Post Polokwaneby Morrel Shilenge / 18.01.2011
Politicians seem very humane (in speeches). Promises are made. Everyone applauds. Feel-good devices, meant to get people to vote. Those promises are seldom fulfilled. So what else is new?
President Jacob Zuma was recently in Polokwane for the first time since the palace coup that saw Thabo Mbeki booted out. It introduced us to Julius Malema. Not much has happened since in Polokwane, until now.
Oh wait. There was that huge festival Malema & Co threw late last year featuring international DJ and Producer Louie Vega and local musicians. Juju said the event was for “the people of Limpopo”. Gee thanks. Shouldn’t he be doing a lot more (youth employment schemes, Aids shelters, books for schools) than throwing the Youth a concert? Politicians often throw empty, feel-good bashes (remember the World Cup?) as if this is what the legions of jobless young people need. During election season, the ANC ‘party’ machine shifts into overdrive: bashes, parties, jols. Nothing remains afterwards but empties and the bill.
For three days Polokwane was buzzing over Zuma’s return with b-grade tenderpreneurs, hangers-on and their expensive foreign cars in full effect. Thousands of ANC members and supporters gathered for one of the biggest parties Polokwane has ever seen. Zuma gave a rousing speech in the Peter Mokaba Stadium. He made promises about education. Promised his government would prioritise good, affordable learning. It was the right thing to tell young peole. It was just what we wanted to hear.
But the event felt at times like a show for tenderpreneurs. A ploy to rouse young Limpopo voters hit by the recession and hard times. Young ANC supporters are loud. They’re into it. They’re mostly from previously disadvantaged backgrounds and fervently support the ruling party in the hope of jobs and “a better life for all”. Only to return home to nothing. How many more years can this cycle of hope and despair continue? South Africa is second only to China in the number of industrial disputes and scale of civil unrest annually. Police seem ever more ready to “shoot to kill”.
After Zuma’s speech, more talk heavy with promises. As is customary these days with the ruling party, the ANC threw a big jamboree, a bash celebrating youth, invoking the great fiery legacy of the struggle and all that. The bash featured National Artists (with product to push), songs and dancing, nostalgia and nationalism, booze and broads. And why not?
The ANC was fundamental in bringing freedom to South Africa. That is something to celebrate. But forever? All the time? We have new problems. New struggles. Just as urgent and demanding as before. The struggle for genuine equality. Genuine freedom. For housing, health and hope.
But the ANC has forgotten about everyday people. Opportunity is monopolised by the powerful. Insiders feed while outsiders starve. Young people like me are frustrated. We’re sick of unfulfilled promises. We’re not even willing to maintain the most basic social contract anymore: we don’t vote at all. From those glorious, endless lines of 1994 to an increasing disgust and indifference. What is the point of voting when no good comes of it?
I honestly thought the broken reputation Zuma brought with him into the presidency would make him a tireless campaigner for good governance (service delivery, a functioning justice system, a shifting of national economic priorities away from ‘investor sentiment’ to social justice). It was a chance for him to restore his name. But besides that World Cup – which really involved us rolling over for FIFA – what else has been done?
Zuma made a lot of promises. But we young people aren’t holding our breath for this government to fulfill them.
*All images © Morrel Shilenge.