Empowering young voices for a stronger democracy

Young people have been urged to vote. Picture: Khaya Ngwenya/ Independent Newspapers

Young people have been urged to vote. Picture: Khaya Ngwenya/ Independent Newspapers

Published Mar 13, 2024


Ongama Mtimka

As a lecturer in the Department of History and Political Science at Nelson Mandela University, and someone deeply invested in the future of South Africa, I see a critical gap in our democracy: the under-representation and disenfranchisement of young citizens.

We find ourselves at a critical juncture where the active involvement of young people has become more vital than ever before.

Empowering the youth of South Africa to engage meaningfully in our democracy is extremely important as our political system undergoes a crucial transition to multipartyism.

There are key barriers preventing young people from participating in civic affairs and there are obstacles that need to be dismantled.

Historically, engagement in political processes has been monopolised by the propertied and employed, leaving many young people feeling disassociated from the spaces where decisions are made.

However, with the advent of social media, we have the game-changing opportunity to democratise political discourse and cultivate a culture of inclusivity and accessibility.

My experience within universities has shown first-hand the transformative impact of youth engagement, particularly within our university campuses and colleges. When young people exercise their right to vote, they not only influence political outcomes but also hold officials and governments accountable to their promises.

As younger generations get more involved, they bring fresh perspectives and a renewed sense of urgency to address pressing societal issues.

To those who may feel disillusioned or apathetic about politics, I offer a simple yet powerful reminder: silence is not neutrality.

By abstaining from participation, we relinquish our ability to shape the future of our nation. The emergence of new parties with youthful leadership offers hope for those seeking representation and meaningful change.

Early exposure to civic engagement lays the foundation for a lifelong commitment to democratic participation.

As educators and community leaders, we have a responsibility to cultivate a culture of participation within our schools and neighbourhoods.

By empowering young people to voice their opinions and contribute to decision-making processes, we equip them with the skills and confidence to become active citizens and contributors to our democracy.

Parents and parental figures also play a crucial role in nurturing our children's sense of agency and autonomy. By fostering open and honest dialogue, we create a supportive environment where their voices are valued and respected.

Effective mobilisation efforts require us to amplify youth voices and leverage influential figures within their communities.

By harnessing the power of social media and grassroots initiatives, we can inspire and empower young people to take ownership of their political destiny.

I firmly believe in the power of our youths’ voices to shape the future of our nation.

By embracing the principles of inclusivity, empowerment, and collaboration, we can unlock South Africa's full potential and build a more vibrant and inclusive democracy for generations to come.

*Mtimka is a lecturer and analyst in the Department of History and Political Sciences at Nelson Mandela University.

**The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of Independent Media or IOL