Anathema for doomed youth
On Tuesday night dozens of young Bekkersdal residents took to the narrow sidestreets of their town, brandishing rocks and petrol bombs.
They were demanding that they be allowed to vote the following day, even though they had not registered to do so.
The police were out in force after being deployed to this “hot spot”, which had seen six months of violence leading up to the elections – but they were forced to retreat after their soft-skinned vehicles were smashed by rocks. The youth were not afraid. Three Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) election tents were burnt down. The army and police sent heavily armoured vehicles to quell the unrest.
The demand to vote came despite a concerted campaign by the IEC to get young people to register for these elections. Political parties claimed these people could swing serious votes from the ANC.
But their efforts yielded little. A third of the born-frees registered: 650 000 out of a possible 1.9-million voters. Only 60% of people in their 20s registered, compared with 90% of those in their 30s.
On election day the Bekkersdal voting queues were biased towards people of a slightly more wrinkled age.
The youth could be seen waking up a bit later, stretching out after the morning sun had warmed up the community of 47 000 people. Jaded by their 50% unemployment rate, they did not seem all that interested in the vote that people died to win.
Rather it seemed that the youth – in Bekkersdal at least – were content to take to the streets at night and cause chaos. The scene was prophesied in Anthony Burgess’s novel A Clockwork Orange: “Here people in the real world have also lost their confidence in the police, and live in fear of young people who wander, committing random acts of violence on a whim.”
It is quite easy to write off the young of Bekkersdal as “vandals” – a description offered by a number of Mail & Guardian readers online.
They did, after all, destroy property that tax money purchased for a demand they could have met themselves if they had been bothered to register. But why should young people vote? Are they happy with the current economic system in which their voice would be enfranchised?
No, they aren’t. Neither should they be. Capitalism, even the way it has manifested itself in South Africa, is deeply flawed. You can ask many young South Africans. Internationally, capitalism has given rise to the 1% within the 1% – where the richest 85 individuals own as much as half of the world’s population.
South Africa has continually claimed top spot as the world’s most unequal nation. There was a brief flurry of hope for radical change even here in South Africa when the Occupy movement took off: people occupying central areas in capital cities around the world, raising awareness that the majority of humanity was not living the capitalist dream.
The anger has been captured by the Economic Freedom Fighters, who abhor things such as Parliament and private ownership of the means of production. But they are a political party and, whether they like it or not, this makes them conventional.
Karl Marx wrote that freedom did not come from the political sphere – from dropping a vote in a ballot box. It came, rather, from changing how the society works. Perhaps this is what we are seeing.
Youth have lost their fear of the enforcement of the power of government, and are challenging it. The edges are crumbling, sending cracks towards the centre.
But what happens after that?
In 2012 Marxist philosopher Slavoj Ziek warned an audience of Occupy members of the dangers of living for short-term victories.
He exhorted them to look at what should replace the current system. “Carnivals come cheap. What matters is the day after, when we will have to return to normal lives. Will there be any changes then?”