I write this article 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 dramatic difference in the country by overthrowing the ruling party in South Africa, the ever so disappointing, arrogant and corrupt African National Congress. Youth voting statistics support this phenomenon greatly as people under the age of 29 years constitute to almost 22% – translated to roughly around nine million people – of the voting community.
With these great numbers and enough willpower they could whirl around the faces of politicians and political parties to address their burning issues and concerns; being high unemployment, inadequate access to quality and affordable education and poor infrastructure.
But unfortunately, this is only just an idea and not a reality because the youth prefer to stay on the sidelines of all politics and to aggravate the situation, politicians ignore them anyway. The main reason for this act of ignorance is that politicians tend to focus their attention on their mainstream of 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 identify the cause of this as the disinterest of millennials in politics altogether. But on the contrary research and opinions from the youth itself suggests otherwise.
The youth are very much well aware of the political dynamics in the country and are actively participating in political discussions.
Research by the Institute for Security Studies reveals that the youth feel isolated from formal politics, have little or no trust at all in politicians and have had negative experiences with the government from which they required services from.
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 cries, grievances and frustrations more often than not fall on deaf ears. Available evidence suggests that just because they do not belong to any political party does not 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. They do not see how the system will work in their favour or how political parties will 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, hence the denial of free quality education and the ever increasing unemployment rate.
But the media is also to be blamed for this, simply because the media is critical to the social agenda of any country.
When you look at the way in which young people (especially black) are portrayed in movies, telenovela, radio, magazines and newspapers, it is in a very negative way as if to say the country would be better off without these people.
The ISS research published in March also revealed that the youth are bothered by the corruption infested in our political parties, the leaders and the system as a whole. It has become apparent to the youth that political representatives such as ward councillors all the way to the number one office is corrupt and defends kleptocracy.
Over the years this behaviour seems to be rewarded by getting better position and greater political power. This behaviour never stands still. It is always getting worse or better.
When the ANC were not punished by voters for the former President Thabo Mbeki’s HIV denialism as well as the missing billions for an “Alexandra renewal”, that automatically created a context for Nkandla: Jacob Zuma to loot the state and outsource his executive office to the Guptas as well as Cyril Ramaphosa receiving Bosasa money.
When you do nothing about misbehaviour, then you are actually supporting and promoting its repeating itself – another important reason why they youth ought to vote.
Despite all the issues raised above, the question still remains. Should young people participate in the upcoming national elections and can they have a meaningful effect on the political landscape as a result of their mark on the ballot paper?
As mentioned before, 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 continues to take a back seat.
The youth ought to stand up for themselves and find ways for the political system to hear them out and make a change. It’s very clear that no one is going to vote and fight for the interests and concerns of young people except for young people.
For many young people, adulthood brings many new challenges, like university, marriage, buying a house, paying for your own health insurance, and/or starting a business, all of which could radically change your perspective on political issues.
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 power regardless of whichever party leads the country. 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. In an era in which Twitter is a preferred means of communication for many political leaders 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. The act of voting can push parties in the right and desired direction of the youth and most importantly consistently so.
They will energise the political system and steer their countries into a new and fresh direction. A direction that will uplift and benefit all generations and generations to come. The youth vote has the potential to be extremely influential.
Increasing youth voter turnout is very much crucial in getting the millennial generation to grasp on and never let go of the electoral process. In this manner they will grow up to be well informed and responsible citizens and most importantly the culture of voting shall not die out. Instead it shall continue to grow and make our country purposeful.
• Sello Ivan Phahle is managing director of SIP Media