What is our plan with youth in parliament?

ANTI SMOKING: Keanin Kasper of Oval North Secondary School addresses the provincial parliament yesterday on the issue of teachers smoking at schools. Picture: Tracey Adams

In his seminal work, Embedded Autonomy: States and Industrial Transformation, American Sociologist, Peter B. Evans, contends that the state has an important role to play in the development of nations. Evans argues that while the bureaucracy requires autonomy from society, a degree of embeddedness is required in order that development can be achieved. The state and its agencies, therefore, cannot effectively involve itself in economic matters without the contribution of non-state actors, and necessarily, state institutions must be independent of private interests.

Evans contends that a comparative institutional method is required – one that is premised on the understanding that developmental outcomes depend not only on the general character of state structures, but also on the roles that the state pursues.

In light of the recent developments of a significant number of young people being sent to parliament by respective political parties, there is a need to reflect deeply on Evans’ argument in order that we provide a response to the pertinent question: What is our plan with the young people whom we have sent to parliament?

As a starting point, I must emphasise that sending young people to parliament is a giant leap forward in so far as centring youth and generational representation. One of the biggest criticisms that is levelled at former national liberation movements that have transitioned into political parties is that they are conservative and ageist. Empirical evidence suggests that this is true. A look at the leadership of political parties such as Chama Chamapinduzi in Tanzania, FRELIMO in Mozambique, the ZANU PF in Zimbabwe, the MPLA in Angola, SWAPO in Namibia and certainly, our own African National Congress (ANC) demonstrates that the old guard is resistant to giving space to young people to lead.

There is a reluctance on the part of the old guard to recognise that an evolving Africa demands an evolved leadership. As a result, we are constantly witnessing the recycling of old leadership throughout different administrations. We have leaders who have been in the cabinet since the dawn of democracy, retained throughout different administration. This is an indictment on these parties’ understanding of youth development. A youthful continent like Africa should necessarily centre youth development at its heart, because unless this is done, the youth demographic dividend that is supposed to yield fruits of progress and strategic advancement will become nothing more than a burden, as evidenced in the growing numbers of youth unemployment and poverty.

But youth development must be deconstructed – it must be given clear ideological and practical orientation. Does sending scores of young people to parliament necessarily reflect progress in terms of youth development, in the absence of a clear strategy on how these young people are going to contribute towards our country’s developmental agenda beyond the five years of their office term? I do not believe so.

Evans contends that states must be deliberate about their developmental agendas. Part of being deliberate is consciously grooming young people to penetrate all sectors of the economy in order that they fashion meaningful transformation. Young people must be developed for leadership both in the public and private sectors through a deliberate process of education and mentorship, but with a vision to transition them so that they do not turn into old fossils who serve until they go to pension.

One of the key strategies of development that was done by the Asian Tigers was to send young people to universities in developed nations overseas to acquire skills that they could come back and utilise for the development of their own countries. Some young people were deliberately groomed for public office while others were groomed for various industries in the private sector. This ensured a sustained programme of development whose results are evidenced in the unprecedented levels of industrialisation of these economies.

The South African state, if it is serious about development, must have a plan for young people beyond sending them to parliament. The plan must include developing these young parliamentarians into diplomats, expert legislators and cabinet ministers, who must serve and then transition into other sectors of the economy to maximise their skills and capacities. Parliament should never be a place where young people are sent for political expediency, without a plan as to what happens to them after their terms end.

More than this, youth representation must go beyond parliament. Our government must be deliberate in giving young people the opportunity to become Director-Generals (DGS) and Heads of Departments (HODs) and develop from there, rather than creating barriers that impede on this. Otherwise we are falling into the easy temptation of political expediency and populism rather than developmentalism.

Kgabo Morifi is a PhD candidate and Research Associate at the Tshwane University of Technology and the Tshwane District Secretary of the Young Communist League.