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Umsebenzi Online

Volume 14, No. 28, 31 July 2015

In this Issue:

Red Alert

The youth must set aside populist rhetoric, antics and reactionary theatrical disruptions

By Barry James Mitchell

Taking into account that 37% of the South African population are classified as youth (population aged between 15 and 35), and considering that 36.1% of South African youth are unemployed, the future of the next generation tasked with tackling the triple crisis of unemployment, inequality and poverty and of overcoming core social and economic challenges that are clearly deep-rooted and systemic, require a radical (yes, radical!) shift from a top-down bureaucratic and unpatriotic textbook approach.

Attending the first Youth Round Table Discussion at the National Assembly yesterday, one would get the impression that the young parliamentarians of the next generation, tasked with this mammoth challenge to overcome, would perhaps set aside populist rhetoric and antics and get to the substantive matters at hand. From the offset however, what I had only seen on TV became a live spectacle. True to form, young opposition MPs interrupted proceedings, spoke over the chairperson of the session and when the disruption was mulled by a majority, the young upstarts left the proceeding. I thought to myself: “Is this what has become of highest decision making forum of our young democracy?

Considering that many of the young people present had sacrificed time, resources and energy to be present, it was eye-opening to witness the character of “leaders” being groomed by their senior counter-parts, clearly their agenda on the day was fed with a spoon full of anger, anarchism and agitation. What amazed me further, was an almost telepathic coordination of disruption between to polar opposite ideological political parties, smiling ear-to-ear, each time “ORDER CHAIRPERSON” was blared through a mic.

To the crux of the matter of the day’s objectives. Noting the immense socio-economic redistributive programmes and achievements of the 1994 democratic breakthrough, what the next generation has to contend with (and ultimately address) is the insufficient structural transformation of our economy and society. Transformation that has occurred, to be frank, has either just scratched the surface, has unintentionally replaced or mixed self-serving suits representing one demographic with that of another, has been substantially diluted due to international economic dynamics and has led to one of the most vile cancers that plagues any developing, post-liberated nation - corruption.

Whilst we must commend the sacrifice and progressive work of starting to address over 300 years of colonialism and Apartheid, of providing over 16 million South Africans with some form of much-needed social grants, of electrifying over 7 million households and delivering over 3.3 million free houses that have benefited over 16 million people, a culture and trend has emerged amongst our people which has filtered down to our youth. A culture of “beneficiaries”, “clients” and “recipients” rather than active motive forces of change. Some youth are influenced and attracted by skipping steps on the path to “bling”, they aspire to be millionaire “Sugar-daddy's” and “Ben 10's”, others leave institutions of higher learning “elevated to the next class” with the tangible feeling of their first pay cheque in their hands. Those trapped in the cycle, attributed to the Triple Crises, have little option of escaping the realities that exist in our townships, rural villages, farms and coastal communities.

Whilst we might not all agree with the National Development Plan, its diagnostic report submitted for consideration in 2011 points to nine broad challenges facing South Africa, challenges that despite our political, social or ideological differences find resonance with most South Africans; these are that: too few people work, the quality of school education for black people is poor, infrastructure is poorly located, inadequate and under-maintained, spatial divides hobble inclusive development, the economy is unsustainably resource intensive, the public health system cannot meet demand or sustain quality, public services are uneven and often of poor quality, corruption levels are high and South Africa remains a divided society.

To address these issues, as I said is a mammoth task, a task that requires a radical shift for the next generation to actively participate in and lead. The National Youth Service Programme should be seriously considered to be incorporated into addressing some of these dire challenges. In fact, an expanded, well-resourced and reconfigured approach that promotes this programme ought to be also taken up.

The introduction of a similar programme in Malaysia sought to achieve the following objectives: the development of a patriotic and proud generation, the enhancement of unity among the multi-racial communities in the country, instilling a spirit of caring and volunteerism among society and developing an active, intelligent and confident generation. Notable successes have been achieved in this regard. In 2014 Malaysia experienced some of the worst flooding in its history, with over 200,000 people displaced, young initiates volunteered to assist their communities and country.

The National Youth Service Programme could be a catalyst for strengthening nation building, it will give the non-obligatory opportunity for youth to integrate across class, culture, race, sex and religion. It will develop active and capable youth citizens. Partnering with UNISA, TVET colleges and other institutions of Higher Learning, the next generation will be trained and educated with practical and much needed skill capable of driving the current re-industrialisation process in South Africa. It will also act as a highly critical mechanism to develop regional and international solidarity and stability.

Despite efforts to demonise this programme and pre-empt the expected reactions; I am not putting forward an idea of militarising youth, I am not stating that this will completely eradicate unemployment, poverty and inequality, I am simply saying that let us give young people - the next generation of our people, an option. Let the National Youth Service Programme be their option!

Cde Barry Mitchell is SACP Western Cape 2nd Deputy Provincial Secretary, and writes in personal capacity

Umsebenzi Online is the voice of the South African Working Class