A leap of faith in young people

The African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) is going all out to attract young voters (Troy Enekvist)

The African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) is going all out to attract young voters (Troy Enekvist)

Faith-based political parties are hoping religious youths will vote for them in the May 8 elections.

The number two spot on the Al Jama-ah election candidate list is Aisha Nontobeko Mkhwanazi, a second-year student from KwaZulu-Natal.

The party’s leader, Ganief Hendricks, said Mkhwanazi joined the party after criticising it for not taking the concerns of Muslim youths on board in its election manifesto.

“I felt bad about that. So we made up for it and put her at number two on our national party list.”

Hendricks said Mkhwanazi is the face of the party’s youths and their aspirations, adding that Al Jama-ah hopes to get at least three seats in Parliament.

“We are concerned that young, black, female Muslims feel marginalised,” he said. “Aisha is black, young; she wears the hijab.
She will capture the imagination of the African Muslim youth.”

He said there was a “rift between Indian and African Muslims”. At a Muslim conference in Soweto, Mkhwanazi will make a call for black Muslims to assert themselves behind Al Jama-ah. “She will make the point that the Muslim party wants them (black Muslims) to take the lead and feel more welcome, and that the party is a home for them.”

Mkhwanazi (23) said the ANC, her former political home, did not “use Islam as the basis of their political ideology”.

She said no other party would have given her the chance to lead. “I am second on the candidate list [and that] means they’re open to the idea that the youth is the future.”

In the 2014 election, Al Jama-ah narrowly missed winning a seat in Parliament. It did better in the 2016 local government elections, winning 36 238 votes. It now holds nine seats in six municipalities, including two in Cape Town, one in Johannesburg and one in Ethekwini.

The African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) is also going all out to attract young voters, particularly in the Western Cape, where it has one seat in the provincial legislature.

ACDP election manager Grant Haskin said churches were becoming more welcoming: “We approach churches’ leadership and youth groups … saying if we are going to achieve this, we need the support of a majority of Christians. Our message for 25 years [is] finally finding traction. I think it’s because other parties have failed. Their contradictions with the Bible are becoming more and more evident.”

He believes young people are not inherently liberal when it comes to abortion and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex issues. “People who believe our youth are socially liberal, that’s not accurate. There is a large, committed and churched youth population that has been untapped [and] who have been silent.”

Cheslin Swartz, the ACDP’s Western Cape youth leader, said young people were discovering that his party is “honest. And the leaders are righteous men. And we know what issues youth are facing.”

Jobs and unemployment were high on the agenda, Swartz said. “Youth have realised that, with a godly organisation, things will take place. We don’t make promises, we give them our word,” he said.

Swartz admits the ACDP is socially conservative, but stresses it is a party based on inclusion. “Although we hold the Bible above the Constitution, we don’t condemn anybody.”

The new Christian Political Movement is also trying to attract Christian votes. But those votes may be hard to come by. Statistics South Africa’s General Household Survey shows that 86% of South Africans describe themselves as Christians, but the ACDP won only 0.57% of the vote in 2014, which gave it just three seats in the legislature.

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