One Young World
One Young World

The second new South Africa

By: Frederik de Ridder

Watching powerful individuals erode the dream of promise and a better life for all in South Africa, it is natural to fall back and review whether this could have been predicted.

As a young person, I wonder what I would have done had I been of age or relevance during the transitory years in South Africa, between 1990 and 1996. In wondering about different scenarios for the country or region, in fairness, I try place myself in the shoes of negotiators and past leaders.

However, realising that South Africa is amidst a vast series of newly unique transitions resolves the need to wrestle with the past. This idea turns past-tense questions into the present tense: I should be asking how best to act or respond right now.

Indeed, this is the question I think everyone should be asking.

This question affirms that the present is the most important reality when building a new future – a present focus rationalises efforts.

Poverty, racism, and xenophobia and low-wages, for example, are in the present tense. Arbitrary references to the past obfuscate matters to the bereft of any current solution.

We can import the logic of activism, but personality cult is unhelpful. Consistently invoking the same group of past leaders to generate a rationale is arbitrary, because conditions are different.

Public exchanges between young and older activists highlight a vast confusion that arises when different generations clash.

Younger people invoke betrayal of the success and legacy of a few household names, while older people, some of them household names, defend the status quo by arguing that the unjust ills of the past are still present.

There are exceptions, but for the most part neither offers anything new, the should-be-obvious consensus is obfuscated and paralysis continues.

Anton Lembede, an architect of the ANC Youth League, said in the 1940’s what is equally cogent in the present context: “It is incontrovertible and unchallengeable fact that the leaders of tomorrow will be recruited from the youth of today. No man outside the lunatic asylum can shamelessly maintain that present leaders are immortal.”

This is an example of past logic we can import and apply today. A leadership vacuum either absolves itself or is absolved by crisis. And, with tremendous regret, real crisis appears a likely reality in democratic South Africa.

The most effective strategy in the meantime is for young people to take responsibility, educate themselves as previous generations did, associate their various activities and create a connected thread of civil power to counteract the crisis of vacuous irresponsibility that we seem to have inherited.

To not utilise the power of democracy is to waste valuable opportunity at the disposal of the citizen.

Millions of individual acts of positive reform, or better yet thousands of connected organisations, can combine to tip the scale of national advancement back to the center.

Millions of spoilt ballots, for instance, can send a signal and rebel against the current menu of divisive mediocrity and corruption – or better yet, creating a new national youth movement for democratic change can create entirely novel prospects for change.

The focus should be the big picture and how our different activities symbiotically come together to create a fabric of coherent advancement.

If leaders won’t take responsibility, citizens and residents – especially young people – have to safeguard their own future and that of future generations. South Africa is in the “second transition”, transformation towards and security of multi-party and non-racial ideals is a present concern and, as in the case of negotiations in the early 1990’s, the need for a momentum of national unity has returned. The rejuvenation of South Africa’s role in the African Renaissance and the restoration of trust in dreams of a better life for all will result naturally from an era of responsible action, accountability and evolutionary big-picture thinking.

The second new South Africa is here and along with it the time for young people to take responsibility and negotiate their own future.

Erik de Ridder is a civil engineering and economics student at the University of Cape Town. He is passionate about the reinvention of the political archetype towards systems, processes and dialogues, which make government and business more transparent, accountable and efficient than ever.

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    • Social scientist

      “South Africa is in the “second transition”, transformation towards and security of multi-party and non-racial ideals is a present concern.” Well written. In some ways SA resembles less a fresh, proud new democracy – say West Germany after WW2 – than an occupied state still carrying the burden of a tyrannical political class to whom democracy is a mere word – a bit like East Germany after WW2 – the ‘democratic peoples republic’. SA is very burdened by a ruling party to whom the normal definitions , or Western style ideas of democracy, are deeply foreign and a Big Brother state is still the accepted ideal. It will be up to South Africans to save themselves, and one only hopes that most are both educated and well intentioned enough to do so.

    • Juju Esq.

      Great article Erik. I am so pleased to see young people like yourself engaging in the above issue. I was at university between 1980 to 1985. We protested and debated big issues. But it appears that after 1994, that type of student politics dissipated in favor or a very inward looking type of ‘I’ , ‘Me’, type of student politics. Unless I am missing something, no real student activism about big issues on today’s campuses.

    • Paul Whelan

      It is important to understand that wherever power is unchecked it will be abused. To that extent, it is right to say that the present state of affairs could have been foreseen and, indeed, probably was by many sensible people, though there was nothing that could be done to avoid it other than write a modern constitution for SA. But that did not remove the fact that there was no alternative to the ANC running things into the indefinite future.

