Young people eligible for first time voting speak out on their lacking interest in this year’s election.
At every political party rally, the word “youth” gets thrown around casually. Political parties have consistently placed an emphasis on the importance of youth votes but in the 2019 election registration, IEC reported the participation of youth had dropped. Specifically, the 18-19 year-old group has dropped by 47%. Historically, this is the lowest turnout of voters since the first democratic election in 1994. In an attempt to find reasons that can be accounted to this drop, we spoke to a group of young people who relayed factors that influence their participation in the elections.
Zandile April from Jabulani, Soweto counts unemployment as one of the many issues faced by youth in her community. Unemployment has been a constant issue that dates as far back as the first democratic election. Earlier this year, Statistics South Africa reported that unemployment has risen to 27,1%. With this statistic being one of the highest in the world, the youth are certainly at the knife edge of it. Although every political party’s manifesto includes a policy on eradicating unemployment, Zandile highlights the disconnect between these policies and implementation. “Where are these jobs that we get promised each year,” says Zandile.
Corruption does not only exist in the top of the hierarchy. Communities are experiencing first-hand corruption in form of local ward councillors. “We have heard of funds that the local government has distributed to our community for fire disasters but no change has been done,” says Okuhle Ngemntu, a 19 year old resident of Khayelitsha. Poor housing is amongst the prevalent issues that are faced by this community. Okuhle notes the increase of informal settlements (squatter camps) in the recent years. “Each quarter sees a new community being built in open spaces, usually not in healthiest of condition,” says Okuhle. As a form of protest, these informal settlements are named after influential political names such as Ramaphosa, Chris Hani and most recently, after the infamous massacre, Marikana.
“Our local ward councillors are inaccessible. Their visibility is limited,” says Emihle Nkanti, a 19 year high schooler from Silityiwa village, in the Eastern Cape. She explains that local leaders in her community lack people skills, making it difficult to approach them, especially for young people. Youth representation in small communities is another issue that seems to determine the involvement of youth in political conversations. Emihle insists that there is a lack of younger people who hold positions of power in her community.
Research by The Institute for Security Studies cites limited access to fee free higher education, amongst some of the reasons for the decreasing youth voter participation. Okuhle is reminded of visuals from the first #FeesMustFall protest back in 2015. “Seeing that on TV made me hopeful of my academic future as I imagined the success of it meant gaining access to university education, upon finishing my Matric.” He suggests that higher education is still an expensive commodity affordable to a few. “A few years later, black students continue to fight against the injustice of the higher education system in South Africa,” says Okuhle, speaking of the former President’s free education promise that has not materialised.
Zandile, Okuhle and Emihle collectively allude to the continuing service delivery failure as the biggest cause of scepticism in their voting participation. The common thread in their views expose distrust caused by a lack of results on promises made by the respective ruling parties in their communities. Although they are clearly from different areas across the country, their frustrations are similar. While Zandile and Okuhle remain adamant in their choice of not voting, Emihle harbours some hope that things may change for the better. “As sceptical as I am, I will still give chance to a new party. Who knows, maybe they might just be the ones to create change!”