SA needs new breed of leaders

ONE of the most celebrated revolutionary black writers, the psychiatrist from Martinique, Frantz Fanon, once said: "Every generation has its mission ... it is up to them to fulfil it or betray it."

As the country prepares to celebrate and commemorate the 33rd year of the 1976 Soweto riots, it is worthwhile to wonder whether the current youth leadership has what it takes to write itself into the glorious history of the African people's struggle for liberation.

The generation of Nelson Mandela changed the tactics used by leaders of the ANC and forced the movement to create its armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe.

That generation also brought freedom and democracy to South Africa.

The Jacob Zuma and Thabo Mbeki generation, which is tasked with consolidating freedom and democracy, is grappling with this responsibility under a difficult global economy.

Their mission is to lay down a solid foundation that will spur the country towards achieving the promise of a better life for all.

The sad reality is that both these generations have one foot in the grave and pretty soon the baton will land in the hands of the current generation to face new challenges in the broad struggle for the complete liberation of the African people.

New struggles call for new approaches.

Fifteen years into democracy, the youth still forms part of the majority of the unemployed in our country. It forms the majority of those who are ravaged by HIV and Aids. Large numbers of young African men are in jails while others are killed by police everyday in the fight against crime.

The plight of young people mirrors the depth of the social ills which threaten to undermine our freedom and even implode this country from within.

The ghettos mushrooming around our cities are citadels of these young drug addicts, criminals and killers who terrorise society.

Perhaps the biggest struggle facing South Africa today is uplifting the youth and lifting their dependency on the state.

The government says that at least 13000000 people, eight million of them children, are benefitting from state grants and this number has the potential to increase drastically if the government does not take decisive action to improve the lives of the youth.

The big question, especially for the ANC, which remains the party of choice for Africans, is whether it can produce a breed of leaders that can help the country navigate through these challenges and ensure the promise of a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and free South Africa does not remain a pie in the sky.

For many young South Africans, the attainment of real freedom lies squarely on the shoulders of the ANC Youth League and by extension, the vision of its leader Julius Malema.

The National Treasury has already allocated R1billion to the newly established National Youth Development Agency, which in reality will be controlled by the ANCYL and its visions for youth development.

It replaces various others, including Umsobomvu Youth Fund and the National Youth Commission, which have failed to finance young entrepreneurs, but instead got engulfed by real and perceived provincial power struggles.

The new agency is under pressure to prove that it will remain independent of the influence of premiers and would resist being swallowed into ongoing squabbles in the ruling party.

But it got off to a controversial start when the meek ANCYL deputy president Andile Lungisa was appointed chairperson, resulting in the youth wing of the official opposition DA pulling out of the process of appointing office bearers of the youth agency.

Other executive members include ANCYL national executive committee member, Pholisa Makeleni; IFP Youth Brigade national executive committee member, Maria Tshabalala; Freedom Front Plus youth leader in Northern Cape, Francois Slabber; Mcebo Khumalo of Disabled Youth of South Africa and Innocentia Motau, who represents young people in business.

During the launch of the ANCYL programme for youth month, Malema assured the youth in Soweto that the agency will have offices in local municipalities to help young entrepreneurs access funding for their projects.

"These offices will be given powers to approve loans so that people no longer have to wait for approval from Pretoria or in the case of Umsobomvu Youth Fund, its head office in Midrand.

"We want people to be able to get to the NYDA offices after finishing paying their water and light bills," Malema said.

He said the agency provincial executives will no longer be appointed by premiers who have used them as their personal armies to intimidate political foes.

He thinks the current generation should unite to defend the country's democracy from "counter-revolutionaries" and so-called opinion makers whose agendas threaten to derail the country from the agenda set by the liberation movement.

Whether the current lot has the mental capacity to champion the emancipation of young people and ensure this hard-earned freedom does not remain a pie in the sky for most, the political maturity of Malema and his executive will give clues to what the future holds.

For now, the youth leaders are collectively taking a bow for saving the country and its democratic culture from former government leaders whose actions split the ANC down the middle, delayed service delivery and undermined the independence of the judiciary and also the NPA.