Be the Conglomerateby Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh / Illustration by Rob Foote / 10.09.2013
Much has been said recently about so-called “young people” entering the political fray in more than a tokenistic way. The new fashion is to urge “young South Africans” to become “active citizens”, which often means little more than being prepared to join a protest. Yes, this is all very important and, of course, “activity” beats “inactivity”, but affecting the political spectrum will take more than simply feeling “active”.
People who have thought further than this have proposed a youth-led political party as a more effective way of changing the South African political status quo. Certainly, this would have the effect of uniting an otherwise disparate and ineffectual youth interest group in South Africa, but it would still only be one dimension of the machine required to fundamentally transform our society.
More effective than this would be an economic formation of young people in addition to these other socio-political efforts to address the crisis confronting young South Africans; we need to be the conglomerate, not the brand. This means finding ways of creating a capital base significant enough to matter at the level of political funding, not just being seen giving commentary on ENCA. There is a great deal of “dead capital” sitting in the wallets of young South Africans that can be used to create the fundamental change we all want to see in our society; our job is to make it work for us.
What I think young South Africans have failed to realize is that we are not just an important social demographic group but an important economic interest group, too. Big retailers know this, why don’t we? Who buys all the consumer goods? Who spends all the money in clubs? Who goes to the shopping malls? Who are the young professionals driving investment banks, consulting firms and corporate offices? Who is driving the mobile revolution? Who makes the music? Who buys it?
Think for a moment. If we define “youth” widely, there are about 15 million of us. Say, conservatively, that 20% of us are employed full-time and we earn R5000 per month. That equates to a total buying power of R15bn per month, or R180bn per year. That is before we consider our cultural influence or the money that is transferred to young people from their parents.
That is the kind of economic clout that can get you heard beyond the street you are protesting on. What “young people” must do now if they are to affect the political trajectory of South Africa is navigate ways to use our economic power to leverage political change – not the other way around. Then, we can choose our own politicians and make them sing to our conglomerate’s tune.
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**Illustration © Rob Foote.