OPINION: Will politicians still benefit from young voters while neglecting them?

One of the greatest, and seemingly perennial, ironies in the SA development discourse is for politicians to cry foul about lack of youth development yet systematically undermine youth development institutions. The National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) is one such institution that is a sacrificial lamb in the hands of the Parliament of South Africa.

The fact of the matter is that lack of interest in youth development is reflective in many areas of our daily lives and is a contributor to lack of social cohesion and radical economic transformation. Young people in business still have to compete with the big shots of industries without any support, such as start up or seed capital. In sport, the black working class youth experience the fate that every other black person faces in an anti-black racist order. Lack of access to education as a result of neo-liberal policies that is zealously championed by government worsens the social and economic ills in society. Moreover, the capitalist labour market thrives on ruthlessly harvesting young people's energies and insights without proportional reward, from restaurant workers and call centre agents, to petrol attendants.

As the statutory machinery of national youth development, the NYDA has been extraordinarily mummified - to the delight of those who never give a damn about the well-being (or lack thereof) of young people in the country and therefore about its present and future. It has been reduced to a plaything in Parliament by politicians; a serious indictment on the integrity of the House, and particularly ruling party deployees.

This is against the fact that politicians, who represent political parties in Parliament, constantly seek to appeal to young people for votes. The Parliament of South Africa, which is made up of politicians who always spout youth development in speeches, is so petrifyingly tongue-tied when it comes to the appointment of the NYDA board - a very strategic, statutory institution for youth development - with a very illusive statement this week by Parliament's Programming Committee.

Almost every Parliamentary portfolio committee in the last year started and finished its work on time and tabled it before the National Assembly for approval, such as the ad hoc committee on the appointment of the Auditor-General. In cases where there are delays in the work of portfolio committees, reasons are put forth so that the integrity of the work of Parliament and of its portfolio committees is maintained and jealousy safeguarded.

Yet when it comes to the NYDA, Parliament has not only been lackadaisical but also mum like an anaesthecised mammal; it was only until pressure was put on it to provide clarity that something albeit opaque came about. Ironically, the latest communication by Parliament's programming committee around the NYDA leaves much to be desired. For instance, nothing is said about time frames, or whether it is the old NYDA Act or the new one that is going to be basis of everything that is to happen.

One wonders why Parliament seems to take comfort in hiding behind elusiveness while, as far as its power is concerned, it can make things clear so that young people know what to expect and engage on. This nakedly exemplifies the absence of seriousness and agency from Parliament when it comes to youth development; insensitivity runs amok in the veins of Parliament. We may as well have a properly constituted board of NYDA next year, in 2022, given the way things are. The elusiveness, insensitivity and lack of agency by Parliament are insults to the youth of the country by those mandated to look after its well-being.

In a country with more than 70% of young people, and over 55.75% of unemployment (International Labour Organisation statistics, 2020) largely affecting the youth, one would expect capacity building - financially, administratively and technically - for youth development institutions across the board, to take priority. This also includes a properly streamlined mandate and increase in funding for the NYDA with a board doing its work, not this shameful quagmire and violent elusiveness we are currently subjected to by Parliament.

Or perhaps to expect a substantive responsive from Parliament when it comes to youth development in South Africa is akin to expecting eggs to grow horns? Politicians seem to only prioritise pocket-pusher projects while our future is unashamedly deferred and mindlessly destroyed.

The fact of the matter is that the buck stops with the ruling party, the African National Congress, which seems to take comfort in the palpable death of such an important institution. Or perhaps young people have no role to play in the attainment of the national democratic revolution and in the creation of a developmental state through strengthening youth development institutions?

Perhaps the biggest question we must ask ourselves as young people is: what do we do when we are not taken seriously but treated as a disposable population from which votes are merely and conveniently harvested come election time?

Do we hopelessly and helplessly watch when politicians eat the fruits and disown the tree, that is, benefit from young people's votes yet neglect the very young people who give them that power?

While we may call out Parliament and say, "may a caring, responsible and accountable Parliament of South Africa stand out", may I also say, may the courageous youth stand up and uncompromisingly take charge of its destiny.

Molaodi Wa Sekake describes himself as an activist and a scholar, and is a recommended candidate for NYDA board membership.