Gauteng Provincial Legislature 2021 Elections – Critical Thinking Webinar 3

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Gauteng Provincial Legislature 2021 Elections – Critical Thinking Webinar 1

The importance of student participation in local government elections

Proceedings were opened by Dr Anthony Malapane, who said that the purpose of the seminar was to integrate more people into the elections, especially the youth.

Democracy has two aspects: representation and participation. Certain civic institutions have a duty to promote democracy, such as the Gauteng Provincial Legislature (GPL), which is selected by the people of Gauteng to represent their interests. Citizen participation is directly related to citizen power, especially when it comes to elections, such as the forthcoming local government elections.

In previous elections, youth participation has been apathetic, although they do join political parties and engage in debates, and studies show that they are interested in political processes. The question is then, why are they not voting? Many do not even register to vote, although there is an indication that more have registered for the upcoming local elections.

Nyelisani Peter Mudau, Principal of Ekurhuleni West College: This election may see some changes occurring, although youth turnout has been low in past elections. Many young people feel disengaged, and that their votes don’t matter, hence the purpose of this webinar: to encourage young people to vote.

Liopelo Gwala from the IEC: The Electoral Commission of South Africa plans to get people through the voting stations fast. Once your ID is scanned, you receive a sequence number. Your ID will be scanned to see if you are eligible to vote at that particular voting station. After you have been inked, you make your choice of candidate for your particular political party on your ballot paper. Voters in metros please note that you will receive two ballots: a ward ballot and a PR ballot.

EWC panellists:

Caleb Sweni – likes to help other students

Francis Knox Kgare – helps people and serves as an SRC member

Thato Ntokozo Ximba – a soccer fan who wants to develop South Africa

Noliqwa Semahla – an activist and community leader

Thato Mokhudu – writes books and helps other students.

Kgare: Local governments or municipalities must co-ordinate with provincial and national governments. Communities must be encouraged to work with their local governments and students must be involved in determining the future of their country. The older generation must acknowledge the youth, believe in them and allow them to have their say; they must stop seeing the youth as being merely disruptive. If young people are given a platform to express themselves, they will participate in voting more definitively.

Semahla: The youth must vote so that they can choose their ward councillors, who know about their daily struggles. My accommodation at EWC is not recognised or paid for by NSFAS, and that is something that could be possibly changed. Students have health issues that are not accommodated on campus, and that also requires changing. Young people struggle to find work and especially need work experience, so they become frustrated and often turn to crime and drugs.

There are issues with registration that the IEC must sort out, because it is discouraging to discover that you are not on the voters’ roll and therefore cannot vote for your own ward councillor. To encourage the youth to vote, there needs to be younger candidates who they can vote for: they are not interested in voting for old people who cannot relate to them. Municipalities must also assist in creating job opportunities for young people.

Sweni: For a democracy to be truly representative, all members of society must vote, and that includes the youth. Young people require inclusive political processes, and must be educated to partake in them. When they are excluded they feel disempowered, and when politicians feel they are not obtaining youthful votes, they don’t bother to tailor their policies towards them. Politicians need to put themselves in the shoes of the youth. It is also hard for young politicians to create policies that don’t run counter to the mandates of the parties they belong to.

Mokhudu: The literature on democratic processes is extremely rich, as it developed in the aftermath of apartheid. The youth must participate in elections to secure a better future for the country; their participation is essential, as they make up so much of the population. Many of them believe their vote doesn’t count, but they cannot complain about not having jobs if they don’t vote; they have themselves to blame. Education is essential in this regard, so young people understand the importance of voting.

It is amazing that the youth can register online and not have to stand in a queue, as this was something that put them off voting previously. This has led to more young people registering, I believe. Many adults discourage their children from voting, because they believe it makes no difference to vote.

Semahla: Some families go to vote together, and this brings unity to the voting process. Education programmes should be set up that encourage this; social media is a powerful tool that can be used for this purpose.

Ximba: Students must participate in voting to secure a better future for themselves; the future is in our hands. If you don’t vote, others will make the decision as to who leads us for you. Many don’t bother to vote because they feel that no matter what the mandate of political parties, all politicians become corrupt. Voting is a better way to make your voice heard than just debating on social media.

Malapane: What innovative ways can be used to encourage young people to vote?

Kgare: The IEC initiative to allow people to register online has been very successful. Many people avoid voting because of the long queues, which are tiring. If they could vote online, this could have a very positive outcome. Voter education should begin at home, and parents should take their children with them when they go to vote. The IEC must educate people on how they vote, to avoid ballots being spoiled. 

Gwala: With the new legal amendments, registration does not have to take place in person. You can create your voting profile on the IEC website, and if you have moved, you can just log in and change your profile. There is an in-learning process and e-recruitment, and we are trying to accommodate young people on our social media platforms. Remember that voting day is a public holiday! For those who are elderly, ill or disabled, our special vote is specially designed so you don’t have to go and stand in a queue. If young people engage more with their political parties, they will perhaps be able to stand as candidates.

Closing remarks

Semahla: It is important to read the manifestos of the parties and people you are voting for, to understand what they offer.

Mokhudu: The time has come for institutions such as the GPL and IEC to include young people in their processes, to encourage young people to participate. The same energy devoted to SRC elections should go into local elections.

Ximba: The IEC must make the voting process as simple as possible, and e-voting is one way to encourage youth participation.

Kgare: Political parties at parliament level are not in favour of e-voting. We need more young people participating in politics, and e-voting is one way to ensure this. Education about voting is essential, so that all who participate know who they are voting for, and how to do so.

A GPL representative ended the webinar, saying “we have been intrigued and humbled by the level of participation from the students, and we need to maintain this partnership”. 

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