/ 26 January 2024

I voted and nothing changed. Why should I bother this year?

Nkandla Elections

‘I voted four years ago and nothing changed, so why should I vote again?” is a sentiment expressed by many young South Africans I have spoken to over the past few months. 

Most of them are not employed, nor are they studying or undergoing training, and this has been their reality since the last election. 

The reality is that 8.57 million youths are not in employment, education and training. Their hopes for a better life — employment, education and health — have evaporated like fog in the light of dawn. They are despondent and discouraged and, although it is easy to be frustrated with these sentiments, we must understand the genesis thereof. 

This reality can be better understood through analysing the recent Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS) for the third quarter of 2023.

The official unemployment rate stands at 31.9% (Q3:2023), and the expanded unemployment rate is 41.2% (Q3:2023), accounting for 7.8  million unemployed people, 3.2  million discouraged job seekers and 13.1  million other not economically active people. 

Although it is a positive sign that the number of employed people has increased to 16.7  million and has surpassed pre-Covid levels of 16.4  million, data from Harambee’s Breaking Barriers Report shows that of the one million youth exiting education each year, only 20% find employment in that year. 

It is not surprising that the 20% are young people with numerous advantages compared with their 80% peers, including a tertiary qualification and professional networks to facilitate their employment.

Of the remaining 80%, Harambee estimates that after years of navigating various opportunities such as internships, public employment and side hustling in our fragmented learning-to-earning system, only 20% are likely to secure employment in the informal sector or a short-term job in the formal sector. 

The remaining 60% of the one million youth exiting education annually are likely to remain unemployed, and not in education and training. And these are the same youth who have become despondent and disengaged and consequently see no value in casting their vote.

This reality shows that we cannot be frustrated with the youth’s apathy about the elections when statistically and in reality nothing changes for them. 

Rather, we each have an obligation to encourage, influence and remind them of the importance of democratic elections and how every vote counts — as clichéd as this may sound. 

One could argue that the 2024 elections are the most critical elections since 1994. Numerous political analysts have estimated that 2024 will be the most competitive electoral year since the advent of our democracy. We have to be active citizens by being involved with the youth in our spheres of contact and encouraging them to vote.

As of 15 January this year, there are 26  940  183 registered voters, with 430  658 being 18 and 19 years old, 4  084  040 in the 20-to-29-years category and 6  723  230 in the 30-to-39 age group. 

The Statistics South Africa mid-year population estimates show that in 2022, there were 20  608  891 people aged 20 to 39, and 5  101  675 in the 15-to-19 age group. 

Zooming into the 20-to-39 category, data shows that only 52% of youth are registered to vote. More than 9.8  million people remaining in this cohort have not registered despite the elections being only months away. This reduces the pool of voters and gives parties unfair and unearned advantages.

Discouraged youth, we understand you. And although you may not see value in casting your vote, we need to reaffirm that your vote holds much power. Your vote could change your circumstances. If all hope was lost from previous elections, let everyone show up in numbers and make this poll count.

The Electoral Commission of South Africa indicates we have 1  753 registered parties, with more than 350 operating at the national level. Research what some of these parties represent and cast your vote based on what resonates with you.

It can be overwhelming having so many parties to choose from, but when deciding on a party, ask: “What can this party do for me and my community and how will voting for this party change my circumstances?” And to get those answers, do some research. This refers to not only desktop research on the policies and manifestos of political parties, but also to attending party rallies and having conversations with peers.

Do not be afraid of asking critical questions when you attend party events. Boldly ask: “How will you practically address the unemployment crisis in our country?” And if you are not satisfied with the answer, either challenge it and help the party better shape their policy on economic empowerment, or turn to other political parties that provide you with solid answers to your questions. 

Political economist Tessa Dooms urges young people to “raise their hands … to vote and be voted for”. Young people often underestimate their power, and this is worsened by societal perceptions that they are lazy and entitled. If those perceptions still echo in your head, I encourage you to block them out. 

Young people are dynamic, innovative, powerful and valuable. This generation has the power to shape, form and paint a different South Africa. A South Africa where being unemployed is a thing of the past. A South Africa where skills are aligned to industry needs. A South Africa where barriers to turning your side hustle into a business are removed so that you can thrive. 

But to achieve the South Africa we all envision, everyone needs to vote. 

If you need a little extra incentive to vote, the Ground Work Collective can assist you to vote in the elections by checking your voter registration status and ensuring you become a registered voter. And for going through this process, you receive a R40 KFC voucher.

Four years from now, I hope to hear young people say: “I voted four years ago and it changed my life. Come on, bafethu, time to do it again.”

Farai Ntuli is a speaker, youth employment expert and a millennial manager. She is the Africa livelihoods and education lead at Accenture Development Partnerships and has a blog, Tips for Millennial Managers, which provides ways to enhance the employability of young people. She writes in her personal capacity.