It is often argued that political preferences are shaped by categories such as race, ethnicity, gender and class. However, more recently generational politics has significantly influenced voting patterns, election results and how society in general participate in political affairs across the globe.
In Namibia specifically, this suggests a major realignment of the status quo that could create either whole new parties or transform the current political formations, in an effort to meet the diverse needs of the different generations. Internationally, the various demographic variations of generations are generally categorized thus by commentators and scholars: the silent generation (1928-1945); the baby boomers (1946-1964); Generation X (1965-1980); the millennials or Generation Y (1981-1996) and Generation Z (1997- ).
In Namibia, however, generations tend to deviate from the above-mentioned global categories and are best described as consisting of the following categories: national resistance warriors (1920s); the liberation heroes and heroines, including petitioners (1930- 1970); the freedom fighters who left the country from (1972-1980); the apartheid survivors (1971-1989) and born frees (1990- ).
People in the same generation may/tend to have similar, though not identical, views on the country’s social, economic and political direction. Different generations may not be dissatisfied by the same things and they have different solutions to pressing problems. Each generation has a distinct historical experience that shapes their political perspective and future expectations. It also shapes their stance on issues such as land and property ownership, unemployment, the environment, and sexual and reproductive rights.
Currently, Namibia’s born frees make up the majority of the population, followed by the freedom fighters and apartheid survivors, followed by a few of the liberation’s heroes and heroines who fought oppression inside the country as well as those that joined the struggle for independence abroad. The latter have focused their desire mostly around the need for national security and community belonging. They spent their most productive years working patriotically for the freedom and prosperity of this land. The general perception is that they have done well bringing peace and stability to the country and that they would fight vigorously to maintain the status quo.
The liberation children and born frees are, to varying degree, the generations which are most globalized and exposed to modern technology. At the same time, they are the generations which are experiencing the negative effects of domestic and global recessions and economic dislocation. Their views surrounding, for example, feminism, employment/job security, climate change, housing and human rights are very different from those of their predecessors, the freedom fighters and apartheid survivors. Similarly, the views of the liberation heroes and heroines are that they are willing to risk their lives for the freedom, peace and stability. These ideological differences are not so much cultural as they are economic/environmental.
For any political party to maximize on the electorate’s political preferences, it needs to appeal to all the generations of eligible voters. This is especially challenging because the generational needs differ. Some reckon that liberation movements, because they were purposed to seek national independence from colonial powers, may struggle to bring about economic and social development and provide solutions to new challenges.
Clearly, 21st century challenges require a paradigm shift to allow new diverse thinking and bring about new solutions. From this perspective, liberation movements, lest they lose relevance, must reinvent themselves and change their language from that of liberation struggle sloganeering to that of ‘prosperity politics’. This means raising appropriate policy substance – elements: education, especially the development of knowledge-based capacities, to tap into the digitalized world of work; housing – focusing on ensuring access of the youth to employment, affordable housing, financial inclusion geared at youth empowerment and entrepreneurial support.
They must have fluid policies that would enable the party to adapt to the ever-changing needs and expectations of the electorate, particularly the youth and women.
Therefore, enhancing youth participation in the party, including in leadership, is a critical imperative of our time.