The apathy towards politics among the youth is – to say the least – disturbing. LIVE Mag SA did a survey on the voting issue. 25% of respondents aged 18 to 35 years were either not, or still not sure about voting in the upcoming elections. Furthermore, only 20% of respondents felt today’s politicians are representative of young South Africans.
In an attempt to not just provide alarming statistics and judge the youth but get to engage with them, LIVE, in partnership with ACTIVATE! and Steve Biko Foundation hosted a live youth debate as part of the official launch of the VIP (Voting is Power) campaign. The panel included 5FM’s DJ Fresh, public speaker, entrepreneur, social-activist and writer Shaka Sisulu, journalist Khadija Patel, and comedian Kagiso Lediga (because who else gets away with telling it like it is like a comedian?). Hosted by SABC 1’s SUNDAY LIVE’s Tumelo Mothotoane, the debate took place on Tuesday 11 March at JoziHub from 10am to 12pm. Cape Town and Ginsberg (King William’s Town) tuned in via Google Hangouts (thank Isaac Newton for technology!).
The questions the panel and the audience were focusing on were as follows:
1. Are you planning to vote?
2. Are you voting for or against issues such as poverty, crime, land reform, employment etc?
3. Will born-frees change South African politics?
These questions were mostly directed at the youth. The main flaw everybody raised was that the youth wasn’t represented on the panel. But hey, life had to go on.
By now we’ve established that a majority of the youth are not going to vote. That according to DJ Fresh is excluding yourself from the democracy you claim to be part of. “If you are not voting, you are not part of the democracy,” he said. Unfortunately he cannot vote because he doesn’t hold a South African ID. Khadija did raise the issue that a worrying number of South Africans have been voting since ’94 but have, up until today, not seen any change. That is one of the most prevalent excuses the youth give for not voting. DJ Fresh raised the fact that young people don’t understand that it doesn’t end at the polls.
“If you are dating someone,” added Shaka, “you don’t just talk to them once in a while, that’s a one night stand, it’s not a relationship,” Shaka tried to clarify the point using salient imagery that the youth definitely understand. The point is you don’t just vote for a party once in five years and then wait for the next election and vote again. You have to carry on engaging with who you’ve voted for. And mind you, they have their flaws – just like your darling – so you have to be prepared to deal with those.
He added that democracy places a lot of urgency on the citizens. So if you don’t vote you are not part of that democracy. We might as well choose some guy to run the country for the next 20 years without consulting the people if the people aren’t going to vote.
According to DJ Fresh, the youth are not entirely to blame for their apathy – the government deserves a share – and a bigger one – of the blame as they don’t engage with the youth through their (youth) platforms. Platforms such as Instagram aren’t utilized by any political party. “A 30 second clip stating why one should vote for a party would do the trick,” states DJ Fresh simply to an audience of young peeps gesturing in agreement with him. Khadija however feels city dwellers with abundant internet access overlook the fact that there are hordes of the youth in rural areas with little or no internet access at all. So the idea of expressing oneself through platforms such as blogs may seem really cool and all but it’s not accessible to everyone. She did encourage those who have access to such resources to exploit them.
The language political party leaders use is also not youth-friendly – you know the “embark, mobilize…” political jargon. What happened to using everyday language that we all understand? The fact that even youth leaders are generally individuals on the later fringes of youth – how about we have a 25-year-old youth league leader? In short, the youth feel misrepresented (if at all) in politics.
How can a political debate be complete without a mention of the media – our biggest window to the world of politics? “The media makes us feel like the country is crashing and burning after these elections,” Shaka said. “The media is flawed,” Khadija added. “The experience of the average South African – [for instance] your shack dwellers – is not told properly by the media and that is the only window through which we see the world,” she continued.
“There’s always going to be one big thing that has us all worried,” Shaka said. “There was a time when we felt we were all gonna get killed in our houses. Then there was a time when we thought we were all gonna get AIDS and die. A lot of money was put aside to combat AIDS and it’s only now that we are seeing the results. Today, it’s corruption and it will be solved in the future.” Hey, optimism is a great trait.
DJ Fresh reminded the youth that politicians should fear that if they don’t deliver then… oh sh*t! (woe unto them, basically). As Shaka put it, a relationship you have with a party you’ve voted for, should be ongoing – not be a one night stand, reiterating the notion that the story doesn’t end at the ballot box.
But how do we reach out to the government? How do we speak to them? Definitely not by burning tyres and libraries or throwing human waste at parliament doorsteps. Maybe we can boo – it’s better than burning cars, Kagiso said. I can’t say I got the answer to this question. From what I know, people resort to such drastic methods of protest because their government doesn’t seem to understand peaceful talk. Yeah, I know what you thinking: you should have asked. Well, time was limited and there was this other dude who really liked asking and commenting – we always have those I guess. Excuses excuses, you thinking. Well…
Coming to the issue of born-frees – I’m obviously not one – changing the political landscape of South Africa, one member of the audience felt that the young ones aren’t prepared. She stated that they are not groomed to be future leaders or at least stake holders in society. Somebody should have at least told them over 10 years ago that they would, in 2014 (and beyond), have to take to the polls and change the fate of this country. It’s not inaccurate to say that most young people are ignorant about such issues. We know more about who is dating who in Hollywood than who the leader of, say AGANG is. Okay, bad example. But the point is: young people need to inform themselves about the history of this country which, like it or not, has a great effect on the future.
Overall, the VIP launch went very well and it trended nationally on Twitter for 13 hours! And it received some great media coverage from major media outlets.
Remember this: vote smart. And to do that, you need to be informed.
Images by Lisa Gabriel
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