Ralph Mathekga

Youth have major bargaining power, but do they know it?

2018-06-18 08:26

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The Youth Day celebration often brings to the fore the plight of South Africa's increasingly forgotten youth. 

As the commemorations went on over the weekend, politicians were unanimous about the critical role of the youth in the historic fight against apartheid. Even those who are set on rewriting history would find it difficult not to acknowledge the 1976 generation that confronted the apartheid system face-to-face, challenging the use of Afrikaans in schools. 

Over the weekend, our politicians were in agreement about the risk we are facing if we continue to exclude our youth from meaningful participation in the economy. 

President Cyril Ramaphosa pointed out how his government is working hard to address the problem of youth unemployment through initiatives such as employment tax incentive aimed at encouraging companies to employ young people who do not have work experience. 

EFF leader Julius Malema also paid tribute to the 1976 generation and went further by encouraging the youth to take to the streets and demand to be heard. DA leader Mmusi Maimane would not be outdone. Maimane pointed out that as it was the case with the 1976 youth, the current youth should know that any change they want would have to come from them. 

This year's June 16 celebrations were the usual festival of proposals with our politicians marketing how their respective parties would bring something in return for the youth in honour of the 1976 generation. 

Fact is, the youth will be wined and dined as we get closer to the 2019 elections. 

No one can stop politicians from promising to take the youth to the land of milk and honey. The question is whether the youth in South Africa fully understand their bargaining power in this scenario where political parties would be seeking their votes in the forthcoming election. 

The dilemma with South Africa is that while we are predominantly a youthful nation – with 36% of the population categorised as youth – there is no such thing as a "youth vote" yet. If the youth constitutes the biggest population group in South Africa, why is it that young people do not vote as a distinct group with a specific set of political goals and demands? 

We are a youthful population that do not have a youth vote. This makes it very difficult for young people to attain maximum returns for their votes.

If the youth in South Africa were voting as distinct groups, political parties would consequently prioritise their plight and ensure that their demands are met. But our youth are lumped into the mainstream politics because they do not have a voice of their own. They have proved not to be good bargainers in a political system that only patronises them for their votes while failing to pay special attention to their specific concerns. 

Take for example the youth initiated #FeesMustFall campaign that was driven by young people who were responding to the particular problem of unaffordable higher education. Instead of the issue of higher education cost remaining under control of the students, the #FeesMustFall movement was infiltrated by different political parties and subsequently used by these parties to define their political and ideological differences from each other. 

In the end, young people remain frustrated and have lost ability to use the cost of higher education as a point through which to bargain with political parties in exchange for their votes.

The youth in South Africa is treated in a condescending manner and they are offered stale, unimaginative proposals that show that political parties do not have to worry about failing to win the youth vote. 

If the youth fails to constitute itself as a distinct population group, political parties will simply grab the votes of young people for free, without having to craft messages and policies that address specific issues that affect them. 

The youth needs to demand more from different political parties; as opposed to gobbling up whatever is put on the menu by the respective parties. 

Ralph Mathekga is a Fellow at the SARChI Chair: African Diplomacy and Foreign Policy at the University of Johannesburg and author of When Zuma Goes.

 Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    da  |  anc  |  eff  |  youth unemployment  |  election  |  june 16  |  youth  |  youth day
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