Mcebo Dlamini: Young people elected to Parliament, remember your generational mandate
Our comrades must not lose touch with the ground. Parliament must not turn them into elites that are detached from the daily realities of the people, writes Mcebo Dlamini.
The sixth national general elections of South Africa have been concluded and we have made history by electing the most young people to serve in Parliament throughout the continent.
Almost all the political parties have young people who are going to represent them and most of them are student leaders who were at the forefront of the FeesMustFall movement. This is testimony that the movement influenced the trajectory of South African politics in an unprecedented way post-1994.
Perhaps it is fitting to begin by congratulating all the young people who were chosen by their parties to represent the views of the youth in our country. It is affirming to see the maxim "nothing about us without us" move beyond abstraction and finding expression in the concrete. But this great responsibility comes with expectations, by accepting this responsibility they consent to embodying and articulating the desires of the millions of young people who are homeless, destitute, unemployed and condemned by the system to poverty.
It was Mario Teran who killed Che Guevara. He shot him, cut his hands and buried him in an unmarked grave. Of course, he was under the instruction of the United States military. Teran was in his mid-20s when he killed Guevara. I am mentioning this in order to illustrate the fact that youth does not automatically mean that a person will be progressive or on the side of the people.
What informs one's political actions is not necessarily guided by one's age but rather by ideology. The fact that we have young people will not automatically mean that they will miraculously advocate for the needs of the poor. We have no guarantee that just because they are young they will not become puppets of all those already in Parliament. We have no guarantee that they will not emulate the corrupt old geysers who are only interested in sleeping and looting but not in changing the conditions of our people.
Solomon Mahlangu of Umkhonto we Sizwe was 22 years old when he took the vow to fight for the freedom of his people even though it meant sacrificing his life. Fred Hampton of the Black Panthers was 21 when he fought against racism and died for freedom. There are many examples like this that shows that there is an undisputable radicalness and vibrancy that comes with being young.
A number of the people who have contributed to the advancement and improvement of our society are young people. To be young opens up possibilities and potentialities of a much needed militancy in South African politics. More so at this juncture when the country is discussing and grappling with important policy and legislative issues that will determine our future as a country.
So here we see that although youth is important, it is not enough. A proper ideological outlook must inform the work that these comrades do in Parliament. So one might ask, what is this ideological outlook? The answer is simple really; it is the same outlook that prompted them to put their studies on the line to fight for black students, workers and the decolonisation of education.
This means they must always prioritise the interests of those marginalised and oppressed. In South Africa it is very clear who the majority oppressed are; it is black people. The ideology that is unwavering and clear in advancing the interests of black people is black consciousness and pan-Africanism. Our comrades must use these ideological outlooks as lenses through which they interpret the problems of our society.
It will also be important for our comrades to remember that Parliament is not an end but a means through which revolutionaries can subvert and confront the powers that be. It was Lenin who taught us this. The state has limited power in a capitalist society such as ours. It must be used to agitate the people, to expose the capitalist structure and weaken it. This must not happen through howling but through a rigorous engagement that will not only diagnose the problem but will come up with solutions. Not to glorify the colonial nature of our education but our comrades must demonstrate that they are from institutions of higher learning. This will be seen in the ways in which they argue, advance certain views and in their polemics.
Our comrades must not lose touch with the ground. Parliament must not turn them into elites that are detached from the daily realities of the people. In the same way that they assisted workers and their communities they must continue reaching out to them because those are the people who elected them to Parliament. Also important to note is that we do not need another group of young people who will use their influence to perpetuate corruption.
What we need are young people who are going to expose corruption and the embedded anti-blackness in our country. I am in no way prescribing to comrades what to do. Rather, it is a plea to always remember our generational mandate, which is to unshackle the chains that continue to bind black people.
- Dlamini is a former Wits SRC president and student activist. He writes in his personal capacity.
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