The youth must take to the voting booth in the upcoming elections. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)
I write this to conscientise the youth about the kingmaker status they have in the upcoming national elections. Young people represent a potentially powerful political force in South Africa. If they all used their voices in unity, they could make a drastic difference in the country by overthrowing the ruling party, the disappointing, arrogant and corrupt ANC.
Youth voting statistics hugely support this phenomenon; people under the age of 29 years constitute almost 22%, or about nine million, of the voting community. With these great numbers and enough willpower they could whirl the faces of politicians and political parties around to address youth’s burning issues and concerns: high unemployment, inadequate access to quality and affordable education, and poor infrastructure.
Unfortunately, this is probably just an idea, not a reality, because the youth prefer to stay on the sidelines of politics and to worsen the situation, and politicians ignore them anyway. The main reason for this is because politicians tend to focus attention on mainstream voters, the older generation.
This situation is not unique to South Africa; it is a global phenomenon. The number of young voters who participate in democratic elections is steadily decreasing. Most analysts construe the cause of this as the lack of interest of millennials in politics altogether. But research and opinions from the youth suggest otherwise. The youth are well aware of the political dynamics in the country and are actively participating in political discussions. Research by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) reveals that the youth feel isolated from formal politics, have little or no trust in politicians and have had negative experiences from the government.
Most young people are highly critical of political leaders, who fail to interact with them on a meaningful and relevant level. They complain that their grievances and frustrations more often than not fall on deaf ears. But the available evidence suggests that just because they do not belong to any political party does not necessarily mean they are clueless about politics. The youth actually do understand that voting is of the essence, as it is a democratic privilege — they have clear views on the challenges and are more than willing to engage and act.
But they do not see how the system can work in their favour, or how political parties will actually attend to their immediate challenges. Unemployment and lack of access to free quality education are pressing issues. There seems to be an attempt by the government to silence the youth. They do not want young people to function optimally, hence the denial of free quality education and the ever-increasing unemployment rate.
The media are also to blame. Young people (especially black youth) are portrayed in movies, radio, magazines and newspapers in a very negative way.
The ISS research published in March revealed that the youth are bothered by the corruption in our political parties, leaders and the system as a whole. It has become apparent to the youth that political representatives such as ward councillors, all the way up to the number one office, are corrupt. Over the years this behaviour seems to have been rewarded; corrupt people attain better positions and greater political power.
When the ANC was not punished by voters for former president Thabo Mbeki’s HIV denialism and the billions that went missing during Alexandra’s “renewal”, that automatically created a context for Jacob Zuma to loot the state and outsource his executive office to the Guptas, and for Ramaphosa to receive Bosasa money. When you do nothing about misbehaviour, then you are actually supporting and promoting it repeating itself; another important reason why the youth ought to vote, but often don’t bother to.
Despite all the issues raised above, the question still remains: should young people participate in the upcoming national elections, and can they make a meaningful impact on the political landscape as a result of their marks on the ballot papers?
The youth vote does matter, so much so that the collective “youth vote” could actually sway the election. No radical change will occur if the youth continue to take a back seat and do nothing but cry, grieve and complain. The youth ought to stand up for themselves and find ways for the political system to hear them out and make a change.
While you can’t predict who or where you’ll be in four years, you can be sure that the political officials elected into office and the policies they implement will affect your life in the coming months and years. Through voting, the youth can put themselves in positions of power.
In today’s tech-savvy world, there is no excuse not to vote because you do not know enough about the parties. In fact, one might find it harder to escape the day-to-day political news than subscribe to it. This is an era in which Twitter is a preferred means of communication for many political leaders; it has become as crucial as their party’s websites for disseminating information about relevant issues.
The current online climate allows young voters to form a fuller picture of the candidates and their platforms in a medium they are familiar with. Voting can push parties in the right and desired direction of the youth and, most importantly, consistently so. It will energise the political system and steer countries into new and fresh directions that will uplift and benefit generations to come.
The youth vote has the potential to be extremely influential. Increasing youth voter turnout is crucial — the millennial generation must grasp on to and never let go of the electoral process. In this manner they will grow up to be well informed and responsible citizens, and the culture of voting shall not die out. Instead it shall continue to grow, and make our country purposeful.
Sello Ivan Phahle is the managing director of SIP Media. These are his own views