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Sipho Maga
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Does SA politics need more tea girls?

21 May 2012, 15:18

I could not help myself but laugh when one of the student representative council leaders on my campus completely transformed the way they represented themselves in the manner in which he interacted with his friends while standing near me and my friends at a queue at the senate house of my campus. With refined finesse, he went from speaking English in the politically controversial ‘twang’ within the conservative “This is Mzansi” brigade circles, to channelling his inner true African leader persona, characterised by a dramatic change in his accent to that one much associated with the struggle. It isn’t just the accent that underwent a sudden transformation, but the manner of self representation that assumed a leader whose personality resonates with understanding of the South African socio cultural nuances and embodying the essence of the concept of being an African leader. I found this is firm attempt of one claiming his place in this definition.

I found this interesting. It was like a grand performance, the sudden tap into an alter ego to qualify and be perceived a certain way that is consonant to what is often expected of an African leader, that was equally amusing and an interesting subject of conversation. It suddenly reminded me of how many of the youth leaders in our country assume the very same character, comprised of very specific, often similar patterns of self representation that require a certain display. Many of such leaders as Julius Malema and Fikile Mbalula, who sometimes sound like identical twins, indeed appear to fit a very specific persona characterised by certain behavioural patterns of speech, mannerism, accent, tone etc. As we talked about, it was the joke of many of these young leaders across many companies who seem to exhibit display completely distinct personalities so that they seem like two completely different people. The political leader persona tends to gravitate towards the stereotypical African accent, so that accent changes between the two different characters.Ofcourse this requires extensive research and be afforded much more time in being course for academic theorising, If it were indeed the phenomenon that I assume I am experiencing, but I am indeed basing my sentiments merely on my observation.

Parallel to this is how many prominent youth leaders represent themselves precisely in these identical patterns of behaviour and self representation, so that, to me atleast,it seems as if they are channelling their 1976 youth leaders. I am not implying the definite absence of authenticity in personalities of young leaders, because they are all definately, intelligent and insightful strong and distinct leaders with their own charaters.And indeed it is a consideration that many of these political involved younger people emanate from different parts of the country, and that, irrelevant things such as an English accent may be due to them coming from different schools, for example, such as so called (previously?) black schools.

But it is precisely because these personalities emanate from different backgrounds, and that, as I have demonstrated with one of the leaders in our student representative council, probably have gone to different kinds of schools.Then,it would be a shame if they were repressing certain parts of themselves to conform to the given persona of a young South African leader who has to join in chanting struggle songs every now and then.Secondly,if such things as accent, do not matter, it is very much because that that such small and subtle constitutes of behaviour are often invoked theatrically in certain, specific and similar ways as if the character of youth that existed and was proactively involved in the Apartheid was being revived over and over again, almost like this youth leader is being channelled and relived, rather than complimented.

Of course Julius Malema is a sweet gift to humankind. And in his defence of his outrageous, outspoken and fearless behaviour, often former youth leaders, such as Nelson Mandela are often invoked as a justification. Because they behaved and represented themselves in what he perceived to be way, does it make the prototypical way for youth leaders to conform obediently to?

For me this raises important two questions. One is whether there is no place for a girl with a twang, who represents herself in a different manner that digresses from the stereotypical manner in young  South African politics. Is her different approach, perhaps not chanting struggle songs, but opting for a diplomatic way to engage with politics sufficient only for a coconut stamp and tea girl status, as she is perceived as selling out from this comfort zone of replicating personas that are frivolously thought to reflect genuine African political leader status and in her false consciousness of being an intelligent and informer proactive young leader, her association with a white political party led by a white women subjects her to being perceived as a puppet for the white master. Perhaps such youth leaders advancing such insulting sentiments fear, themselves, her courage to diverge from the comfort zone, and label her a sell out puppet?

Secondly, are our young leaders failing to play a relevant role in progressing the interests of young South Africans by missing the point? Perhaps there is too much paying of homage going on, “keeping it real” and staying true to the older struggle veterans that perhaps they sometimes miss their own struggle relevant to contemporary issues? This is not to say that Apartheid is not mother to many of issued the local youth is confronted, because it is and will be for a long time to come, but I fear that this trend of channelling the alter ego of leaders who were doing it for their time, in such a mocking fashion, generates a trend where our youth leaders attempt to stay true to the already established conception of what does it mean to be an African leader so that every child may know precisely wow to stand up act it out in precision.

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