Will born-frees change South African politics?
I let it simmer. “Well, will they?”, I thought. I was at the Live Magazine VIP campaign’s To Vote or Not To Vote debate when the question was thrown at me, and with the operative word being “change”, I wondered, “change” what? The extent of any change or transition should surely be measure against its pre-existing or original state, right? So…what exactly do we have now? What are the born-frees? What have we had for the past twenty years?
Those questions seemed more difficult to answer than the first. With careful consideration however, it seems most apparently, SA has a political space dominated by the political machine that championed the global fight against apartheid – the ANC – and with it a president without a matric certificate, who goes home to 5 wives and who had multiple charges of fraud and corruption against him suspiciously “dropped” shortly before the 2009 elections.
We have an opposition party that seems out of touch with most black South African voters and because of this won only 16.7% of the national vote in 2009, giving them little power to veto any of the ANC’s major parliamentary moves like shutting down the Scorpions – which they deemed “unacceptable”. Four years later, the president of the republic allegedly used R246-million worth of taxpayers’ money to renovate his private homestead in KZN while his government proposes the legislation of a bill that may threaten the freedom of the press. Exactly what are young people meant to change about that today? Or, is it not today but tomorrow?
Far beyond the government, the private sector pays white professionals far more than their equally qualified black counterparts, poverty tears into the reality of most people living in the country and the national unemployment rate sits at 24.1% according to Stats SA. Does it seem unfair to even suggest that the entire future of a country that greatly lacks political accountability, is steeped in corruption, is ideologically impaired and must deal with gross economic inequalities, be handled by 20 year-olds? Particularly when many of them live within poverty themselves? What about crime, corruption, sexual violence and other such social ills? Will born-frees really change that? Is anyone, for example, really averse to lining their pockets because they were recently teenaged? “No sir, I won’t take your bribe ‘cause I was born in 1997.”
Who are “born-frees” anyway? When asked, neither EFF leader Julius Malema nor DA Gauteng premier candidate Mmusi Maimane seemed to be able to define the term. Instead, they peeped an opportunity to peddle votes for their respective parties. “How can they be free if they don’t live freely, they must vote for hope.” said Julius. “They are a group of South Africans that can choose who they’d like to lead them going forward,” affirms 33 year-old Mmusi, “they will vote not based on the past, but the future.” If the only distinction we can make of the born-frees is that they were born after 1994, are hopeful and may or may not vote “loyally” for the ANC, I struggle to understand how they will truly change anything as far as our core challenges as a nation go. “We are better educated, better resourced and aren’t angry like those in the past,” offers a young person the VIP Campaign surveyed in Braamfontein, “and we are more open-minded and worldly.” she continues.
It’s a hopeful, almost rehearsed response from the young lady that sounds like NGO-speak – the youth are worldly, open-minded, better educated, better resourced and have a lot of love to give! Hurrah for democracy! But, are we all these things really? No, not really. A great deal of us are really angry. Ask any kid in Bekkersdal – it’s also why SA is the protest capital of the world. We aren’t necessarily better educated – that is a largely comparative statement, making it a poor indication of how well educated we are. Yes, maybe a small part of us are “better resourced” than our current leaders were in the past but the fact we haven’t yet rocked they world with our inspired “born-free” ideals & viewpoints may suggest that we don’t use these resources well at the moment anyway.
Does our propensity to global cultural exchange and “open-mindedness” rob many of us urban youth of a strong conviction of what the national condition is truly like for most South Africans? Meaning there’s no real, organic motivation to remedy the nation’s core socio-economic issues because Vusi, who lives in a shack in KZN can’t start a twitter trend and so seems distant? And if we hope the first president from the born-free generation in +/- 2044 will be great simply because he/she/both was born outside of apartheid times and is “worldly”, then ladies and gentlemen, we are a red herring. Pack your bags, go to Australia.
Is it even fair for young people to be bundled into a single group and referred to as though we were uniform thinkers with the same challenges, attitudes, ambitions and ideas? I don’t think so – which leads me to believe that the entire “born-free” generation thing is an unfair, misleading gimmick dreamt up by an over-excited producer pitching a documentary to one of our major broadcasters in 2004. SA’s young people, who make up nearly 70% of the population, are ultimately individuals with a unique set of norms, outlooks and challenges & this must be appreciated as such in order for us to grasp the leadership and strength of character that is required for us to truly change SA’s national condition for the better.
Is it presumptuous to think young people will change SA? No, comrade. Is it presumptuous to think we’ll change things for the better? Yes. It’s true, as the world continually changes, young people in their many guises, ages, circumstances and political outlooks WILL change the political landscape in one of two key ways – through voting as the electorate and/or via active party-political participation- as media, politicians and captains of private industry.
So is the hype about SA’s young justified? Kinda.
I do believe young people will change SA for the better, but not as cynical 50-year old versions of our former selves in 2044, nor by being politically correct “born-frees”. We, you see, have to completely reject the born-free thing and become individuals. Then we need to start to working at changing SA NOW. Today. Why? Simple. Youthful qualities – ambition, idealism, innovation, brevity, aggression, passion, raw need, NAIVETY and the propensity to screw up are what will get us to truly change South Africa politics – for the better.
Whatever you make of the man, Julius Malema is a great example of how young people can impact politics TODAY. His “radical” claims have been described as naive & far-fetched, but he has ultimately readjusted SA’s political agenda, shifted our focus and been a legitimate, unambiguous voice for many who’ve felt misrepresented before. However divisive & inflammatory his rhetoric may be, he must be commended for standing strongly by what he believes in. The problem therefore isn’t that he says what he does, the problem is that we don’t have enough young people like him to present counter-arguments.
Young people naturally don’t share a generic idea of what life in SA is and should be like, so it’s unfortunate that we don’t have more young people representing differing youth viewpoints and aspirations on the national stage. In order for us to change SA politics for the better, we need to have unfiltered, raw conversations with ourselves and others about race, our culture and our future shouted out and debated at the highest level. It’s important for us to recognise our flaws, it’s important for us to critically assess each other, to appoint leaders amongst ourselves, reimagine South African life as we want it and cultivate a political culture that will mould us into the kind of accountable, debating, engaging, intelligent leaders we think we don’t have today. Now.
Screw it, let’s do it.
– Richard Branson
We also, significantly, need more independent young thought. A young journalist is likely to be far bolder, more expressive and directly representative of youth ideals on their blog than while working at the City Press under an editor who may introduce him/her to the newspaper’s own rigid agenda and focus.
We won’t be young forever, we need to dream, to argue, theorise and screw up. We need to be naive, like only young people can and most of all, we can NOT measure ourselves up against past generations; otherwise NOT using R246 million to upgrade your private homestead will be considered evidence of a great presidency. Our greatest risk is accepting the current state of things as the norm and thus perpetuating all the things we’d like to change.
So, will young people change SA politics?
I don’t know. Will you?
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