Civil Society Engaging Young People in Democracy

2019-06-19 06:00

THE civil society community is concerned about the disengagement of young people in political and socio-economic issues. Often marginalised from local and national developmental agendas, young people are mostly vulnerable to economic change, social instability and poor governance. They are frequently left behind despite the activism movements for other marginalised groups (women, children and the aged).

Recent figures from the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) reflect the lowest percentage of youth registration for elections, and this continues to be a deep concern for a democratic country. This drives us to ask — how represented do young people feel currently? Is the issue related to the electoral system/the political parties/ or lack of interest in the social issues and politics of the day? Findings suggest young people vote less, membership in political parties is declining, and there is an increasing distrust in political institutions.

What is the reason for this decreasing political commitment?

According to different surveys, increasing unemployment rates among the youth and lack of access to academic and economic opportunities contributes largely to their disengagement. Youth unemployment rate in South Africa increased to 55,20% in the first quarter of 2019, from 54,70% in the fourth quarter of 2018. Another concerning issue is the number of young people who have given up. They are not in employment, education or training (NEET).

The Pietermaritzburg Agency for Community Social Action (Pacsa), Democracy Development Programme (DDP), Office of the Public Protector and KwaZulu-Natal Christian Council (KZNCC) have partnered in a Democracy Strengthening Programme to enhance public participation in governance and social justice, especially young people.

Opportunities have been made available both in the public and private sector for young people to advance themselves. The main challenge for the youth is access to information and available opportunities. Civil Society is better positioned to bridge access for young people to opportunities and resources.

The recent youth unemployment statistics are enough for civil society to call for prioritisation of youth struggles, needs and interests by government (public sector) and business (private sector). On the other hand, young people need to engage government and civil society for their agendas to receive attention. In SA we’ve seen young people standing up for their rights, challenging and engaging power, and being active and visible.

What do we mean then when we say young people should engage for change?

We need to see young people in community, government and civil society structures participating in decisions that affect their lives. Public decisions that are informed by the views and concerns of young people lead to better policies and better services. It is only the youth who can better define their struggles and needs. Youth participation in governance, social issues and economy is a democratic right that should be recognised in all platforms and deserves the same activism as gender and race issues have.

As young people initiated the #FeesMustFall movement, they should adopt the “Nothing about us without us” attitude. The country needs to take a stand and realise the role of young people in society, in politics and in the economy. Representing churches and church-based organisation (KZNCC), representing democratic discourse (DDP), representing institutions that support democracy (Office of the Public Protector) and representing social justices, equality and dignity for all (Pacsa), we are ready to work with young people to advance their agendas.

The commitment is to mobilise the youth, support them in their development goals and reflection, and journey with them in their advocacy efforts so that they actively participate in developing their own areas and themselves. It can never be business as usual with so many young people disengaged.

Should you want to participate, please contact: Pacsa 033 342 0052, DDP 031 304 9305, KZNCC 033 345 4819, Office of the Public Protector 034 326 3450. — Supplied.

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