      ‘Democracy’ is not a gift that is made to people by benevolent rulers. It is a relationship between governing and governing that people’s or societies have to work out for themselves.

      If you have time, you may find one of my articles of interest:

    • Juju Esq.

      Is the author Erik de Ridder or Frederik de Ridder? Must be a typo at either the beginning or end of the article.

    • Paul Whelan

      Above sentence should read ‘ …between governing and governed that peoples or societies …’

    • Paul Whelan

      If you think about it a bit further, too, youth is no more likely to possess the right answers (or wisdom) than age. It will depend on the quality of the person(s), won’t it?

      The case made by the two sides is that age has the experience, which is true, but that youth has the spirit and energy to get new things done, which is true.

      But neither statement is the whole truth.

    • Gareth Setati

      Erik thank you for an important message, well written while at it.

      Paul Whelan is correct with regards to the point that neither age nor youth is the silver bullet. However, I think Erik’s was a call to action for youth specifically, hence his leanings towards youth.

      Erik, I am further interested to hear what your views are in terms of this issue that Paul raises. What is current balance of activism between the old and the young, what ought to be the balance going forward, and how should we encourage youth to become more active and how do we in the same vein phase out the old guard without forfeiting the wisdom borne of those that came before us?

      So i am asking a question of praxis.

    • Rory Short

      Power must never leave the bottom of the social hierarchy. It is insufficient to think that because you can vote every 5 years power still lies in at the bottom of the hierarchy. In the modern era of high speed change 5 years is a very long time indeed. Mechanisms are needed to enable the electorate to recall any elected official as and when the electorate rates them as having failed in their duties as a public official.

    • Juju Esq.

      @Paul Whelan

      “If you think about it a bit further, too, youth is no more likely to possess the right answers (or wisdom) than age. It will depend on the quality of the person(s), won’t it?”

      However the youth are the future and young people are the largest segment of the population, so if they are not actively engaged in the bigger political issues it is a huge loss.

      In addition, the youth are more likely to be at the cutting edge of knowledge and the latest thinking if they want to be than the older generations who could be very set in their ways.

    • Paul Whelan

      @Rory Short – It is academic at this stage whether 5 years between elections is too long. In SA the problem has been and continues to be not the length of time any one administration exercises power, but the certain knowledge that power at the end of the period, whatever the period is, will not change hands.

      In a democracy, the uncertain hold on power is the check on the abuse of power and the guarantor of sustained effort (if not always successful performance) by govt. It is also the reason officials, MPs and others are removed from office in the meantime if their performance is inadequate or, worse, they are corrupt. To retain such members incalculably endangers the return to power of the entire party.

      That governing mechanism is missing under monocracy.

    • The Creator

      It would be nice to think that “the youth” are the idealists of the future, but in fact “the youth” consists of a large number of young individuals, many of whom are either clueless or prejudiced or both.

      Look at this article. The author wonders what he would have done during the “transitory years” between 1990 and 1996 — in other words, he deletes the revolutionary years before 1990 from history and prefers talking about the period when the ANC and the apartheid regime were negotiating and the rest of us were largely excluded from power. Interesting, that.

      But he doesn’t seem to have a clue about what the current problems are, except that he admittedly knows that racism and poverty are important — which is more than a lot of whites know. And he certainly doesn’t have any ideas about what to do next. Instead, he blunders around using meaningless verbiage. (Incidentally, what is a civil engineer — who ought to be the most precise analytical mind imaginable — doing studying economics, which is the vaguest and least intellectually stimulating subject around?)

      There is no second New South Africa. There wasn’t even a first New South Africa. There is, and has always been, a South Africa, and we must try to work to fix it now that it is broken.

    • Paul Whelan

      @Juju Esq. – Absolutely agree with both your points and especially that youth should be engaged. They become disillusioned when they are not, or lose interest altogether.

      Whether youth is at the cutting edge of new and sound ideas is really another question, though, and debatable, just as is the proposition that age is ‘older and wiser’. Some are, some aren’t.

      ‘Democracy’, you know, is about plurality. It involves the free but peaceful clash and accommodation of all kinds of ideas rather than correct ‘answers’. It’s an on-going affair. There’s no destination that suits everyone. Not easy at all.

