Juju’s youth: not yet uhuru

2012-01-07 10:03

The West Indian revolutionary Frantz Fanon wrote that every generation must find its mission and fulfil or betray it.

The current generation of ANC Youth League leaders seems to have taken Fanon’s injunction seriously, and has made the attainment of “economic freedom” its cause célèbre.

Under the leadership of Julius Malema, the 21st century youth league takes on this mission in several ways, including a constant clamour for the ratcheting up of land reform and calls for the nationalisation of mines.

Whereas the youth league’s founding generation of the 1940s agitated for political freedom in their lifetime against a backdrop of increasing political repression, the current crop confronts chronic youth unemployment and marginality.

That’s why the league’s leaders love to remind their followers that true uhuru has not yet arrived, even though their own flamboyant lifestyles tell a different story.

It’s not unusual to see them denouncing the evils of capitalism to impoverished Diesploot youth by day, only to smoke expensive Cuban cigars and quaff single-malt whiskies by night in bling bars and clubs like Rosebank’s Hush and Taboo in Sandton.

While the leaders tend to don the latest fashion accessories – high-collared shirts, imported pointed shoes (Versace, Louis Vuitton) and high-end suits (Armani, Hugo Boss, Paul Smith) – the rank and file still sport everyday denims and T-shirts.

But there is no better illustration of the economic divide than the league’s conferences where leaders like Malema, spokesperson Floyd Shivambu and treasurer Pule Mabe typically arrive in the latest luxury Range Rovers and BMW X5s while the masses are ferried in on belching buses.

Yellow conference T-shirts are a great leveller, serving as a façade that temporarily hides economic inequality, as does the militant rhetoric that passes for political engagement at such events.

The Che Guevara-style beret has become a sought-after accessory that seals the generation’s revolutionary credentials.

It is not unusual at such gatherings to hear the Young Lions sing new “struggle” ditties celebrating the kind of utopia South Africa will supposedly be when the state takes over the mines.

With current unemployment estimated at over 50% for black youth, the yearnings expressed in such songs resonate with many frustrated, workless youths who live on the margins of the New Bling.

If Miriam Makeba and Dolly Rathebe provided the soundtrack for the founding generation, the current generation dances to the latest kwaito or house tunes.

The sounds of Zakes Bantwini, Chomee, Big Nuz and Black Coffee are among the flavours of the month.

Today’s youth league’s approach to politics seems to be as unpredictable as their music: just look at the ambivalent relationship that has developed between the current youth leaders and the country’s president, Jacob Zuma.

Who would have thought that an ANCYL leader – Malema – who had once threatened “to kill for Zuma” , would end up caricaturing him as “the Shower man”?

This is certainly a generation that lives by its favourite adage: in politics there are no permanent friends or enemies.

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