Zuma adds insult to injury by skipping Youth Day rally
Jacob Zuma earned the dubious distinction at the weekend of being the first president of democratic South Africa to miss the hugely symbolic Youth Day rally.
Zuma, who was scheduled to speak at the commemoration, in Port Elizabeth, of the 1976 student uprising, did himself no favours politically when he cancelled at the last minute. He did so ostensibly to jet out to Mexico to attend a G-20 summit that starts today.
Media reports, denied by The Presidency, suggested that he decided against attending Saturday's commemoration, at which he was to deliver the main speech, on the advice of his aides who feared he would be heckled by supporters of expelled ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema.
Last year, Zuma arrived at the main Youth Day rally, in Soweto, several hours late because he first attended the youth league's congress in a seemingly desperate attempt to coax an increasingly rebellious Malema back on side.
It is an indictment of the ANC and its president that, for the past two years, the young people of South Africa have played second fiddle to the internal politics of the ruling party.
And it sends a terrible message to young South Africans - many of whom have to contend with extreme poverty, poor education and the prospect of not being able to get a job once they leave school - that the president is either a rushed, fleeting presence or a no-show at the most important youth event of the year.
It is also significant that several opposition parties were not invited to the main Youth Day event on Saturday and held their own commemorations instead.
Like the misnamed National Youth Development Agency, June 16 has effectively been taken over by the ANC and its youth wing.
The day is much bigger than that and needs to be reclaimed for the public good so that it can be marked by young South Africans of all backgrounds and political persuasions.