    • Erik

      @ Creator – This article is an introduction to a potential course of action, not a policy analysis, hence, its shorthand rhetorical format. Space does not allow, but there are hard, factual suggestions in the Development Bank of Southern Africa ‘South Africa Development Report 2011′ and in the Presidency’s ‘citizen plan’, the National Development Plan. Both of the aforementioned are centrally inclined to want to reduce dependency on the government and promote entrepreneurialism and self-sufficiency, but implementation is highly unlikely in the present order. The real question is how we undo vested interests in these state projects (Dr Ramphele’s “legal system of patronage”) and reform to the extent that we legitimately reduce the role of the state in development (the New Growth Path calls for a ‘development state’, on the contrary to the first two planning documents). Historically, vested interests are only unbundled through broad series of insider and outsider activism –

      Moreover, I do not think that any demographic can be lumped together characteristically, or worse yet, written off characteristically. Nonetheless, young people, and this is a physiological and historical argument, tend to have more energy to want to affect change to want an alternative future. In fact, Barack Obama was elected in the US, because young people turned out in record numbers and voted for change.

    • Erik

      @ Creator – In 600 words, I try focus on the era of ‘new constitutionalism’, which is by far the most relevant political arena (from a rights point of view) in the present context, hence, is the most relevant in the context of re-invention. I have this focus, as I believe it to be the most relevant, neither because I am ignorant of the present context nor because I don’t have any ideas about what to do next.

      If you have any specific questions that you think need answering, please post them and, in the context of what I am proposing, I’ll do my best to answer them within the framework of a new course of action and with respect to the resolution of our most pressing, urgent and present challenges (nationally, regionally and globally speaking).

      For example, in 1994, South Africa had the highest number of NGO’s per capita. However, as the state took ownership of significant social and development goals, this number eroded. Nonetheless, right now, there are thousands of youth run or youth orientated organisations that can re-organise, associate, then work more seriously with government and business, affect decision-making, and contribute to national development, reduction of corruption and so forth.

    • Erik

      @Creator – Thirdly, and finally, engineering and economics are both developmental efforts that are based in the arena of the systematic. Whereas I agree with you that engineering is precise and analytical, theoretical science is not always exact, as is the case in economics (which is, as you say, plagued with problematic inconsistencies and assumptions).

      That said, humanity faces unprecedented challenge, which is highly adept and complex and if we are to make headway in moving forward, each of us needs to climb outside of our own disciplinarian and cultural frameworks, reading and understanding broadly so as to match that complexity and adaptation, so as to make better decisions and hopefully solve problems along the way.

      I don’t believe there is such a thing as too much knowledge or understanding, only that there are trends in human thought and application which require comprehension if I am to make a contribution to society instead of detracting from it by writing off (a) people or (b) the opportunity to learn.

    • jandr0

      @The Creator: You say: “The author wonders what he would have done during the “transitory years” between 1990 and 1996 — in other words, he deletes the revolutionary years before 1990 from history and prefers talking about the period when the ANC and the apartheid regime were negotiating and the rest of us were largely excluded from power. Interesting, that.”

      I concur with you that it is interesting. My view is that Erik is focusing on those years, because those are the critical years when the negotiations and decisions were made that instituted the current South Africa.

      What I really and absolutely like about Erik’s approach is his awareness that he “wouldn’t know.” That is wonderful insight. You can never know what it was like for someone to make a decision (say) in 1910, because the world was different then. You can not apply today’s world views to justify or rationalise a decision someone took within the Zeitgeist of 1910!

      Can an Englishman of today blame the Swedes and Danes of today for the Viking expeditions and the Danelaw? No, that would be fallacy. While the Swedes and Danes of today may be the descendants of those far-ago people, they are centuries apart in world views.

      Erik is showing incredible maturity of thinking. He gives me hope for South Africa.

    • Juju Esq.

      @Paul Whelan

      I think the most important point Rory Short made was “Mechanisms are needed to enable the electorate to recall any elected official as and when the electorate rates them as having failed in their duties as a public official.”

    • Paul Whelan

      @Juju Esq. – The point that needs to be much more widely understood is that such ‘mechanisms’ are not achievable in a one-party state. The party can’t take on some erring or corrupt elements inside itself without splitting – the ultimate disaster for the entire membership – and so-called ‘independent’ agencies to police the party will be infiltrated, manipulated, intimidated or downright ignored if they prove too independent.

      The problem is the concentration of power in the hands of one interest. No one likes to give up the power they have.

    • Wendy

      Thanks for this article. I have been thinking about this for a long time now, and all directions lead me to a youth activism that is desperately required to restore confidence, purpose, drive and involvement of the youth in defining the SA they want to live in, obviously in the context of the continent and the globe. I would like to chat to you further about this, away from this forum. Whilst the written word and analyses of the situation are of critical importance, I am more concerned with how we turn these amazing and insightful pieces of writing into actionable,tangible programmes that are driven and co-created by the youth. How can I get in touch with you?

    • http://[email protected] Zano

      “To not utilise the power of democracy is to waste valuable opportunity at the disposal of the citizen.” – very true!