Shanti Aboobaker

THE ANNUAL Youth Parliament began with much hope, excitement and fanfare yesterday morning, but quickly descended into a morass of muzzled debate, a walkout and threats of an overnight sit-in at the Old Assembly Chamber.

Young people from all walks of life, ages and political persuasions came from the far reaches of the country to make policy recommendations to the nation’s legislators.

National Assembly Deputy Speaker Nomaindia Mfeketo set the tone for the day early on by barring debate on the youth wage subsidy, prompting widespread disillusionment early on in the day’s proceedings for the assembled youth.

Later, the entire DA youth delegation – led by MP Ian Ollis – staged a walkout from the afternoon plenary, where resolutions were set to be tabled.

ANC MP Sharon Makhubela-Mashele, chairwoman of the Youth Parliament, conceded by last night that the day – which the DA said had cost R2.1 million – had been a flop.

“The report we’ll present to Parliament is of this logistical nightmare,” she said.

“They have called you from different provinces, and they are not able to house you, to take you back to your destinations safely,” she said of the at least 50 young people who would miss their flights to remote parts of the country after proceedings extended late into the evening.

She apologised to the delegates as the presiding officer, adding that the plenary had “degenerated to ground level”.

Makhubela-Mashele begged the delegates to call it a day, saying she would not allow things to deteriorate further.

Earlier, events took a farcical turn when delegates staged a palace coup – appointing representatives of their own to preside over the plenary, while worried parliamentary staff frantically called Speaker Max Sisulu, seeking his intervention in the fracas. However, his phone was apparently switched off, as were those of Mfeketo and the chair and deputy chair of the National Council of Provinces.

A desperate representative of the SA Youth Council said of the day’s events: “I’m sorry if anyone is offended, but whoever organised this thing, it is a disaster – it has failed.”

“The content itself, and the presentations, lacked empirical evidence, lacked relevance in terms of the current policies. Whoever gave that instruction, we are saying, we will finish our business even if it’s late tonight, even if we must sleep in this chamber,” he said.

The departure of the DA youth representatives happened after Ollis was not allowed a point of order by Makhubela-Mashele, and was met with whoops of delight and applause by the party’s political opponents.

Last night, DA Youth leader Makashule Gana said the delegation had left due to points of order being constantly ignored, resulting in “chaos”, and female youth representatives not being given an equal opportunity to voice opinions during breakaway discussions.

“Further, none of the speakers listed on the programme were present for the event, and the entire day ran behind schedule, forcing delegates from outside Cape Town to leave before proceedings had finished,” Gana said.

On the agenda were education and training, unemployment and the ANC Youth League’s dictum of “economic freedom in our lifetime”.

Mfeketo kicked off proceedings, followed by Deputy Minister in the Presidency for Performance Monitoring and Evaluation Obed Bapela, who spoke on education.

Bizarrely, Public Works Department parliamentary liaison officer Mpho Mashaba addressed the youth on economic transformation, and Rural Development and Land Reform Department official Godfrey Nkosi spoke on youth unemployment.

Earlier in the day, James Olivier, a member of the DA Student Organisation, said:

“Sitting here, I just don’t feel that the government is taking us seriously.

An unemployed graduate of the University of Western Cape, who gave his name as Mpho, said their time had been wasted.

“Unless we are taken seriously, like the youth of 1976, you are pushing us. In solidarity, I will sit here until our cries are listened to.”