Millennials speak out

2016-10-09 07:03
A survey of young people provides some interesting findings - debunking the myth that they are lazy and narcissistic, writes Duduetsang Mokoele

A survey of young people provides some interesting findings - debunking the myth that they are lazy and narcissistic, writes Duduetsang Mokoele

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‘Immersed in metaphor, we attempt to become more conscious of them, those we use and those we abhor, those we adopt consciously and those half-buried in our thinking and consciousness. We need metaphors, and we need to know how to use them, how they use us, and how we acquire new metaphors as we outlive old ones.” – James R Elkins

Elections have come and gone. What now? I expect much of the same disdain at youth disengagement towards politics. Metaphors are usually used to make sense of the world around us. However, there is a narrative about millennials across the world that has been gaining traction to the extent that it has become a truism that treats millennials as a monolithic group. 

They have become metaphors of narcissism, laziness, despondence and entitlement. 

These so-called characteristics have been said to align with their perceived attitudes towards politics. Those who spread the narrative make the casual relation to the overall decline in registration and voter turnout of this demographic. 

This narrative was the precursor of the partnership between the Foundation for European Progressive Studies, the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection and the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung for the South African segment of the global Millennial Dialogue project to investigate the values, aspirations and dreams of millennials, and how this affects their attitude towards politics. It is, after all, their narrative to construct. 

Millennials, for the purposes of the study, are young people aged between 15 and 35. The selection of the participants was based on four criteria, namely age, household income, geographical region and education attainment levels. The survey combined quantitative and qualitative methodology.

The findings provided fascinating insights into the lives and attitude towards the politics of millennials, which cast doubt on the mentioned metaphors. When asked about their interests, music, film and reading ranked highly, with little interest in politics. Their lack of involvement is a protest against the current status quo, which is out of sync with the society that they envisioned they would live in. 

The respondents, when probed, further revealed that, in most cases, it was the negative perceptions of the politicians that discouraged active participation in mainstream politics and that alternatives to this structure were being sought. 

Their distrust of politicians in their responses was magnified in their responses. They felt that most politicians did not serve the needs of the people, but only their own. 

According to respondents, the ideal politician would most likely be female and a millennial between the ages of 25 and 35 who espouses the following qualities: honesty, trustworthiness, ethics, an understanding of young people, good in a crisis, ability to listen to others and intelligence.

The language and messaging of mainstream politics were felt to be more relevant to the older generation. The interests identified were seen as more expressive, without being constricted by the bondage of bureaucracy and the perception that gatekeepers such as power, influence and wealth muffled one’s voice from being heard. 

They identified what they felt as the most important issues that were facing the country and that were in urgent need of redress as follows: equality, rural development, access to education, unemployment, crime, corruption, poverty, healthcare, the economy and infrastructure.

During the discussions that followed the survey, the participants – and the millennials in general, the true custodians of the project – made several inferences to Ayi Kwei Armah’s canonical The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born. Just as the characters are assessing the Ghanian post-independence politics and the promises yet to be fulfilled, many millennials are trying reconcile the country’s past and what seems to be the cognitive dissonance that is increasingly becoming a feature of the political landscape in democratic South Africa. 

The question that has arisen was how South Africa’s democracy project could be steered on course to deliver on the promises and commitments made to all. Millennials do not only see themselves as beneficiaries, but also as stakeholders with an important role to play in building a better South Africa. 

They are energetic and have the imagination to solve issues that have been with us for a long time; issues that require strategic, innovative and long-term solutions. 

The Millennial Dialogue project is set to continue to bring the voices of all young people to the fore, especially those that are at the periphery and easily forgotten. Beyond the mythmaking and metaphors, it may be realised that perhaps the beautiful ones have already been born. 
Mokoele is the assistant researcher at the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflections


As a young person, what do you think leaders should do to earn your trust? 

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