We need  collective action among the youth

We need collective action among the youth

It might seem like old news. Actually, in the standards of today’s fast paced environment it is old news. However, I have lately been pondering on the demonstrations by the youths and wool and mohair farmers that took place earlier this year. I remember the day of the youth march clearly. It was cold and gloomy. These were terribly unfavorable conditions for the cause.

I remained focused on my social media pages in anticipation for the updates and hash tags that would come from that event. This was especially important because of the farmers’ well attended march that had taken place before. Something inside me wanted to see us, the agile youth, show up in numbers greater than theirs. But this is the kind of logic that has resulted in the word “millennials” becoming synonymous with “all talk and no action” amongst older folk. How could our numbers be greater with me seated in my comfort zone watching all the action on my cellphone?

2019 has been a terrible year for this country. The purpose of this article is not to list and rant about the plenty of issues that we are all well aware of. I will leave that to the relentless radio station callers who probably believe that someone in authority might be listening with a notebook and pen taking notes. Instead, I am writing to highlight our mental state as a country. Many people continue to find creative ways to suppress their true emotions when it comes to the abhorrent state of affairs because opening up those conversations is just too painful.

Perhaps that’s what sets us apart from the previous generation – they talk and complain endlessly, while we congregate in beer halls and beer gardens for a few hours of euphoria. The defensive mechanisms might be different but we are all just trying to stay sane. The way I see it, it’s like a drug addict being told by the doctor to keep taking the drug in the right amount because missing one dosage could be fatal.

What sets us apart from our counterparts across the border, amongst other things, is the freedom of the press and highly effective and persuasive civil society that they enjoy. If it weren’t for institutions like ‘Amabhungane’ and others, the term ‘state capture’ probably wouldn’t be so prevalent and all the series of events which took place from the change of administration that was underpinned by corruption allegations would not have occurred. The people finally put enough pressure on the state for things to begin to shift.

In healthier democracies, the citizens understand the power and impact of collective action. This phenomenon can be better understood with the help of the social movement theory which fundamentally explains the causes of social movements. According to the theory, in order to have successful impact, a clearly defined, well framed common interest has to exist within the group.

This was clearly seen in the farmers’ demonstration which was exclusively against the recently enacted regulations that, according to the farmers themselves, took power from them and led to hunger due to the delayed and irregular payments. They had only one clear goal which led to their success in applying enough pressure to make things happen.
While resources are essential to the survival of collective action, without a common goal there cannot be success. In other words, while I admit that I am part of the reason why the youth demonstrations were so poorly attended, there is room for improvement in the organisation of such movements.

Certain questions have to be asked. For instance, exactly what is the purpose of our march? Are we marching for our voices to be heard or against youth unemployment? Do we want more to be done to combat child abuse or is it for the inclusion and recognition of marginalised groups? Is it about the poor education system or the lack of sanitary protection for the less privileged? Do we want the creation of new jobs by the government or regulations and support to facilitate a viable small business environment? Are we willing to go head on against the corruption that has caused havoc in our society for so many years?

Understandably, these are “wicked problems” and are therefore widespread and complex. However, the starting point is to have one common goal with viable solutions and then take it from there! Much can be learned from the farmers’ march and their relentless pursuit. The timing also has to be correct. Before putting together a demonstration, organisers must be strategic. What political opportunity exists in that particular point in time to attract pressure from other parts of the world thus maximizing on the persuasive power?

The farmers may have struggled to get what they want but somehow they got the formula right. I am amazed at their ability to mobilise without much of the technology at our disposal. Maybe if we could humble ourselves, organise better and have people with the right qualities to step up and bring us together, things will start to happen.

Thato Mokhothu

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