OPINION: The curse of social media revolutionaries – SABC News
As we honor the June 16 Detachment of the liberation movement for their role in the freedom we enjoy today, we also recognize their sacrifices and efforts to access some of the basic necessities, including technology. Technological advancements have made life easy in many ways. It has created space for influence (e.g. social media platforms) without going through the usual, sometimes expensive and cumbersome, physical barriers. However, one of its greatest weaknesses is its inability to replace the inimitable human contact in political mobilization, which the June 16 detachment knows very well.
Social media groups include big opinion leaders and literal lounge critics with no real presence where it counts – the basic unit of an organization. On rare occasions when members of various political organizations belong to a common social media group, these have become an arena of bashing for the ruling party without offering better solutions to the attackers. Only on social media platforms where (for example) adherents of faded movements with huge social media followings are the most dedicated commentators with spaces to daily criticize other liberation movements but never offer practical solutions. Just like socialites who use social media to promote and display fake accumulations and imaginary lifestyles, these political commentators have also put on a lot of show on these platforms. Yet very little is actually true or practically applicable. On paper and on social networks, they are the revolutionaries par excellence. Unfortunately, they have also come to believe that due to the number of visits, likes, and retweet impressions on their social pages, they are revolutionary. Nothing could be further from the truth.
So far, these social media groups are basically just information sharing platforms and venting areas. This is where others gather enough strength to argue without being seen, and sometimes to defend nonsense. But the comfort of their own home and the security of anonymity push some to devote the time and energy to commit without limit. While at times such debates often end up achieving the social status of a trend, the reality is that social media has very little impact on the most critical areas of politics. Besides the statements of reaction and condemnation, it is doubted that there is a political movement that makes decisions based on what is happening on social networks.
A #NationalShutdown has turned out to be a wet squib lately. However, if you would have believed the social media on this, it felt like the world had to stop that day. Essentially, while taking advantage of the opportunities afforded by access to technology and social media, revolutionaries who operate, live and exist only on social media, pose a danger to South Africa. Their imaginary performances on these streets have very little impact on the real revolution in which South Africans must embark. The one who must transform people’s lives for the better. There is no such revolution that will be launched on social networks. Change will only happen where people are most affected, not on social media.
Therefore, instead of making noise on social media and launching campaigns there in the hope that it will bring much-needed changes to people’s lives, it’s time to get back to the basics of political activism. Kwame Touré says “Organise, organize and organize”. There is no revolution that will happen by a people that is not physically organized. A trending topic will never translate into a program of action unless it is based on an activity of an organized people. Speaking good English and writing spectacular grammar is not revolutionary. That’s what an inactive class of people do – analyze what’s going on and believe that you have a superior understanding of the issues and the interpretation. It’s only those who are willing to get their hands dirty and aren’t afraid to lose anything that will bring change.
I have heard activists from the Young Lions and Siyayinyova generations of the ANC complain that young people have taken up space in the branches and upper echelons of the movement. They complain that these young people don’t take them seriously and don’t give them space to lead. The fact is that these young people do not rely on social media to participate in organizational processes. They are on the ground. This while the middle class is playing golf and attending exclusive events, after which they share the photos on their social media groups. It’s high time the Young Lions and Sayinyova generations understood that the modern activist doesn’t care how you confronted apartheid police with rocks and trash can lids. They don’t care that you spent any time in solitary confinement under the special branch of the apartheid police. You also can’t stress the “this isn’t how we did it in the 80s and early 90s” enough about the current generation. If you want to make an impact, step out of the social media industry and join a real program that will bring change to people’s lives. The change should not happen on Twitter or WhatsApp groups.
The above is informed by the announcement by the Minister of Justice, Ronald Lamola, that he will seek the post of Vice-President at the ANC elective conference later this year in December. Lamola is working hard to organize his campaign amid calls he shouldn’t since his generation is not next in ANC tradition. Hearing nothing of this precedence, Lamola declared his intentions and does not stick to social media structures but mobilizes on the ground. He won’t be told to wait his turn, which he believes he is now, he argues. Meanwhile, those who feel it was supposed to be their turn to lead are just gossiping on Twitter and WhatsApp groups about young people’s impatience for their turn to come. Typical social media revolutionaries. This ilk of revolutionaries cannot be entrusted with any progressive program of action. This because it will only be a social media trend.
As we close out Youth Month 2022, one can only hope that we will learn lessons from the Class of 1976 that we can apply today to address the challenges undermining South Africa’s transformation agenda. . Just as the youth of 1976 decided to physically challenge the system of the day, it is also incumbent on the current generation to ignore the revolutionaries of social media and engage in real programs that will transform people’s lives. . Anyone can create a social media account, but not everyone can be a grassroots activist driven by the desire to improve people’s lives. It is this activist that South Africa needs in numbers today. A people lover with a revolutionary conscience and unparalleled political morality. Always ready to serve the interests of the people. Not always ready to tweet or send a WhatsApp message.
By Mpho Tsedu
CEO: Institute of Foreign Affairs