“In the presence of a member of the Party, the people are silent […] But when the evening comes, away from the village, in the cafes or by the river, the bitter unceasing anger makes itself heard” - Franz Fanon
The time has come for us to give power back to the people. The working poor are exhausted by the cycle of poverty that traps them in informal settlements and townships where seething anger against the state often breaks out into violence and mounting xenophobic attacks as people compete for scarce resources.
One big focus is education. Our children are robbed of quality education because we as parents are not involved. We do not demand that decisive action is taken against teachers who arrive late, are unprepared for their lessons and are sometimes abusive or drunk. Most teachers are dedicated professionals but there is a minority that deny our children the right to quality education. We appear not to be outraged when computer laboratories opened with great fanfare lay unused, or where school libraries, sporting and laboratory facilities are simply nonexistent.
Today there is a pervasive restlessness as youths contemplate prospects post-school where a matriculation pass does not guarantee employment. Having to face a future of joblessness is debilitating because work gives one human dignity and purpose. In South Africa, over half of our youth between 15 and 24 years are unemployed and are unlikely to ever get a job. Of the 4.3 million unemployed, over 3.2 million are between 15 and 35.
Add this to the experience of trying to enter the job market with limited skills, with warding off the ever-present lure of drug and alcohol abuse, a threatened sense of belonging and identity and what you have is a toxic mix potentially fueling fatalistic behaviour, which our country can ill afford - especially not with our reality of HIV and AIDS.
If we look at other countries, especially fragile and post-conflict states where youths have unmet expectations, what we see is a ticking time bomb. In countries and states where violence is endemic these young people constitute the core of militias that rampage through society driving narrow political interests and crime. This is particularly sobering as developing countries present a ‘youth bulge’, a largely youthful population group.
Many young people I have spoken to over the years through work with an NGO dealing with HIV/AIDS amongst youth, say they feel alienated by the language of an older generation which consistently juxtaposes the waywardness of today’s youth with the commitment and dedication to the freedom struggle of their elders or parents. They feel increasingly marginalised and angered by the wealth they see, but know they will never have. A wealth they associate with a 'connected elite', while they are forced to face the reality of their own lives and the hardships their parents still endure.
Consequently, they are drawn to demagogues who spew rhetoric that appeals to the base of their unmet expectations, and identify with leadership that promises ‘voice’ and change.
We all want change. The restlessness that permeates the air is of ordinary people not afraid to ask questions and who are not intimidated by political or commercial pressures. It is the ‘unceasing anger’ of people frustrated by not being assured the potential of employment or decent work and by the lack of dignity in not being able to put food on the table.
In our quest to improve the lives of our people, and to deepen democracy we are compelled to strengthen civil society. The NGO sector and social movements played a critical role in our fight for freedom; and must be harnessed to face new demands of transparency and accountability.
The mistake we made was to think that all our socio-economic challenges would disappear once we had our freedom. In developing a comprehensive programme of reconstruction and development, many NGOs and civics felt their raison d’être was achieved and no longer relevant or needed in a new South Africa. NGO projects and leadership were subsumed into the state structures, compromising a power once had. Volunteerism by a broad section of our diverse society - the bedrock of our resistance movement - dissipated and the culture of servant leadership appears somewhat of a figment of a bygone era.
A new people’s contract demands that those in power and in political office serve with humility; that corruption will not be tolerated; that jobs and decent work will be prioritised; that ‘tenderpreneurs’ and a predatory elite who corrupt state officials, steal licences and buy and sell tenders are exposed; that our civil liberties are protected; and that leaders account for babies dying in our hospitals.
We need to go back to the lessons of the Eighties. Social mobilisation and powerful and informed grassroots organisations are what won us our political freedom. Today we face a new war against poverty, inequality and corruption. We need to stand united against mediocrity and non performance and the poor will be the centre of our debates, policies, programmes and delivery. We need more voices to challenge power with the TRUTH.
- Jay Naidoo’s memoir, Fighting for Justice, is available at all leading bookstores. To contact Jay Naidoo or purchase the book, visit The Just Cause.
SANGONeT and The Just Cause are offering 12 autographed copies of Jay Naidoo’s book to NGO Pulse readers. To win a copy, please visit www.thejustcause.org and submit your entry of a volunteer effort that can be replicated or used as a model of volunteerism.