The Big Youth Debate - The Fervour of Party

2013-10-21 10:26

What was meant to be an open forum about the youth of South Africa turned into yet another political play. On the 19th of October I was an audience member on (what was called by the producer an unusual episode of) The Big Debate at the Monwabisi recreational centre in Langa.

Two observations which were quite telling about the day: while we were waiting outside I saw someone flagrantly throw an empty soft drink can on the grass when there were bins available. Even more selfish, offending and displaying of entitlement was when the host Siki Mgabadeli asked if some of the older people could make room for the youth from Langa and surrounding areas. I noticed a large older man point to empty seats on the floor around him, instead of just getting up.

It didn’t get better. Unfortunately all I really saw were party-loyal, ego-driven heads, in a sense, reading from their political scripts. The youth were not accurately represented and this shows the feelings that we as a country have towards our future.

Before filming started, I found the mix of people interesting. The EFF came out in full force and those trademark red berets were like beacons. One of their members reacted rather aggressively to something being said as the previous show was being filmed in the same location. The Red Berets started singing and chanting later.

Inside the studio as they were setting up, there was more singing. There was a lot of energy and it could have been misconstrued for aggression, but the only thing I found questionable was that there were no women in the centre with them. Two ladies, one in a DA T-shirt, joined and quickly left. A young man also did a short wrap in which I noticed the English lines “This is our war; this is our struggle”.

The space itself was curious. For those not familiar with The Big Debate, the set is circular, giving it an amphitheatre-like, town hall feel. The audience is encouraged to express how they feel, but to always give the panel a chance to respond. Given the recent drama at the SABC with regards to the cancellation of The Big Debate, it was amusing that the crew had a sense of humour about it, saying that they didn’t know where (on which broadcaster) it might air.

Also significant about the panel and most of the audience was that they were male, and mostly older.  We were told that the parties sent who they sent.

The “debate” itself was hardly such.  It felt unresponsive and rehearsed. The ANC was mostly defensive, Agang was calm and pushed for education and EFF was surprisingly coherent. I have not been the biggest fan of Malema, so to hear someone from his party speak so calmly and eloquently was a surprise.

The Black Business Council and the DA were barely present and should not have bothered coming. Later in the show when discussing the DA and the bucket (toilet) system in the Western Cape, the audience shouted “Apologise” to him. He did not.

The consensus was that the youth are frustrated. No kidding! Inserts displayed a former gangster from Langa who really wants to find employment, yet encounters entire systems up against him as well as a lesbian who fears for her life.

At one point I found myself booing ANC’s Marius Fransman, shouting “Answer the question!” when he waffled on Nkandla. There was even a boy from Langa who questioned Fransman on Nkandla. As a party that seems to have a problem with free speech, this must have been a hard one for the ANC. Overall, Agang’s Rorisang Tshabalala and EFF’s Mbuyiseni Ndlozi made the most sense to me. For the first time, in a very long time, I am getting excited again about the upcoming elections to see how the first timers fare, and if they can put their words into action.

I found it rather endearing that the representatives from the DA and EFF were leaning over and joking about something during a commercial break. I wondered why this couldn’t be the case more often. It felt as if the fierce politicking we see in the media really is one big show to rile up constituencies and create opposition and fear.

During the final commercial break when we were about to resume filming, Mgabadeli tried getting the audience’s attention, saying repeatedly “Please listen to me” until the audience quieted down like a classroom. She said “This is the problem with this country. We were given two ears and one mouth”.

My recommendation to these political parties is to drop the rhetoric and, for once, to listen. The youth, like every other group, should be respected, not merely tolerated.

The Big Debate airs on Thursdays on SABC 2 at 21:30… For now.

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