The significant role of the youth in the 2024 elections is to vote

IEC at Wits in March 2022. The youth not only shape the trajectory of health, education, and development, they also use their creativity, vivacity, and willingness to enact meaningful change. Picture: Timothy Bernard/African News Agency (ANA)

IEC at Wits in March 2022. The youth not only shape the trajectory of health, education, and development, they also use their creativity, vivacity, and willingness to enact meaningful change. Picture: Timothy Bernard/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Oct 22, 2023


By Tswelopele Makoe

MORE than 60% of people in position of power in our country are well beyond the age of 65 and many of them have held significant positions of governance for nearly three decades consecutively.

The upcoming elections will give every citizen in the country, particularly our dispirited youth, a chance to have their voice heard, and to shape the future of the nation.

Youth participation in the formal election process is extremely pertinent. Our nation is riddled with inequality, unemployment, and poverty. Our government is saturated with corruption and mismanagement of funds.

The country is ravaged by criminal behaviour, ranking South Africa as fifth in the list of the world’s most dangerous places to visit. According to Statista, in 2023, South Africa has the highest crime index in the entire continent.

The challenges that are being contended with across the entire nation are endless. Socio-economic disparities are at an all-time high, as the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer.

Access to resources, housing, education, and overall empowerment is stifled for the huge majority of the nation. This is worsened by poor infrastructure, substandard service delivery, and insufficient public health services, to name a few.

This further leaves our citizens defenceless and vulnerable in our ever-changing world. There are minimal opportunities for advancement for the average South African.

In fact, at the onset of 2023, the annual report by the Human Sciences Research Council reported a steep decline in the overall satisfaction with democracy, and deterioration in the social fabric of the nation.

It is important to acknowledge that our country, much like the rest of the world, faced a standstill during the Covid-19 global pandemic. Although we have seemingly weathered the storm, the importance of effective leadership has been fiercely highlighted by this immense event.

Another significant factor that shapes our current context is our history of inequality throughout the era of apartheid. The advent of democracy in South Africa brought with it great things but also a plethora of empty promises.

Most notably, the promise of socio-economic empowerment, which remains at the top of national discourses to this day. The ruling ANC, which has been in power since the first democratic elections in 1994, have seemingly run their course.

Next year, at our upcoming elections, the ANC would have held power for 30 years. This will be a pertinent time in which we must all avidly consider how we will shape the future of the nation.

Our rainbow nation is a multicultural, multiracial, omnigendered, and highly diverse society. We need to ensure that we tackle the unique challenges of our nation in a specified manner, one which acknowledges the uniqueness of our context, and addresses our challenges accordingly.

We cannot afford to address our issues using the blueprint of other nations. We cannot afford to undermine the needs of our people, and to disregard the reality of their daily lives. Countless South Africans are miserable, distressed, or disheartened. Continuing on this trajectory will only lead to further pitfalls, and a desolate future.

Our current government has failed to take meaningful measures to mitigate the social, economic, and institutional impediments that have been ravaging our nation for decades. The culture of corruption and dishonesty, even by the highest levels of governance, has been a clear marker of the frailty of our nation in the global context.

Immense cuts to health services and education has been the most crippling to our citizens. The soaring rate of poverty, that affects over 30 million citizens, means that innumerable citizens cannot afford to seek out proper health care, or educational prospects.

This is compounded by the stratified cost of living. The quality of education in South Africa has dwindled immensely. Protests over education are an annual occurrence in our context. A report published in May of 2023 showed that over 80% of children, and over 4 million adults in South Africa are illiterate.

This is a devastating reality, considering that proper education was one of the key factors in the anti-apartheid plight. To this day, we are able to see the consequences of the apartheid-era Bantu Education Act that resulted in masses of people of colour being uneducated, impoverished, and deprived of professional expertise.

Now, generations that were born into a democratic South Africa will face those same impediments. This is an injustice for the scores of citizens who died for a free, empowered South Africa. This needs to be at the forefront of our outlook as we embark on another round of voting in 2024.

There will be various factors that shape the decisions made at the voting stations. Much of these reasons will be highly personal. Considerations such as family, friends, citizenry, legislature, education, infrastructure, and overall social-economic empowerment will shape the decisions made by the voters.

When asked about voting the next year, countless citizens, especially the youth, have expressed serious disinterest. In the past elections, the youth were reported to have refrained from voting, and held a generally apathetic attitude about the leadership prospects of our nation.

It is essential, however, that every citizen takes the opportunity to shape the future leadership of the nation. During apartheid, black people were excluded from the voting process, hence the immense significance of the first democratic elections in April 1994.

We cannot squander the opportunity to shape our future, and to enact the changes that we want to see. Various political parties have begun their vigorous electoral campaigns, often consisting of the dispersion of food parcels, T-shirts, caps, and extensive convoys to stadiums and community centres across the nation.

Seemingly, this is the only time that the leadership of the nation immerses itself in the lives of the locals that they lead. It is our responsibility to ensure that as citizens, our vote cannot be bought or coerced.

We need to be fully aware of the inherent value of our votes, and the ways in which we will directly shape our nation’s future. We need to be educated about the political arena of our nation, and the ways in which it should be serving the people.

We need to ensure that those in rural areas, the elderly, the vulnerable, and even those that are disinterested understand the momentous opportunity that is entailed in a vote, an opportunity that takes place only once every five years.

We need to underscore the importance of the participation of the youth in these upcoming elections. The youth in South Africa constitute approximately 20.6 million citizens. The youth not only shape the trajectory of health, education, and development, they also use their creativity, vivacity, and willingness to enact meaningful change.

They make a positive, progressive impact on our society. They are pertinent to nation building and socio-economic advancement. Although all of our political parties include a youth league, they all deeply undermine the immense impact of the youth in our society.

We have a chance to shape a better society, with better opportunities, and brighter futures for all. We cannot afford to sit back and observe when it comes to matters of this gravity.

Voting is essential to the actualisation of our ideal society, and every single citizen should see it as such. The attorney general of a US state, Keith Ellison once exquisitely stated: “Not voting is not a protest, it is a surrender.”

* Tswelopele Makoe is a gender activist. She is also an Andrew W Mellon scholar, pursuing an MA Ethics at UWC, and affiliated with the Desmond Tutu Centre for Religion and Social Justice. The views expressed are her own.