Azza is an Egyptian media professional and blogger I met in Berlin this year, in early spring. As clunky as it may be, more so to point it out, I mention the season for its symbolism. Spring is a time of renewal. In the spring young shoots sprout from where old, frost-bitten branches hang and etch out the beginnings of a thicker, more pronounced growth ring unseen near the outer circumference of the tree trunk.
Spring is what Azza and other Egyptian youths brought to their country. I looked upon her and her peers with admiration and envy. But she would have none of it. She resisted mine and the global media’s attempts to reduce what she and other Egyptian youths had done to the one-dimensional narrative of a social media revolution. We did not tweet and YouTube our way to democracy, she said.
To start with, social media was only a tool. The revolution was made possible by the tens of thousands who put their personal safety on the line every day in Tahrir Square and other city centres, she said.
And, she added, the revolution was not done, far from it. At that time, in April 2012, the Egyptian military junta was still in control and appeared reluctant to hand over power to a civilian government whose candidates were anyhow not free of the influence of the previous establishment. Mubarak was only one man, she said. He was the sacrificial façade of a regime that for all intents and purposes had come out of the year and a half of upheaval relatively unscathed.
We do not want a superficial change, she said.
She cautioned however that hers was only one viewpoint among multitudes and as no single voice of the Egyptian revolution existed, as the world was led to believe. Nonetheless recent events in that country tell me that not only was she right to declare the revolution unfinished and under threat of being captured, others, too, agreed with her.
It’s nothing new for the powers that be, in the face of a popular uprising, to reinvent themselves as revolutionaries. South Africa’s last undemocratically elected president, FW de Klerk, whose foundation today disingenuously claims “did more to end apartheid than anyone else”, reinvented himself in ways aging pop divas can only dream about. Others, too, who were part of the apartheid regime transitioned seamlessly to maintain their influence and authority after this country’s first free and fair elections. It is as Steve Biko said: “If we have a mere change of face of those in governing positions, what is likely to happen is that black people will continue to be poor and you will get a few blacks filtering through into the so-called bourgeoisie and our society will be run almost as (though) yesterday.”
When I told Azza that some in my country believe we might soon have our own January 25, that day when youths will rise up and overthrow the government, she said, puzzled, “But haven’t you already had your revolution?”
She was right, of course. We have. But due to a lack of vigilance, the revolutionaries were captured. Every last one of them. The leaders of the vanguard movement were co-opted into maintaining the status quo. An overnight change for justice would be an unmitigated disaster, they were made to believe. A transition is best. There you go. Here’s a comfortable chair. And a drink. Here, why not put your feet up? Easy does it. Now doesn’t that feel nice?
And with that all who followed, all who believed — and there were a great many — sat down, too, albeit without the amenities.
Workers, the potentially vicious proponents for change, are presently chained to the kennel outside the so-called broad church of the governing party and are kept docile with occasional treats. Even this latest flare-up in the mines and the agriculture sector will be contained, with union leaders leading the charge to put out the fires. The black middle class was given BEE and the poor the promise of becoming middle class. Whites got to keep their ill-gotten gains and civil society withered to only a handful of organisations truly agitating for change while they exist solely for their own survival by treating the bedsores of a sedate society.
And the multitudes of youths? Well Pondering Panda says 60% of them supported a parliamentary motion that would have sent the current administration packing. That’s almost 10 million people, if extrapolatable. Yet they do nothing because, as the Reconciliation Barometer found, they feel they lack the means and power to effect change. Not only that, most of them trust leaders to do what’s best despite believing that those same leaders are not concerned with people like them.
South African youths are not the ticking time-bomb they’re made out to be. As disenfranchised as they may be, they will not bring the spring. I hope they prove me wrong, as presently they are happy to leave their futures in the hands of old men and women who sleep in five-star hotels and sip champagne on their behalf.
This country’s youths do, however, have social media prowess. But unlike in Egypt, where blogs, tweets, video uploads and Facebook posts are tools for change, in South Africa they’re tools of indolence. Social media is a way for youths to watch Generations or Come Dine With Me together. They use it to make rape videos go viral and to snicker at a photo of the president holding a team name upside-down during the African Cup of Nations draw.
Few are willing or able to use their new-found connectedness to engage in the kind of high-risk activism that’s driving change in Egypt, which is why Malcolm Gladwell was right to say the revolution will not be tweeted. RT this if you agree.