Opinion | Parly, an over-60s club

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I have huge respect for experience and struggle credentials but the number of gogos and grandpas falling asleep during critical meetings in the South African national assembly does not inspire confidence.

I’m probably going to be accused of ageism but I’m tired of seeing tired pensioners running my country when we have plenty of capable young people who still have the energy and appetite to take our democracy to greater heights.

I’m of the view that there should never be a point where one finds oneself questioning whether someone should be sitting in a Cabinet meeting or retirement home.

There’s a retirement age for a reason, so it makes no sense that government officials have to exit the system between the ages of 60 and 65, yet the age group that dominates the corridors of South African’s Parliament is the over 60s. That means that the people who we have entrusted with championing this country’s democracy and development are at the end of their working lives.

The young visionaries with enthusiasm and a modern education are sidelined because they were not in the trenches during the struggle. But couldn’t this also be the reason why the pace of SA’s growth when it comes to research and development is beyond slow?

We are stuck with leaders who think of factories and manufacturing when we discuss job creation yet the world is moving in a completely different direction. Our beautiful country has no chance of competing with the developed states any time soon if other political parties don’t change their deployment strategies.

While the EFF was formed by leaders who had just come off from being part of the youth leagues of their respective parties, other political organisations have been in existence long enough to have elders. Most political formations in this country have youth structures which supposedly provide a platform for the next batch of leaders to be groomed for succession.

However, the reality is that those young leaders are often not given an opportunity to play in the big league because the gogos and grandpas cling to those senior positions until they are on their deathbed. I may come across as cruel but so are those who act like they are the only ones who can lead because they are old. Grey hair does not automatically equate to intelligence or even ethical conduct. Of course, we appreciate their experience, and the elders are the best people to provide guidance, but they can do that from an advisory chair not as members of Parliament.

Unfortunately, this tendency of elderly people hogging senior government positions is a continental problem. You just have to look at the attendees at any African Union meeting to confirm what I’m saying.

The only government spheres that are showing a glimmer of transformation are the local and provincial sectors. KwaZulu-Natal is one of the few provinces that got its first young premier after the 2019 general elections.

Some of our councils are also led by young bright minds who are eager to see their municipalities succeed. For them it’s not about trying to salvage their tainted political legacy but about their future, so their planning and decision-making are forward looking. They also want to prove to the electorate that they are capable because they want to progress to other positions in government.

Others might argue that the electorate have no problem with the age of the leaders of political parties and that’s why they keep succeeding at the polls.

However, it must be remembered that the South African electoral system is a multi-party one so those who are loyal to a particular political organisation have no choice but to cast their votes next to the picture of a pensioner if that’s who the party has selected as its candidate or face of the campaign.

Having elderly people contesting for government deployment could also be the reason why thousands of eligible young voters don’t bother to participate in the elections. They might actually be frustrated by the lack of representation. I know I am.

If we really believe that the youth are the future leaders of our society then we need to show that through our actions. They shouldn’t have to wait until they are wrinkled and grey to be mayors, premiers and even presidents.

Having a septuagenarian or octogenarian get a university qualification is worth applauding but you won’t see me celebrating their appointment as a member of the provincial legislature or Parliament, no matter how exceptional they were at the heights of their careers.

Nokuthula Ntuli Deputy Editor
Witness deputy editor Nokuthula Ntuli.

• Nokuthula Ntuli is deputy editor of The Witness.
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