Youth still sidelined by ‘elders’
The people who usually call for “the youth to rise” or for “communities on the ground” to decide the fate of our democracy are not entirely honest.
If anything, the call is actually made by people who are not prepared for the potential of the youth to truly come out.
This disease is visible across all spheres of influence, in politics, academia, the church and community organisations.
In politics, youth activism is funded by elders.
In the context of the ruling party, the youth movement gets financial and organisational support for its campaigns depending on how such campaigns advance the interests of the leading faction of elders.
When in 2008 the ANCYL of Julius Malema supported the removal of then president Thabo Mbeki, led by the Jacob Zuma faction of elders, it received all manner of financial and organisational support from this faction of elders, including having access to state tenders in the Limpopo government.
As soon as Malema began to take up his battles against the Zuma faction of elders in 2012, they expelled him from the party and [allegedly] killed his secretary-general, Sindiso Magaqa.
The same fate awaited the DA Youth of Mbali Ntuli which led to her exit from the party in 2014 when it started to become critical of the faction of white elders in the party led by Helen Zille.
The current leader of the DA Youth, Luyolo Mphithi, is number 15 on the DA 2019 national parliamentary elections list.
This is a reward he received from the DA elders for being a well-behaved black who doesn’t challenge the zigzag leadership of Mmusi Maimane when it’s confronted by pressing issues of racism and untransformed patterns of asset ownership in the Western Cape.
In the EFF, its form of youth wing is the EFF Student Command, whose leader, Peter Keetse, bought his way to the parliamentary list of the EFF by ensuring that he becomes a sweetheart to its elders, Floyd Shivambu and Julius Malema.
This is even when they [allegedly] took millions from VBS which could have gone to student bursaries.
It’s clear that any form of principled protest that Keetse and his young group in the EFF Student Command would have waged against Malema would have been the end of their promising political careers.
This would be similar to the fate suffered by the 20 EFF members of parliament who are not returning to the chamber post-2019 elections due to their internal discontent with Malema and Shivambu.
In academia, young people are calling for decolonisation and for the end of gender-based violence from a management team of elders that was never socialised nor trained to confront these questions.
The idea of a university is to the management elders a qualification-producing institution that should be financially stable and socially legitimate.
Forms of protests against the injustices it’s complicit in, such as racism and sexism, are regarded as a disruption that should be contained with court orders.
The current wave of innovative student activism is an alienating phenomenon for the management elders which should be contained through threats, secret meetings, false promises, and weak resolutions.
The Wits University vice-chancellor even had the audacity to write an entire self-redemption book about student leaders, labeling them as rebels who were unable to protest “properly”.
The idea of a community democracy “from the ground” is also a false discourse because communities have local economies that are controlled by elders who are councillors, government officials and business people.
Community members and the unemployed youth have their activism controlled by these local economic handlers who are known to isolate anyone who dares to challenge their political and socio-economic interests.
Employment in community projects such as the EPWP is determined by the holders of economic power in that particular township.
Therefore, community opinions and political choices are determined by the proximity of the poor to the controllers of the local economy, which tend to be an owning block of elders.
The so-called freedom to decide and vote by the youth “from the ground and the community” do not exist in reality.
The question of youth activism in post-apartheid SA is a matter that needs to be scholarly revisited.
Globally, young people are constantly being falsely underscored as a crucial demographic of elections, yet evidence shows that they are one of the most powerless groups in society who are just proxies of the dominant and existing economic factions competing for power.
Domestically, the month of June has been selected by corporations to hold annual music events and fashion concerts for this part of the population.
The June period generally, and the whole year particularly, is still not being utilised effectively to ask pressing questions of youth power such as full and permanent employment for graduates, ownership of economic assets for the creative and ambitious youth, and leadership of government institutions and the financial sector for the talented and capable youth.
These are the issues that should be considered if youth activism is to have its own independent impact on the tangible affairs of SA.
● Pedro Mzileni is a Ph.D. sociology candidate at Nelson Mandela University.