Naledi Ngqambela: Generation Tintswalo - a reality check

Naledi Ngqambela: ‘I am Tintswalo, a young black, professional, educated woman. I have achieved this despite the ruling party.’

Naledi Ngqambela: ‘I am Tintswalo, a young black, professional, educated woman. I have achieved this despite the ruling party.’

Published May 15, 2024


By Naledi Ngqambela

In the State of the Nation Address in 2024, President Cyril Ramaphosa, introduced a fictional character. Tintswalo, born in 1994 now reaping the benefits of a democratic South Africa, and the fruits of our constitutional democracy.

Generation Tintswalo was born in 1994, when millions of South Africans cast their ballots in a democratic election, the vast majority for the very first time. That momentous day was the culmination of many years of struggle, suffering and oppression from dispossession, exploitation, poverty, and appalling inequality.

Thirty years later on the cusp of our seventh democratic election, we face an especially poignant moment. Endemic challenges plague South Africa, including factions and political instability, obstinate inequality and searing poverty, one of the highest levels of unemployment in the world, increasing national debt, a stagnant and declining economy as well as poor leadership, among many other things.

Despite the progress that the ANC government has made over thirty years, Tintswalo’s path has been a rocky road from freedom to uncertainty.

The ANC’s policy journey

Tintswalo’s path through life has been trammelled by the ANC’s policy journey over the last thirty years. The Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) of 1994 was epitomised by Joe Slovo’s promise of delivering one million houses. The RDP was generally a handover from the apartheid government to a democratic dispensation that would overhaul the political economy of South Africa. It was meant to address the challenge of unemployment and a lack of basic services to the majority of South Africans, who had been systematically excluded by apartheid.

A mere two years after the first democratic elections in 1996, the government adopted the Growth Employment and Redistribution Strategy (GEAR). Additionally, it adopted the Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative South Africa (ASGISA) in 2006, New Growth Path (NGP), National Development Plan (NDP) in 2012, Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE) in 2003 and Affirmative and Employment Equity in 1998 to mention a few.

Despite the government’s efforts to grow the economy, provide social services, and provide social redress, voters have demonstrably less confidence in the ANC government today than in 1994.

A better life for all?

Freedom and democracy 30 years ago promised “a better life for all”, which would include raising the standards of living for the poor in particular, reconciling South Africans across the apartheid divide, pursuing equality, prosperity, Ubuntu and personal independence.

Freedom for me is the ability and truly being free to live your life in the manner in which you choose, and living it as comfortably as it may possibly be. But in 2024 in South Africa, is this truly the case?

Too many peoples living standards are falling. Perpetuated wealth and income gaps determine whose children get a head start in life, and whose children get left behind in an education crisis. Perpetuated apartheid patterns still dictate poor living conditions in the township and rural areas, apartheid spatial planning, police mistreatment of protesters, gender and racial discrimination, access to basic services, access to justice, among other things.

Many promises were made. These promises have yielded some results, but not enough, and not quickly enough.

Generation Tintswalo’s political inheritance

Generation Tintswalo, our parents, grandparents, and our children cannot afford for the next 30 years to be governed like they have been since 1994. I am Tintswalo, a young black, professional, educated woman. I have achieved this despite the ruling party.

Yes, I have benefited from the end of apartheid. But I am the exception, not the rule. Our unequal society is the sum of systemic failures that have compounded over the last three decades of poor governance. Race and proximity to power are still the main determinants of an individual’s future well-being in this country.

While the President painted this good picture of a prosperous Tintswalo, it is unfortunately in contrast to the true realities of any 30-year-old living in this country currently. Most 30 year olds in this country have little to show for living in a constitutional democracy, and this in itself is a threat to the democratic order.

Generation Tintswalo continues to face crime and drug abuse – and living in fear, the feeling of being oppressed and facing racism in “privileged” universities or corporate work environments.

Generation Tintswalo is living paycheck to paycheck, or grant to grant, living in shacks and informal structures with pit toilets and no water, financed assets due to poor affordability and no access to generational wealth or property.

Generation Tintswalo lives in a country with one of the highest levels of unemployment in the world.

Generation Tintswalo has little or no access to business opportunities due to red tape and corruption.

Generation Tintswalo gets no rebate from SARS for “black tax”.

Generation Tintswalo has had to navigate all of these challenges, largely abandoned by the government, while suffering from the fetid remnants of Apartheid, slavery, historical injustices, structural inequality, educational disparities, and the cycle of poverty.

Many 30 year olds are full of despair, hopelessness, and lack of faith in the system because of how the many social ills impact their lives and general advancement daily. The deployment of Tintswalo as a device shows the detachment and being out of touch with the true and painful realities of any 30-year-old in South Africa by President Ramaphosa, 30 years into freedom and democracy.

As we celebrate 30 years of democracy this year, it should be a time to reflect on new impactful ways of improving and building a new South Africa away. There is no way that people who have been governing for the past 30 years can be the same leaders governing us for the next 30 years. Part of the problems facing South Africa stems from the stale rhetoric of the same way of doing things, when times have changed.

The 2024 General Elections should be the start of this new journey of new leaders, new economic and political systems that contribute to a different South Africa where collective efforts of the government, civil society and the private sector join forces to build an inclusive economy, strengthening democratic institutions and advancing social justice and equality.

* Naledi Ngqambela is a writer and a researcher.

** The views expressed herein are not necessarily those of IOL or Independent Media.