Why Adrian Mole is more important than Browse Mole

The so-called Browse Mole Report presumably provided all the head honchos of the ANC with worried bedtime reading, and for all of us yet another twist in the succession politics. Another worry for the leadership is that a seditious poem has been written, which reads as follows:

What future is there for the young?
What songs are waiting to be sung?
There are no mountains left to climb,
No poetry without a rhyme.
No jobs to go to after school.
We divide and they still rule.
They give us job-creation schemes,
When what we want are hopes and dreams.

An “A Mole” has signed the poem.

The aides of the presidential wannabes should be shaking in the boots. After all, a poem by an A Mole so soon after the Browse Mole report must mean that there is a connection. These aides might also meet with the Youth League’s, who then dutifully issue statements that youth policy to reach the national democratic revolution is on track, and that such policy should not be hijacked by this A Mole.

In the dusky hours, they might argue that the publication of the poem represents “objective conditions” of people criticising governments. This reinforces, for the aides, the arguments for pre-publication censorship. Another group might simply say, “Let’s give this Adrian Mole some spare shares, as he could be an important commentator in future.” Sadly, the debate on presidential politics reflects this sort of pattern, one that seeks drama over substance, innuendo over policy choices and insiders over outsiders (that is, unemployed youth).

(It would, however, be appropriate to remind presidential candidates and their aides that Adrian Mole is a fictional character, writing his poem in Britain, before spin replaced iron fists. His diaries provide a satirical, nay comical, look at politics and growing up in Britain during the reigns of Thatcher and Blair. His creator is the brilliant satirist and storyteller Sue Townsend — apparently a life-long socialist. )

Imagine a different scenario, in which South Africans could ask questions of the different presidential hopefuls to lead the ANC, and in turn probably the country. Imagine a question on youth unemployment that reads as follows:

“With youth unemployment being over 50% for those aged between 15 and 24, and 76% of unemployed people between 15 and 35 having never worked before, what is your policy proposal to improve this situation?”

The leaders would probably point to the ANC strategy and tactics documents that reads as follows:

A nation’s success depends also on its ability to encourage, harness and incorporate into its endeavours the creativity, daring and energy of youth. This relates to such issues as access to social and economic opportunities, engendering activism around issues of development and values of community solidarity and creating the space for youth creativity to flourish.

That sounds more like the ANC we voted for, but we need details on how this would be achieved. Beyond a broad policy commitment acknowledging the problem, we can expect no policy statement on youth unemployment, despite it being the biggest policy problem that we face. Yet, the scale of the problem is such that it will require some innovative policy options, and political bravery.

Thus, when leading members of the ANC say that the economic policy will remain the same, do they mean that the current policies will significantly reduce youth unemployment? Or are they saying that the ANC is willing to accept high youth unemployment, as supporting economic growth is first prize, and in the long run employment will be created? Know, multiply and amplify these questions to cover HIV/Aids, education, health, welfare and so forth. We need answers from those who want to lead us.

Once the nominations process is finalised, it will be vital that those nominated provide us with proposals, and with hope. Surely, a party with a two-thirds majority has the confidence to let its presidential candidates address the people? Surely, with a “consensus” on the developmental state, we will be disappointed by the policy consensus between candidates?

The vital ingredient is that a future president would be in dialogue with us, as citizens. After all, transforming our society — and the president will lead this — cannot be achieved through suggesting that someone represents the “best traditions of the ANC”, but rather through a practical application of this best tradition, which is listening, engaging and leading our society. We need a president who has confidence in the talents of young people to implement policies that provides them jobs, and creates opportunities for them.

The reality is that the succession debate will, however, be resolved either through the votes at the conference, or through a deliberation among the power elite in the ANC to find a compromise candidate. In either event, we will not know what our new president stands for. We will have an interpretation from his/her aides, and messages down the political hierarchy that says, “This is our man.”

In terms of policy, we will have a set of vague resolutions from the national general council. We will, however, not have a policy platform through which ANC delegates to the conference — and the rest of South Africa — will be able to distinguish between candidates based on policy proposals. Having the policy debate between candidates is vital as some candidates are seen as “worker” candidates and others “business” candidates, and then again they might just be pandering to constituencies to get votes.

This article first appeared on the Thought Leader group blog hosted by the Mail and Guardian.

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