WE DON’T have a lot of multimillionaires hailing in my neck of the woods.

Well, one can claim Khulubuse Zuma as one of our own. After all, he spent much of his teenage years as a pupil at one of our local schools.

But the reality is that the president’s nephew has always been more at home in Nkandla than in Durban’s KwaMashu township. If his family did not run a small business there, I doubt he would have spent much time in the area.

Then there are the Mpisanes, who recently had the entire township eating out of the palms of their hands when they took a break from buying yet another Rolls-Royce or another set of his and hers sports cars to donate towards the renovation of the derelict Nhlakanipho High School.

But we cannot claim the fabulously wealthy family as our own, either. Shawn Mpisane might have been a pupil at the high school in the early 1990s but she was regarded as a “migrant” from Lamontville, a township located on the southern side of Durban.

That is not to say we don’t have successful people. KwaMashu has over the years produced a galaxy of soccer stars, musicians and even internationally renowned authors, such as novelist Mandla Langa, whose newly published The Texture of Shadows is a fabulous book, by the way.

But one does not become a multimillionaire by writing books or playing for Moroka Swallows.

And so the news that one of our own was rolling in so much money that he had volunteered to pick up the multimillion-rand tab, which is owed by President Jacob Zuma to the taxpayers, left many of us pleasantly surprised.

I mean, if there is someone willing to pay the yet-to-be-determined portion of the R246-million irregularly spent on the president’s private homestead in Nkandla, they must be super-rich. It is not like Zuma does not have wealthy friends.

For starters, his deputy is a billionaire who has no qualms about spending a couple of millions on a buffalo bull.  His other super-rich BFF (Best Friend Forever), Vivian Reddy, has a wife who boasts about having a shoe closet that has “nearly R1-million worth of heels and pumps”.

Surely, Vumelani Mchunu is in that league, he led some of us to believe at least some of us thought when we heard he had written to parliament’s ad hoc committee on Nkandla pledging to foot the president’s bill.

But, like many of his generation, Mchunu actually does not realise the power he has in his hands. The youth unemployment crisis will continue unabated until the young organise themselves into a powerful social force that will compel the state, big business and civil society to search for real and urgent solutions.

Lo and behold, it turns out that the 33-year-old is as poor as a church mouse. According to the Sunday Times, he is a struggling wanna-be filmmaker who still lives with his parents.

It is quite sad, really, that this young man who is one of millions of young and able-bodied South Africans who are without permanent jobs would expend so much of his energy on fighting Zuma’s battles instead of lobbying for the unemployment crisis to be on top of the country’s agenda. 

That Mchunu spent his time and energy writing to parliament to argue Zuma’s case means that he has the potential to be an activist for a good cause.

But, like many of his generation, Mchunu actually does not realise the power he has in his hands. The youth unemployment crisis will continue unabated until the young organise themselves into a powerful social force that will compel the state, big business and civil society to search for real and urgent solutions.

Also unaware of their strength, as well as the possibilities given granted to them by the country's constitution, are the rural communities who continue to accept being treated like mere “subjects” by traditional authorities.

The story about the residents of Mahlabathini, a rural district in Zululand near Ulundi, is a painful reminder that, despite 20 years of democracy, South Africa remains — like much of the post-colonial states Mahmood Mamdani wrote about many years ago — a country of citizens and subjects.

As much as our cultures need to be respected and preserved, we should not condone the abuse of power that takes place in rural areas under the guise of practising tradition.

What is traditional about the R50 “goodbye” fee that Mahlabathini residents are made to pay whenever if they relocate from Inkosi Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s area? Locals in this area are also forced to pay a R600 levy if they plan to have a wedding, R100 when a woman falls pregnant out of wedlock ands well as a R50 annual “nation tax” payable by men over the age of 18.

Unless rural communities vigorously oppose these kinds of practices, they will never fully enjoy the benefits of citizenship guaranteed in the constitution.

Full citizenship demands that people speak up against that which they oppose and that those in power, if they seek to remain legitimate, listen.

We are beginning to see the fruits of an active citizenry in Gauteng, where public opposition to e-tolling has forced ANC leaders in the province, fearing losing major cities to the opposition in two years’ time, to be more vocal in their opposition to the controversial system.

ANC Gauteng chairman Paul Mashatile and Premier David Makhura have become the new faces of the anti-e-tolling campaign despite the fact that the system continues to enjoy the support of the national government.

But it is a matter of time before central government, through its national transport department, gives in to public demand.

E-tolling in its current form will would soon be a thing of the past; it is just a matter of time.

Now, this would not have been achieved had Gauteng been full of people like Mchunu, who are quick to run to a leader’s defence rather than fighting for their own immediate interests.

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