The Constitution, in the Preamble, calls for the freeing of the potential of each person. The inclusion of the youth as representatives of the people in Parliament, giving them a voice, speaks to this vision. Furthermore, section 195 of the Constitution, which addresses the basic values and principles governing public administration, calls for individuals who serve to broadly represent the South African people, with the intention of redressing the imbalances of the past. The face of the pre-1994 Parliament was not representative of the nation it legislated.
Politicians determine policy and there is a strong correlation between what gets approved and what matters to the policy-makers. This, as witnessed by bills failing to garner enough support, or petitions being lost in the pipelines. An example of this is the Expropriation Bill, which has spent two years in Parliament. This is not to suggest that the policies and laws which have been passed thus far are unimportant to the youth, but rather, that more attention could be paid to issues which directly impact this group. Consider the waves caused by the force of a youth united during the #RhodesMustFall, #FeesMustFall and the Rhodes University Reference List protests. These events brought the country to its knees and resulted in change. The change enabled the door for serious engagement about the legacy of colonialism and transformation in academic spaces. Change further saw the stalling of fee increases and the establishment of a commission to investigate the feasibility of fee-free higher education for those who need it. Change too, saw the safety of female students on campuses country-wide become a priority.
The above actions of the youth managed to bring about much-needed change in areas that had been largely ignored by the government. As Bucwa highlighted in her maiden speech, any hope the youth has for a better future has been diminished, and the trust they placed in their lawmakers has been broken. Unemployment is at a 14-year high, at 27.7%. The expanded definition of unemployment, which includes people who have stopped looking for work, rose to 36.4%. This translates to 9.3 million people out of a total workforce of 22.4 million, and the country was recently declared to be in a technical recession.
This speaks to the need for more young people to be participating in policy-making, and sharing their understanding of contemporary issues. These issues should include current debates such as land equality, gender issues, as well as the meaning of diversity and unity in an environment riddled more and more by distrust and division. There is no denying that young people have a large role to play in present-day politics. It is therefore encouraging that the leaders of both the official and unofficial opposition are in their mid-thirties, and are surrounded – or are beginning to surround themselves – with peers and younger political minds.
Whilst there is no shortage of younger MPs, the critical question is: how much power do they wield to effect change? This is not to disparage and discount the knowledge and wisdom of older political leaders. On the contrary, it’s a call to collaborate and pass the baton where necessary, to allow young people to determine their own destinies.
By Rebecca Sibanda: Legal Assistant, Centre for Constitutional Rights