outside help.

  • Our democracy that was so hard fought for – and won – provides us with the only tool we need in order to change the political status quo, and yet, voting figures are lower every successive election, and still the installers of the patronage system prevail and remain in office, by hook or by crook (primarily the latter). Surprisingly, it’s the very group that has the most to lose that stays away from the ballot boxes en masse – the youth. And on the rare occasion that they do stand up for themselves, their attacks are aimed at “the settlers”, as if the state has played no role in the desperate position in which we find ourselves. Also, this migration scenario is not only a drain on the EC, but puts enormous pressures on the Western Cape. I am reminded of a term used by a certain vilified DA politician, “economic refugees”. Sounds to me as if this author is saying the same thing. As she also says, the only solution is political. But we are so blinded by our prejudices that I fear we will never find our way out of this mess without outside help.
    (I posted this before, and it was removed. Hope it was a glitch)

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