The African National Congress has been around for 107 years, and in government for 25 of these. Its leadership has been dominated by old men, and the party hasn’t exactly been on the up at the ballot box in the past decade. But one of its youngest MP candidates, Fasiha Hassan, tells CARIEN DU PLESSIS its new dawn will reveal a younger face.
She’s fresh out of university, but in her short political life Hassan has been part of big history. She was on the Wits SRC for the 2014/15 term and part of the core group that started the Fees Must Fall movement in 2015. Hassan won the Student Peace Prize last year, an international award for her nonviolent efforts towards equal access to higher education.
She has since “transitioned” from her involvement in the ANC-aligned Progressive Youth Alliance and student politics into national politics, and is now on the ANC’s list for parliament.
The 25-year-old makes a strong case for her party, saying it has many policies that appeal to the youth, even beyond education, which is her obvious passion.
The ANC’ offering extends to beyond free education
“The ANC has in its policy what it terms the ‘skills revolution’,” Hassan said. “It looks at skills from an early childhood development stage. We cannot only put in resources at the university level, but we have to start this process from the very beginning.”
As for tertiary education, students who started their first year in 2018 with a household income of R350,000 are actual beneficiaries of free education, some of it as a direct result of the Fees Must Fall movement. Much of it has been part of ANC and Sasco policy all the time, she said.
It’s also a big thing that the ANC-led government set aside R96 million to clear the historic debt of thousands of students, who were subsequently able to graduate or advance to the next tier of study.
“That’s just one example of where this huge commitment from the ANC is,” she said.
There have also been internship programmes, such as the Youth Employment Service from the Presidency’s side which has been “hugely successful for training up young people to get jobs,” she said, but acknowledged that youth unemployment – and joblessness in general – is still a massive problem in South Africa, as is the Catch-22 of needing experience to get a job, and vice versa.
Hassan said at a 16.5 million working population, more people are in work now than before, but it’s an “incredibly low” figure considering South Africa’s high unemployment rate. “There is no quick fix to it and we have to be very clear on that. We can’t be populist and say we can fix this overnight. There are issues of structural and cyclical unemployment, and a lot of people don’t have skills.” Partnerships between government and business are important in this respect, she said.
The ANC-led government has been focussing on young people in small businesses and entrepreneurship, she said, with R1.5 billion invested by the Industrial Development Corporation in youth empowered businesses. There’s also been a focus on women-empowered businesses and black industrialists.
President Cyril Ramaphosa’s goal of attracting R1.3 trillion in investment in the country is huge, she said, and will help with getting more money into the system to help young people in the economy.
Data must fall, and the ANC is pushing
Data is “incredibly unaffordable” to young people, Hassan said.
“One of the things we are doing is pushing the Competition Commission and the structural bodies. There has been an ongoing review of the cost of data,” she said. Cheaper data will open up opportunities for business, but will also mean that students don’t have to sit at the university overnight to access wifi for assignments they could do at home.“Data is not a luxury, it’s a necessity for providing services to our people, and the ANC is focussing on this.”
Similarly, the ANC is talking about the fourth industrial revolution and how to create jobs and expertise that will be useful in future. It’s about focussing on data analytics, blockchain, machine learning and everything needed to equip young people for the jobs of tomorrow, she said.
Climate change is a concern
Climate change might not be the biggest driver of what makes people vote right now, but it’s an important issue, she said. Government is getting a few things right, such as building RDP homes with solar panels, and focussing on research into renewables and moving away from the use of coal. “[Environmentalism] is not just about not using plastic straws,” she said. “Land will mean nothing when climate change and severe effects of climate change take place, because it means the land will not be arable. You can’t do anything with that land.”
Climate change is therefore very important. As for land redistribution itself, she said the ANC had been looking at how to do this for years, and its programmes have effected some redistribution benefiting thousands of families. “Right now there’s a huge look at the fast-tracking of land releases and how we can push expropriation on a faster basis. But as a lawyer I can tell you that lots of these processes take time.”
The future is young
Hassan said she can definitely see the country having a young president in the not-too-distant future. “It is interesting, across party lines, to see the emergence of younger people in Parliament and legislature,” she said. “We are going to see the emergence of younger leaders, under 35s.”
There are also efforts to fix the ANC’s ailing youth league. “The ANC Youth League is going to conference in September this year. Watch this space. If things go according to plan, there will be a revival of the youth league and you will see fresh faces who were involved in the Fees Must Fall movement and who have the ability to take back the youth league.”
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