The country has a large population of young people. In 2016, those between the ages of 15 and 34 represent 36.2% of the total population, according to Statistics South Africa. Just as in many other societies and developing countries around the world, there is debate in South Africa about the issue of young people not participating in political, peace and reconciliation processes.
The high proportion of young people in South Africa means that their votes could have a great influence on the country’s political landscape in the 2019 elections but many are already predicting that this will not be the case. Here’s why.
Regeneration of young leaders is uncommon. We have seen this unfold in the election of political leaders in the country. For example, no youngsters were included in the ANC’s top leadership during the party’s elective conference in December. As a result, the ANC’s top six does not have anyone under the age of 55.
Apathy has been touted as one explanation for the decrease in young people participating in politics. But my opinion is that young people are not so apathetic. Their disengagement from electoral and political processes can be attributed to a range of factors other than mere voter apathy. Among these is the marginalisation of young people’s voices, routinely and systematically eliminated from many conversations simply because of their age. To this day, elders still make decisions on issues affecting young people instead of creating spaces to consult young people and make room for intergenerational conversations.
This is why South Africa has been seeing young people mobilising outside of official structures such as political parties, the education system and government and forming social movements such as #FeesMustFall and #RhodesMustFall.
The findings of the Institute of Justice and Reconciliation’s Reconciliation Barometer reveal that many young South Africans lack trust in the integrity of national leaders. This is another reason young people disengage from political life.
As a young person in South Africa I can assert that we’re indeed faced with a lot. And we’re growing increasingly frustrated.
Young people are burdened by the high rate of unemployment in the country. In the second quarter of 2017, StatsSA announced the unemployment rate for people younger than 25 as a shockingly high 67.4%.
The state of our education system, which was ranked in the bottom two out of 76 countries in 2015, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, is one of the major issues that discourages young people from voting.
As young people we are concerned about the lack of progress we see in our country. So, will South Africa see young people at the voting polls in 2019? Probably not. When we as young people believe that political parties are addressing the socioeconomic issues that continue to recur, it is then that we will start mobilising our-selves to get to the voting stations.
Nongovernmental organisations, public institutions and government, through the National Development Plan, must seek to remove all forms of marginalisation and silencing of the youth to ensure that the issues facing young people are mainstreamed in all development policies aimed at building a progressive and inclusive country.
It is important that our government begins to address the complex challenges that the youth face with the same energy, creativity and innovation that we as young people see in ourselves.
Gugu Nonjinge is a communications and advocacy officer at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation
This article was first published in the Mail and Guardian. Click here to view