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Durban - Actions, not words, are what will win the hearts and minds of voters in the next general elections, findings of a survey suggest, prompting a political analyst to warn that politicians on the campaign trail may not be taken seriously.
University of KwaZulu-Natal senior political lecturer Zakhele Ndlovu was reacting to a survey by consumer insights company Pondering Panda that found four out of five younger South Africans did not trust politicians.
Ndlovu said this was worrying as South Africa was a young democracy.
But such feelings of distrust for politicians were common the world over, he said.
Pondering Panda interviewed 2 212 people, including 430 in KZN, ranging in age from 18 to 34 from September 13 to 20. All were asked the same four questions.
In answer to the first question, “Do you trust most South African politicians?”, 81.7 percent of the KZN respondents said politicians did not always tell the truth. The percentages were the same in the 18 to 24 and 25 to 34 age categories.
Asked what South Africans valued more – what politicians said now or what they had done in the past – 51.4 percent of respondents in the younger age category (and most of the KZN respondents – 58.5 percent) said it was their track record.
For the third question, “If a politician comes to your area to speak to people there, would you go and listen to them?”, most in the 18 to 24 age category responded in the negative. In KZN, 38.1 percent said yes, 31.1 percent said no and 23 percent said it would depend on the party the politician was from.
The final question was, “Are you interested in listening to politicians from parties other than the one you support?” In KZN, 53.9 percent said yes; 46.5 percent in the 18 to 34 said no and 47.1 percent in the 25 to 34 age category said no.
“Politicians trying to win the youth vote in 2014 have a tough task ahead of them,” said Pondering Panda spokeswoman Shirley Wakefield.
“The vast majority of younger South Africans don’t trust what they (politicians) have to say, and only a minority are interested in listening to them in the first place.”
Wakefield said all parties faced a big challenge in growing their share of the vote, “as it appears almost half of younger potential voters are not receptive to the message of parties other than the one they already support”.
For politicians looking to inspire undecided younger people next year, the message is clear: “Deeds, not words, are what’s going to win their vote.”
Political analyst Protas Madlala identified with the conclusion, saying younger South Africans had not experienced oppression or felt any political pressure.
“They are more inclined to look after their own career and interests,” he said. “They don’t have a loyalty for any political party. They are the undecided vote and are free for sale to politicians. All political parties will be gunning for their vote.”
Ndlovu said many young people had been let down by politicians’ promises of jobs, “which they failed to deliver”.
“Politicians should be worried because when they are campaigning, people won’t take them seriously,” he said.
Madlala agreed with Ndlovu that distrust for politicians was common anywhere in the world. This was exacerbated by scandals and corruption.
“I’d be very concerned about those who did trust politicians.”
DA provincial leader Sizwe Mchunu said people were losing faith in democracy.
To address voter apathy there should be more focus on voter education.
“Voters employ the politicians in government,” Mchunu said.
MP Khuleko Hlengwa, the national chairman of the IFP, felt the bigger challenge was for young people to “be part of the problem-solving”.
“Elect politicians into positions and hold them accountable,” he said.
Provincial ANC spokesman Senzo Mkhize felt the survey left out a huge section of young people, particularly those from the rural areas.
“Political parties should focus on the youth who don’t appear to be politically active,” Mkhize said.
“We need to mobilise them.”