Crucial for youth to take part in election process to reshape SA for the better

Tebogo Suping

Tebogo Suping

Published Sep 5, 2023


Tebogo Suping

As South Africa prepares for its seventh democratic general elections next year, there is a collective realisation that this is a crucial moment in the nation’s history.

Amid political players subtly campaigning and making bold statements, like “2024 is our 1994”, it is important for us to pause and reflect on the past three decades of democratic rule. We must also make space for diverse perspectives and lived experiences to be heard and considered.

The introspection cannot occur magically or by chance; it requires all South Africans, particularly the youth who constitute a significant portion of the population, to actively participate in building a democratic culture. The issue of youth abstaining from, or showing disinterest in, elections has been a concern for years. Labelling it “youth voter apathy” is insufficient.

The reasons behind their disengagement are numerous, real and valid.

To begin with, statistics indicate young people aged 15 to 24 and 25 to 34 face high vulnerability in the South African labour market, with unemployment rates of 61% and 39.9%, respectively, as reported by Afrika Tikkun Services last year. The figures are among the highest in the world, and have persisted for more than 15 years.

Additionally, more than one-third of young people aged 15 to 24 (3.5million individuals) are not employed, are in education or undergoing training.

Most of them come from disadvantaged areas, including rural communities with limited employment opportunities. These circumstances can lead to catastrophic consequences, including a lack of participation in elections, which urgently requires attention and intervention.

The challenges faced by our growing democracy affect not only the youth, but also entire communities comprising children, adolescents and the elderly. Besides high unemployment rates, socio-economic inequality is prevalent, with 47% of the population relying on social grants services for survival.

Moreover, a significant number of people depend on the government for education, safety, health care, and waste management. Unfortunately, South Africa faces dysfunctional policing and a broken, overburdened public health-care system.

What can be done to address the challenges? While I may not have all the answers, I believe one way to respond is for each of us to actively participate in democratic processes, particularly in local and general elections.

The youth, who make up almost a third of the population (35%) in South Africa, should be at the forefront of electoral engagement as they bear the greatest burden of the country’s triple challenges: unemployment, inequality, and poverty. Unfortunately, only a small percentage (16%) of young people aged 18 to 29 exercised their right to vote in the 2019 general elections.

A survey conducted by the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) after the 2021 local government elections found that 71% of adults agreed the youth should take the lead in voting.

To address the issue of youth participation in democratic decision-making, ACTIVATE! Change Drivers has devised a strategy to empower and mobilise the youth. We have executed one activation in Johannesburg on July 3, which received positive feedback from the participating youth.

Another activation, on July 29, in Cape Town in collaboration with partners such as the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the IEC, engaged and educated young people about voter education, electoral and democratic processes. We also encouraged them to register to vote in the upcoming 2024 elections.

Democracy is a gradual process that entails making informed decisions rather than hastily moving towards the wrong path.

With their potential and ample time, the youth should lead the charge towards a brighter future for South Africa.

Suping is the executive director for youth network ACTIVATE! Change Drivers.

Cape Times