Monday, March 24, 2014

Nkandla And It's Message To The Youth

Nkandla in the background, the Presidents neighbors in the foreground

Moeletsi Mbeki in a recent interview spoke about the sense of entitlement within the ANC leadership when he said  “The leaders think that the South African people owe them and can therefore delve into their budgets”. While this sense of entitlement may be true of the ANC and it’s current leadership, what does it really say to our youth, and what message does it portray to tomorrow’s leaders?

It’s only when we step away from the media and start connecting with what’s happening on the ground at a grassroots level that we get to see the smoke from the mirrors, and are able to pigeon-hole electioneering from reality. Political parties are on a massive roadshow to wax lyrical about their achievements and the progress they have made to better the lives of their constituencies. It’s the old “Rabbit From The Hat” magic trick, where they get the public to focus on what they want us to see, while the essence of what we really should be looking at is being hidden. It’s the same promises every four years, but craftily repackaged to make it seem as though every item on their political manifesto is suddenly a new challenge never before undertaken.

It is with this view that I had the opportunity to engage with a job candidate recently to see what the world looked like through the eyes of an unemployed ‘born-free’; a strapping and well-spoken bespectacled 20 year old who for all intents and purposes never got to live under any other leadership in South Africa other than the ANC.

Our conversation covered all the usual check-points (Crime, Poverty, Unemployment, Service Delivery, Healthcare, Elections, Hope and even Nkandla) and his answers for the most part where as I had expected them to be.
While he was disappointed at certain shortcomings and constant media reports on corruption and wasteful expenditure by government, there was a real sense of hope and optimism in the future. I say “There was” because it turns out he was willing to forgive all these shortcomings and place them in a box labelled ‘Teething Problems’ even though we are now 20 years into our new democracy, if only the Nkandla saga never happened.

I asked him to elaborate and this is what he said.
“As a young South African, I had to understand the forces at play within our political arena before subscribing to certain notions and beliefs. If I spent my day watching the news and reading the papers, I would easily be influenced to believe that my country was destined for failure and that nothing positive ever happened within our borders. I would be forced to believe that there has been no progress made in many spheres of our lives, and that my people are no better off today than they were before 1994.
I know this is not the reality because the sky hasn’t fallen and people who left our shores in droves for greener pastures are in fact coming back home, slowly but surely; for this is home. I believed President Zuma when he said he had a good story to tell. Put in context, opposition parties have a duty to only highlight the negative and as we all know, sometimes the ANC makes this quite an easy task for the DA and others. I know full well that the levels of corruption within government are unacceptably high but I’d like to think that these are matters being exposed and attended to by the relevant authorities. I’m willing to forgive all the shortcomings by the very same liberation movement and political party which won us our freedom. All in the name of ‘Teething Problems’.

Then along comes Nkandla.
R250 million for security upgrades and my President say’s he wasn’t aware of what was happening at his private residence? A report published by the Public Protector confirming that there was mismanagement and in some cases downright fraud of public money, and yet the ANC wants to refute this and protect the wrong-doers? Suddenly the corruption that I was willing to forgive seems like a mountain. The endless reports of mismanagement and fraud by municipalities and party members start painting a new picture, one where the sunshine and wheat-fields are replaced by the grim reality of pigs at a trough. So I have to ask myself for how much longer am I expected to be thankful for 1994 and what price do I have to continue paying for my freedom and liberties?”

I prefer not debating religion and politics as a personal choice but at this point I was too invested in his views and opinions to simply end the conversation.
We’ve witnessed a sense of entitlement across a broad spectrum of society and I wondered how this affects the youth. How does the ANC and President Zuma’s handling of Nkandla shape public opinion and perception especially in the demographic that is currently moulding tomorrows leaders? If the message from the First Citizen is that he hadn’t done anything wrong by accepting the spending of R250 million of public money that was destined for other government projects is to be believed, that one can safely assume he expects us the people to simply smile and move on. Clearly nothing to see here.

I asked this question and got this response:
“If ANC leaders think nothing of stealing from state coffers to enrich their own lives at the expense of those who need it most, than those who need it most will steal from those who have. You can’t teach a child not to steal, while spending your day shoplifting. Right now we as the youth are the children of the current leadership. As our political fathers and grandfathers they are telling us not to steal, while justifying their corruption with fancy phrases like “Unaware of the scope” and “Not involved in the process.” I haven’t had a job in 7 months. I haven’t paid rent in 4 months. My family hasn’t had a decent meal in 2 weeks. Maybe my family and I should start stealing to survive, and if we get caught, I will tell the police that my President say’s it’s fine. It’s no big deal. Maybe my story will make the newspaper. Maybe I will be regarded as a common thief. Maybe they will put me in jail… but what happens if everybody in my situation decides to do the same thing all at once? Will they jail hundreds of thousands of people across the country just because they wanted to put food on their tables? We don’t want or care about security upgrades and kraals and chicken-runs and swimming pools. We care about jobs and food.”

The youth have spoken, and I listened.
Julius Malema was bred and educated in the ANC Youth League. As a child of the parent, we as a nation saw first hand what a sense of entitlement can lead to. We observed how difficult and challenging it was for the parent to discipline the child. Today he has chartered a course through the stages of youth to emerge as a political leader himself. He has surrounded himself with politicians and academics guiding his political party through the potholed landscape of South African politics.
There are hundreds of thousands of Julius Malema’s out there who are the children and grandchildren of this great liberation movement, the ANC. They don’t have access to politicians and academics who will guide them. They are watching keenly how their President and their leadership handle Nkandla.
Nkandla is the litmus test to their sense of entitlement.
My hope is that the leadership of our country sit up and listen before it is too late.
My hope is that President Zuma and the ANC address Nkandla before Nkandla becomes the war-cry of Josiah and every other unemployed youth of South Africa.
My hope is that the candle of hope never gets extinguished in the people of this beautiful country.