Robust student movements shape democracy

With Youth Day being celebrated tomorrow, Thursday June 16, and as we look at the role played by today’s youth in current affairs, it is clear that the youth continue to play a critical role in defining the country’s course of democracy.

Currently, student movements continue to highlight political issues.

Their ability to raise public attention, when there is an undercurrent of discontent, has the potential to create, destabilise and even defeat regimes.

They are drivers of the change in public discourse. The power of the student movement in South Africa was evident during the 2015 Fees Must Fall campaigns that led to a moratorium on all fee increments across public universities.

The successful petitioning for various colonial leaders’ statues to be removed from campuses, starting with the Rhodes Must Fall campaign was another prominent example.

Students continue to bring to the fore previously side-lined issues such as gender representation in power structures, transformation at previously white universities; the recent introduction of gender-sensitive toilets in Wits university to accommodate transgendered students; and better access to NSFAS funding in institutions of higher learning such as Technical Vocational Education and Training colleges.

The existence and relevance of Student Representative Councils (SRC) and other student structures have forced transparency and accountability in governance.

The coming local elections will likely see the voice of the youth becoming a louder and resounding voice of change.

It should be up to every political party to ensure the capture of the youth, thus influencing and aligning to the needs of the youth to their political mandate.

Political parties unable to find strategies and techniques that will successfully resonate with the youth voters will lose relevance.

Parties need to strongly assert themselves in finding ways to tap into the broader societal grievances that plague the youth.The student movement of South Africa, through the SRC and other youth structures, has a new role.This is to redefine, reshape and move forward the narrative of former student leaders.

Instead of fighting for liberation and freedom, the current student movement must seek to reposition itself, as empowered change agents in the political, economic, cultural and social revolution that is unfolding in the country.

With the courage and willingness shown by South Africa’s current youth, one is given hope that our hard-won democracy, is in good hands and can realise more benefits for our country as a whole.

* Lulu White-Raheem is the CEO of the Elections Management Consulting Agency which provides clients across Africa with technical assistance and consultative advice on elections-related matters.