Is apathy at play or should we all take a closer look at why this is?
The IEC recently reported that there is a 47% drop in voter registration amongst youth aged 18 to 19. Some may see these figures as alarming and others might speculate that the youth are apathetic. The figures above tell us a story of a tired and angry youth – a picture of a youth that no longer believes in the promise of the rainbow nation.
We make up 15 million of the population. Our participation in the electoral process could sway numbers in the voting polls which is why we are critical to the electoral process. So when a portion of us chooses not to take part in the democratic process, there is cause for concern. The drop in youth participation is not just a local issue. There is a global drop in the number of young people participating in the electoral process around the world. The Institute of Security Studies did a report on why there is a lack of voters between the ages of 18-19. Conventional wisdom would suggest that the youth are apathetic but this is not completely true.
We pay attention to what is going on every day. We, however, feel alienated and excluded from the political process. If politics was introduced in schools and we were taught how to engage with the difficult issues that we face every day, maybe we would be more involved in the electoral process. Grade 12 learner and eligible voter Kgalalelo Maluka said: “how are we expected to vote if we do not even know what it is that we are voting for?”
There are key areas of discourse that we’re left out of that may serve as the very entrance point that will help increase our participation in the democratic process. If we were taken seriously in the discussions on the increase of university fees then we wouldn’t have had to protest to have our point heard by the Department of Higher Education. Currently, the unemployment rate sits at 27% which is very alarming. We see these opportunities not reach us where we live. What are we voting for if there is no opportunity in the spaces we live in?
The lack of socio-economic improvement in impoverished communities plays a role in the way that we react to democratic processes. We live in the most unequal society in the world and we bear the brunt of that inequality. We’re exposed to lack of service delivery in the form of rubbish not being taken by the municipality and lack of infrastructure.
Issues of corruption are not lost upon us as we see them every day on social media. The amount of money lost in State Capture is close to R4.9 trillion –an amount that could’ve uplifted us as the youth. We witnessed the lack of change since the inception of the rainbow nation. This is mirrored every day in the environments that we’re living in. How can we be expected to take part, to participate, if there are no visible changes in the very communities we live in?
For the most part, young people have been excluded from access to higher education due to the high cost of university. As it stands, 51% of us between the ages of 18-19 are excluded from pursuing a higher education degree. Do you remember 2015? We had one rallying cry and that was access to free and fair higher education. Students from Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) know all too well the force of the Public Disorder Police on their student body. The violent response from police inflicted on us was not surprising but sad, considering the history of our people.
Seeing students arrested for protesting for our right to free and fair education struck a chord. Fees Must Fall served as a catalyst for adults to notice that we’re engaging in what is happening in our country, and we did it without them. Watching young people being shot at with teargas and rubber bullets disillusioned us.
We have a perceived distance with the democratic processes in this country but that is through no fault of our own. If we’re constantly being left out of the democratic process then don’t be surprised when we don’t turn up at the voting booth. This country needs to do better. For our sake, do better.