Crippling lack of backbone

30 October 2011 - 03:14 By Sunday Times Editorial

Sunday Times Editorial: IT would be folly to dismiss the two-day "economic freedom march" by the ANC Youth League as merely another episode in the unfolding political drama ahead of next year's ruling party national conference.

File photo of ANC Youth League president Julius Malema marching supporters to the JSE in Sandton, northern Johannesburg.
File photo of ANC Youth League president Julius Malema marching supporters to the JSE in Sandton, northern Johannesburg.
Image: LAUREN MULLIGAN

Obviously youth league president Julius Malema used the mass campaign, which involved marching more than 60km from Johannesburg to Pretoria, as a warning shot to political foes who want him expelled or suspended from ANC activities ahead of the Mangaung conference.

The relatively good turnout over the two days would have given President Jacob Zuma, who is the intended target of Malema's push for leadership changes in Mangaung, something to ponder as he works out his own fight-back strategy.

But the real significance of the youth league protest was the huge army of young people, many of whom are unemployed, who were prepared to put their bodies through the pain of walking for almost half a day in a desperate plea for jobs.

It has long been universally accepted that youth unemployment is the single biggest crisis facing South Africa today. And that it is fast becoming a real threat to the stability of our young democracy.

Yet there is little sense of urgency in government's tackling of the crisis.

Instead of providing clear leadership to all sectors of society by formulating firm economic policies that would deliver jobs, Zuma's government has been more concerned with not stepping on the toes of any of the factions that helped him rise to power.

Hence Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan's plans to introduce a youth wage subsidy, to encourage employers to hire young people, have been derailed because of government's fear of offending trade union federation Cosatu.

This lack of leadership on government's part allows populists like Malema to opportunistically exploit genuine grievances of the poor for their selfish ends and to promote unsustainable economic policies that can only ruin the country.

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