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The fall of apartheid in South Africa has not yielded genuine representation and opportunities for the country’s poor majority, writes Zodwa Nsibande. With political parties happy to remain ‘anti-poor’, it falls upon South Africa’s youth to revolutionise wider society in the struggle for equality and opportunities for all, Nsibande stresses.

Can youth show the way? Yes we can. In isiZulu we have a saying that says ‘Inkunzi isematholeni’ – ‘The bull is in the calves.’ If we are talking about the youth that have made a mark in our history we should not end the conversation without talking about the youth of 1976. And then you will ask the question ‘Where are youth of today?’ You will get the answer within the blink of the eye: ‘They are in the taverns.’ Yes some of them are there. But they are not all there by choice. Many are there due to this capitalist system that is governing our country and puts some of us in heaven on earth and others in hell on earth. Many people are drinking to dull their pain in a world that offers them no future. But there are others who are committed to uplifting their communities. In our movement, Abahlali baseMjondolo, and in many of the struggles around the country that have made the rebellion of the poor, young people have been in the forefront.

In our days being involved in the struggle for change is no longer as popular as it was before simply because many people believe that because we had got rid of the oppressive government everything is now ok. But freedom was never just a case of replacing a white government with a black government. It was a case of building a different kind of society – a society that put human beings at the centre, a society in which there would be decent homes, decent work, decent schools and decent healthcare for everyone. It was a case of building a participatory democracy in which everyone’s voice and life would count the same, regardless of whether they were a woman or a man, black or white, gay or straight or poor or rich. In fact it was a case of building a society where poverty would be ended.

Those who think that the time of struggle is over are forgetting that we are still living under a kind of apartheid but that in this apartheid the difference is the people are divided by class. The gap between those who have and those who don’t have is huge and it is getting worse. Those who say that we must be patient are forgetting that things are getting worse for the poor and not better. We are now the most unequal country in the world. The people’s revolution of the 1980s was hijacked and privatised. Patience will not get us houses or jobs or a police force that is there to protect the people. Patience will only drive more of us into the taverns.

The majority of the people who are suffering are youth. It is said that 50 per cent of young black people have never worked. They cannot progress with their lives. They are stuck. If people talk about the youth of today they refer to us as the ‘lost generation’. Why? Because we don’t want to be involved in the work that will make us dirty or unpopular. Many young people have the voice but lack the courage to speak out. Many of those who happen to speak lack the ears to listen to the voices of those who you are not able to speak out in public.

But if we as the youth can be able to take up the initiative and be the change that we all want to see in our society, indeed we can show the way.

In our days democracy is being portrayed to us as being limited to the power of X. Democracy is being portrayed as being limited to choosing which elites will represent us. To me democracy is deeper than that. It’s about taking charge of our destiny. In the communities that we are living in there are many problems that are facing our own communities. We need to involve more young people in the development committees in our communities. Instead of complaining that there are no jobs, why don’t we as the youth take the challenge and help our own communities towards changing our society? The youth of 1976 that even today we are still remembering didn’t become famous because of how big their wallet is. They became heroes because they fought against the oppressive system.

Democracy is not just about voting every few years. Democracy is a day-to-day practice. It is about democratising our communities. It is about building our own power as the poor and as youth.

All the political parties are anti-poor. They are all capitalist. They all support evictions. They all support transit camps. They all send out the police to attack the poor. There is not one political party that has taken a side with the poor. There is not one political party that has joined the rebellion of the poor. There is not one political party that has encouraged young people and poor people to really build their own power for themselves and by themselves. When the police come to evict us or to attack our protests the political parties are not there. We only see them at election time when they come to lie to us. Then they disappear again.

But our families, our friends, our neighbours, our communities and our comrades are always with us. We have to rely on each other. We have to organise ourselves and build our own power so that whoever is elected will be forced to answer to the people. Karl Marx called this ‘subordinating the state to society’. Which is why we say: ‘No land, no house, no dignity, no vote’.

So as the youth of today let us stand up and be the change we want to see in our society. We, as the youth of today, we need to make the history that the next generation can learn from, like us as we heard a lot about the youth of 1976. We are called upon to raise certain basic questions about the whole society. We must recognise that we cannot solve our problem now until there is a radical redistribution of economic and political power. This means a revolution of values and other things. We must see now that the evils of racism, sexism, economic exploitation, economic exclusion and militarism are all tied together. We cannot get rid of one without getting rid of the others. The whole structure of South African life must be changed. South Africa is a hypocritical nation and we must put our own house in order.

In the new film about our movement that is called ‘Dear Mandela’, Mnikelo Ndabankulu says that when we die we mustn’t have a small obituary that says you were born, you ate and you died. You need to be counted as a man amongst men. Mnikelo is right. Life is a precious thing. We have to make it matter. We have to be men amongst men, women amongst women, heroes amongst heroes. We have to be a generation of young people that can proudly take our place in the history of the struggle for a just and democratic South Africa in which every person’s life and voice counts the same.


* 'No Land! No House! No Vote! Voices from Symphony Way'is published by Pambazuka Press.
* A trailer from 'Dear Mandela' is available here.
* This article comes from a talk given at the 'Democracy Forum', University of Kwa-Zulu Natal, Pietermaritzburg, on Friday 13 May 2011.
* To subscribe to the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign list write to [email protected].
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.