From the onset let me state matter-of-factly that for South Africa (or any other society for that matter) to move forward, its youth must be impatient with, and even intolerant of, the older generation. The South African population dynamics and development indexes demand this of our youth. All credible population surveys confirm that South Africa is a youthful country, in line with the rest of the continent. Consequently and needless to say, the youth are the most affected by South Africa’s developmental deficiencies. These range from unemployment, lack of productive skills, poverty and racialised inequality.
It is in this context that the composition of the ANC national list for parliamentary representatives is a serious cause for concern. The shocking twenty percent representation of youth in this list is not just a pittance, but an insult. It is in fact an unequivocal statement from the old guard of the ANC that our youth have no role to play in politics. The old guard of the ANC has appropriated to itself all the political power while throwing political crumbs at those few young people connected enough to make it to the national list.
Therefore we pose the question: whose interests does this political power arrangement serve? If our population dynamics and development indexes are as explicated above, why is the ANC consigning the youth in the margins of political authority? Why is the ANC old guard so intent on clinging to political power at all costs without any meaningful or tangible succession plan in place? If we all agree that the political structure of any society is a reflection of its socio-economic foundation, whose economic interests does the old ANC leadership represent?
The answer to some of these questions can be found in the recent treatise by Mr. Moeletsi Mbeki published in the Daily Maverick of 07 January 2019. In this reflection Mr. Mbeki observes thus:
‘What is most commonly misunderstood about South African politics, especially by black compatriots, is that petty-bourgeois parties advance the interests of their core constituency – the petty bourgeoisie....the same can be said for the African National Congress, which claims to be advancing the interests of all blacks while in reality it primarily advances the interests of the African petty bourgeoisie. These are former leaders of anti-apartheid organisations, civil servants, intelligentsia, many of whom have become billionaires and multi-millionaires while the black masses languish under ever-increasing poverty and unemployment’.
This observation is important if we are to understand the motivation behind the ANC old guard’s obsession with political power. It is not about primarily advancing the interests of the marginalized communities, the majority of whom is the black youth. It is, first and foremost, about the interests of the petty bourgeoisie, of which the ANC old guard is a fundamental part. The interests of the marginalized communities are secondary, only to be taken seriously when the political power of the petty bourgeoisie - with its concomitant economic interest - is threatened at the next polls.
Further, the twenty percent representation of the youth in the ANC national list is confirmation that the ANC old guard is not concerned with the ANC’s posterity. Their concern is their compulsive material consumption in a rat race against the future. Instead of mainstreaming the youth and place them at the center of both national leadership and national development, they treat the youth as irrelevant mutants, some of whom must be appeased than empowered. The ANC old guard would rather die, literally, of old age whilst in power than retire and let the youth take over. It’s a particularly odd and disturbing phenomenon that is at variance with international trends.
Therefore the youth need to understand that the ANC old guard will not just surrender power to them on a silver platter. They are going to have to fight for it as a South African youth block whose common denominator is their poverty, unemployment and under development. The youth will have to become impatient, agitated and intolerant of the old guard occupying the levers of power if they are to gain any meaningful political power. Otherwise the status quo will remain, and with devastating consequences for them and the country.
In this regard, there are various mechanisms which the youth can use to foster and bolster their political power. The obvious one is their energies in campaigning for the ANC election victory. It is the youth that vigorously campaign for the ANC’s victory in every election. This campaign work by the youth must of necessity be conditional from now onwards. It must be based on tangible gains for the youth in terms of political power. This should also be accompanied by a bold intent to displace the petty bourgeoisie’s consumerate culture for a more egalitarian, developmental and mass based political culture.
Lastly, I must confess that I have since become doubtful about President Ramaphosa’s New Dawn. I am because without placing the energies of the youth at its core, this new dawn is bound to fail. We cannot reimagine our country’s future and reignite our people’s hopes to that future if the youth continues to be marginalised and disempowered. The success of our vision for the future depends on a conscious effort to develop, nurture and empower a generation of youth as imminent leaders of our political system and institutions, business development and organs of civil society.
Mzukisi Makatse is a member of the ANC. He writes in his personal capacity.