South Africa: The hopes and fears of the country’s youth

South AfricansThe stakes for the last election were high and if change is not implemented as promised in parties’ manifestos, the growing frustration of South African citizens will only worsen and socio-political instability and unrest will ensue.

This is reflected in the dwindling support for the ANC and the growth in confidence in the EFF. But with the ANC now having to fight for its life and the EFF celebrating its growth, one wonders how much focus will be put into delivering on campaign promises.

In 1994, when South Africa was liberated from the heinous manacles of the Apartheid government, a sense of hope and great expectation filled the atmosphere.

Black South Africans basked in the glory of their new-found suffrage—a dignifying right, albeit unfamiliar. They stood in long queues, eager to cast their votes for the ANC, a movement they believed would pave the way for them to realise their ambitions of having better employment opportunities and improved standards of living.

The dawn of the new democratic dispensation was accompanied by a fervent belief that the new ruling party would eradicate much of the systemic and institutional injustices that Apartheid had meted out against Black South Africans.

When the ANC transitioned from a socio-political movement to a ruling party in 1994, it was faced with the mammoth task of effacing three centuries of Apartheid and colonialism; objectively speaking, the ANC did what it could and it would be remiss to say the movement-turned-governing party never brought about significant changes.

While it is true that the ANC have let the majority down in many ways, the interventions they implemented after their first election had a significant impact on the livelihoods of marginalised South Africans.

The introduction of the social grants system, for example, lifted many from poverty; even though the sustainability of the system is rather questionable, it was a necessary interim intervention while more long-term and sustainable solutions to under-employment and joblessness were being found.

Moreover, there was an improvement on access to public services and education, and the economy showed positive growth. As noted by News24columnist Mpumelelo Mkhabela, “By 2004, there were signs the ANC had gotten to grips with governing. It had built a proven record…The economy was beginning to respond positively to the ANC’s interventions. It reached a historic growth peak by 2006”.

While societal, political and economic changes since 1994 are notable, transformation and service delivery stagnated, resulting in voter disillusionment.

Before the elections, the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) published their Criterion Report, which outlines voter preferences, attitudes and the nature of the South African political landscape.

According to the report, the ANC had been experiencing a steady decline in voter support nationally and in Gauteng, while the DA’s hold on the Western Cape has become tenuous. The EFF is on a steady growth path nationally. The results of the elections solidified the findings of the Criterion Report and show an interesting, albeit unsurprising, shift in South African politics.

Losing touch with the people

We’ve watched the ANC miss the mark for years; we’ve decried and bemoaned the lack of political will, the lack of accountability and the venality that is given free rein in the governing party, with little to no impunity.

Young Black South Africans have become so disillusioned by the status quo that deciding who to vote for was an excruciatingly difficult decision to make.

Unlike our parents and grandparents, who had a movement they believed in because of their fight to dismantle the behemoth that was the Apartheid regime, we can’t point out a single party that is in the trenches for the sake of the liberty we seek from unemployment, poverty and access to quality education.

The ANC doesn’t seem to be prioritising our liberties as much, perhaps it’s because our struggles aren’t theirs. It is not clear who our heroes are; it is not clear who will free us.

The ANC has lost its credibility as a movement by the people for the people. It appears that the vehemence with which Apartheid was taken down died with the oppressive regime.

In my opinion, the ANC got comfortable; it seems that with every year that the party has been in power, prioritising the needs of the majority keeps losing its weight. The governing party and many of the leaders placed in high positions have lost touch with the people on the ground and their needs.

As a young Black South African woman, I’m happy that the ANC has lost seats in parliament. My elation has more to do with what this says about democracy in South Africa than with what this means for the opposition.

This really points to how fortunate South Africans are to have a democratic system that isn’t in crisis and, to a greater degree than in most African countries, actually reflects the sentiments of the majority.

Am I happy that voters have, as expressed by South African stalwart journalist Ferial Haffajee, “rolled out the red carpet for the EFF” and upped their presence in parliament? To be honest, I don’t know.

On the one hand, I am tempted to think that with the ANC losing supporters to the EFF, maybe they’ll be more intentional about handling corrupt leaders accordingly, dealing with access to quality education and healthcare, creating jobs and addressing issues around minimum wage and land redistribution. On the other hand, I wonder if the EFF will be any better at delivering on their campaign and manifesto declarations.

Mighty tug of war

As a young black South African who straddles a life of privilege and no privilege, I am forced to constantly think about what needs to happen for there to be significant change in the country.

The kind of change that will heal the nation of Apartheid wounds; the kind of change that will remedy the poverty in Black communities that was engineered by Apartheid; the kind of change that will happen at a faster rate and will not need there to be some kind of civil war before we see it in our lifetime.

Since the ANC made it through these elections narrowly, we can anticipate that there will be a mighty tug of war caused by who is to step into which leadership position, which puts us at such a precarious place as a country because citizens now have to trust the choices of individuals who let corruption reign, promote Afrophobia and mismanage finances.

With things being as they are within the governing party and regarding politics in general, the tussle for who will take which position of power will slow the process of certain manifesto items being actioned because now the focus will be more on how to keep the ANC in power than on how to deliver on its promises.

The truth of the matter is that the fight is more for power than it is for change; it has been this way for a while and, after such a high-stakes election, it’s only going to get worse.

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