Government should invest in improving the lives of the poor, especially of those who were born post-1994 in order to enable this generation to realise the importance of participating in democratic processes, including the elections
South Africa’s youth is often seen as a ‘lost generation’; one with no causes or political purpose, an apathetic generation. Some, however, have opted out of democratic processes such as elections due to the disinterest of the ruling elite in responding to their interests. Promises of a bright future are weighed against the lived realities of high levels of unemployment, poverty and inequality. Since young people make up such a large proportion of voters in South Africa, understanding their feelings about voting could provide insight into the way they feel about democratic participation. This in turn provides indicators on the extent to which they believe they have the power to influence the direction the country is taking. South Africa has a very young population, with approximately 73 percent of its inhabitants under the age of 39. According to Statistics South Africa, an estimated 1.5 million South Africans are 18 or 19 years old. With approximately nine months left until the 2014 national elections, there are about four million first-time potential voters that have yet to register to vote. On 13 August 2013, the chief electoral officer of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), Mosotho Moepya, revealed that only 12 percent (185 025) of South Africans aged 18-19 are registered voters. Among the age group 20-29, only 65 percent (4 909 421) of those who are eligible to vote are registered. With electioneering for the 2014 national elections picking up, understanding what drives those who do engage, and what discourages those who do not, is critical to strengthening democracy. In the past few years, social media, mobile technology and online news sites have become platforms for young people to express their views on the state of the country. New public avenues are now available for young people to engage in debates about politics and how they see their future. This has allowed for greater understanding of what has largely been hidden from view, given the lack of access to formal power that most young people have. Online social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter host thousands of young South Africans, some of whom do express political awareness. This post on Facebook provides one example: ‘I'm a 18 year old girl in Cape town and in matric, what I want is for the youth to be instilled by youth activism of the era of '76 and stand up against the unfairness the youth face in South Africa.’ Traditional media also provide a platform for young people to air their views. In an article in The Weekly - a newspaper based in the Free State and Northern Cape - interviews with young people highlighted some of their concerns about contemporary politics in South Africa. Thabiso (19) stated, ‘There is no need for me to take part in politics where everyone thinks only of his family and close friends. Being a comrade now is no longer about the development of black people or the country, but is all about personal gain. We still have a long way to go to ensure that the youth gets involved in the preparation of this country’s future. We need to sit down with the leadership and talk about issues that have gone wrong in politics and rectify them. Although unemployment rates are high, we must stop blaming the lack of education. If I am right, we all have equal access to education, but some youth reject the opportunity to learn.’ Kagisho (19) ‘regrets that the challenges that the youth face ultimately drive them away from politics’.
- Lauren Tracey