‘I am the President’ doesn’t mean what it used to
Jacob Zuma, the ANC, the ANC Youth League and anyone else suggesting that the President’s most recent ‘love child’ with the daughter of one of his peers, is a private matter and should be respected as such, is lacking a fundamental understanding of a key component regarding the shifting value system of today’s young people. Namely ‘respect’.
‘Respect’ is a value that is viewed significantly differently by today’s younger people, when you hold their view against that of their parents.??Older generations viewed respect from a ‘positional’ perspective. Big position, fancy title, significant role in society… and respect was automatically given. Title was used to measure the level of respect you were started on. Doctor, Minister, Bank Manager, Mother, Judge, President, King. To older generations, these, and other such titles, not only placed you structurally, but they came attached with various elements that denoted respect. You wouldn’t dare wear anything but your best clothes when meeting some of these ‘titles’. There are specific types of greetings attached as well. And, of course, there are privileges that some of these positions have that are not afforded to everyone. ‘He is the President of South Africa, who he has a child with is his prerogative, so respect him accordingly’ is no longer wrapped with the gravitas it used to be.
And right there sits the lack of understanding. My mom and dad get this. Jacob Zuma’s peers get this. Today’s young people suspect he’s on a different planet.
Today’s young people have adjusted the criteria on which respect is given, based on their experience of growing up in a world where people in authority, with high positions, and fancy titles, in every sector, have repeatedly not lived up to the expectations of ‘office’. Anecdotally in your own mind think through the numerous scandals you know of in: education, politics, business, sport, religion, medicine, media, entertainment, etc, etc. The list of sectors is as long as it all encompassing. It is not sufficient, any longer, to give someone respect based on title or position alone. This method has proven, over and over again, to be wanting in the experience of today’s young people.
Their new criteria has developed a fresh approach to respect. It’s relational and not positional. When they meet you, your title and / or position is simply insufficient. They want to get to know you. They want to measure the person against the title in far more concrete ways. Are you who you say you are? If so, prove it? The onus shifts. Increasingly, they will not take your word (title) for it. You have to prove it.
Back to President Zuma. Critics accuse him of behaviour that flies in the face of responsible behaviour in a country with an HIV/Aids crisis. LoveLife, if not the biggest, certainly one of the biggest voices to young people aimed at driving positive and healthy behaviour, describe their ‘loveLifestyle’ as:
- Attitude – hip, happening, motivated, future-focused
- Lifestyle – fit and healthy, able to deal with pressures and talk about it
- Safer sexual behaviour – waiting till you’re older to have sex, having one partner and always using a condom
Wrap this all together and you clearly see why those using the President’s position and title as grounds for ‘respect’ will lose the attention of the majority of South African’s. Today’s young people will not ignore President Zuma’s behaviour. They will not over-look it. It is, in fact, a central event and behaviour that will significantly influence how they construct their respect towards him.
Perhaps if the mouth-pieces out there protecting him had some of this insight they would have taken a vastly different approach in dealing with the issue. What is needed is not a blockade around the issue to be built, but rather an honest and authentic voice from the President helping South Africa’s young people understand his behaviour in order to give them the handles they will need to have a more positive view of him.
That of course is if he wants to enjoy their support? The current strategy will certainly bring a very different result. Perhaps not now, but certainly somewhere down the line.