Johannesburg - Cope secretary-general Lyndall Shope-Mafole has urged South African youths to take the power of their vote seriously.
“It is an indictment on our democracy that young South Africans think that votes don’t make a difference, she said.
“Young people need to learn the power of their vote. It is an indictment that so many citizens choose to burn libraries when they protest and still debate on who to vote for. This challenge has to be addressed quickly.”
During voter registration, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) targeted young people. After the last registration weekend in February the IEC said at least 1.25 million young people had registered to vote in the May 7 elections.
Shope-Mafole was speaking at a debate on the country’s 20 years of democracy at Unisa on Monday night.
Other speakers included the ANC’s Thoko Didiza, the DA Gauteng premier candidate Mmusi Maimane, UDM leader Bantu Holomisa, the Economic Freedom Fighters’ Floyd Shivambu and ACDP chairwoman Jo-Ann Downs.
Didiza said it was time to reflect on what anchored the country in its two decades of democracy. “We should look at what important steps were taken in forming society. It was not just the liberation of Africans, but of everyone.
“All of us got our dignity back and felt a part of South Africa and the continent. It was the reintegration of South Africa into the international community while anchoring ourselves into Africa.”
The ANC had in the past 20 years laid a foundation for future successes. “When we look back we can say we have not yet completed the agenda of transformation, but have laid the foundation.
When we reflect on this 20-year journey… 1994 saw South Africans agreeing on a broad agenda to take the country forward,” Didiza said.
Maimane agreed that South Africa was a better place now than before 1994, but said there was still more to be done. “We inherited a broken society. Now we must ask questions about ideology and where we should go as South Africans. More and more South Africans are finding it hard to find jobs.”
He complained that land had not been distributed. “Others enjoy the fruits of democracy and freedom, but the majority is still suffering.”
Shivambu agreed, saying: “The constitution protects stolen property. In 1994, 87 percent of land belonged to people who got it through the 1913 Land Act - the minority white people. Even now, 80 percent of the land still belongs to those people,” he said.
Holomisa said South Africa was becoming more of a welfare state than a developmental one. “There is a heavy reliance on social grants… most South Africans do not have a good story to tell.”
Downs said lack of access to education took the country backwards. “The health system has improved, but access to education is still limited to a minority (of) white people.”