South African politicians just don’t get us anymore

There exists within the current South African political climate, indicators that it is time for greater youth representation. TAD KHOSA reviews the current crop of options available.

With municipal elections on the horizon, yet again, an overriding sense of frustration consumes most South Africans when they look at the current crop of political parties at their disposal. The long-sensed mood amongst the electorate is that their vote basically means picking the best out of seemingly terrible options.

The political parties, in conjunction with the institution of parliament, pander to shallow populism. The platform for substantive discussion and debate has been torn down to a highlight reel of misguided rhetoric and blatant disruptive mechanisms. There is clearly no understanding from the executive and the broader political institutions of how to appeal to South Africans.

The African National Congress (ANC) has long needed to confront the apparent institutional delusion that has manifested itself as a sinister paternal nature in its governance style. Its track record includes the almost authoritarian implementation of an e-toll system that finds no traction with the citizens that it “serves”. Or the institutional behaviour it has adopted to protect a leader that, since his inauguration, has lost legitimacy through questionable appointments and a well-documented record of failure to enact fiscal integrity or prudence. This same inaptitude has filtered through the ranks of the ANC.

Cross the parliamentary line and you find no greener pastures, but the Democratic Alliance whose opportunistic wailing and undying fight to gain ANC territory has, in some cases, pushed potential voters away. Its self-proclaimed track record of great service delivery, many believe, is highly skewed towards white interests. A failure of the party, is the passive tone it has towards social discourse on racism and many of its members, including leader Helen Zille’s stance towards historically racially insensitive rhetoric that she terms as “microaggressions”.

The Economic Freedom Fighters, led by Julius Malema have encompassed the upsurge in anti-establishment movements, a sentiment solidified internationally not only by the support for candidates like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, but what is being branded a right wing “anti-immigration” party, the Alternative für Deutschland, in Germany which is gaining support in opposition to Angela Merkel’s under-threat policy on refugees.

All this points towards a diminishing public perception of the image of political institutions globally. Why though? The ethical Rubik’s cube of conflating within government’s mandate social, political and philosophical ideologies to form legislation that reflects fair opportunity is in conflict with the original mandate of the institutions. They are not structured to address the problems that face the world today.

What may be the biggest threat to establishment politics in SA and globally is social media:

(i) Social media serves as a device to document and create a track record of political statements at the disposal to anyone with access to the internet. It’s a modern-day regulation or “vetting” tool to call out divisive assertions, unfounded claims and insensitive statements that marginalise individuals.

(ii) Social media serves as a platform for mass pool collective agency undeterred by geography or financial obstacles. Platforms like Twitter and Facebook enable a debate to be staged in real time with a presidential speech or parliamentary caucus allowing for greater social consciousness on policy and current affairs.

(iii) The intersectionality that exists on social media, with women’s rights, feminism, LGBTQI+ rights, and indigenous livelihoods being as big a conversation as racism and economic freedoms. This further highlights the incompetence of political institutions to reflect the societal call for broader representation for these marginalised groups.

In this context, we see that the South African political climate and its inseparable turbulence galvanise the need for an arena for youth politics. This is an arena that has been dilapidated by the diminishing relevance of the ANC Youth League and the stunted avenues for young individuals entering the political fold.

Tad KhosaTad Khosa is a graduate in BSocSc in International Relations, Public Policy and Sociology from UCT, Harvard Model United Nations alumnus and a keen observer of social and economic policy.