Young people have the power to change the outcome of the 2024 elections

With young people making up most of South Africa’s population, we are often seen as a beacon of hope and regarded as future leaders, inspired and motivated to build a prosperous, sustainable and inclusive future.

The country’s youth — those aged 15 to 34 — account for about 20.6 million (35%) of the population, according to Statistics South Africa’s 2021 data. Although a youthful population presents an opportunity to grow and advance our economy, critical factors, such as disparities in education, wealth and equality, as well as social issues, such substance abuse and violence, and the high level of unemployment, remain a sad reality for youths.

Perturbing reports by the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) say that out of the 26 million people on the roll, 14 million are not registered to vote and about half of them are under the age of 29.

In the 2019 general elections, at least 9 million people who were eligible to vote did not register to do so. About 46% of this group were people aged 20 to 29.

The significant decline in youth voter registration points to low levels of trust in politics; the social, political and economic inequality in the country and the undermining of good governance.

The high proportion of young people in the country suggests that, as our economic woes deepen, a disproportionate burden will fall on them.

The challenges faced by the youth are often blamed for their poor registration and voter turnout over the years, particularly since the 2016 local government elections.

Considering the statistics, young people are the biggest, and possibly the most influential, voting force with the power to have an effect on the outcome of the elections, yet many feel unrepresented.

The 2024 general elections are probably the most important and hotly contested since 1994 and this presents the youth with the opportunity to create a legacy of their own, much like the 1976 youth, who played a crucial part in overcoming the inequality, particularly in the education system, enforced by the apartheid regime.

There is a need for more young people to participate in the electoral process. It is not only important for democracy, but also for the advancement of the country generally.

By participating in elections, young people can influence policy on the issues that matter most to them, including education, climate change, employment, the economy and the social issues that prevent them having a better quality of life.

Furthermore, encouraging young people’s participation in the electoral system will help combat political apathy and disillusionment. Young people have the power to challenge the perception among many of them that their voices are not heard, that they are not important and that politics is not personal.

Strategies to get the youth to vote in 2024

Part of the reason young people are not participating in mainstream politics is that there is a problem with how politics is done in South Africa and that needs to change. Often political parties prefer to maintain the status quo and continue excluding this large group of potential voters. To break this exclusion and mobilise young voters, political parties must rethink their manifestos and campaign strategies.

More often than not, manifestos are long, complex, dense and inaccessible to many people. We cannot expect people to vote when they are not able to figure out what it is that the various parties stand for and are offering.

Manifestos need to be compact, simple and available in all 12 official languages.

More effort needs to be directed towards engaging and partnering with young people and youth-led organisations. Young people are not disillusioned and disengaged from politics. Instead they are choosing to organise outside of formal political structures and mainstream politics and are doing work in their communities and civil society.

The work being done by young people in communities is not always perfect but it’s important because these young leaders are doing something our political leaders are not doing and that is implementing solutions through collaborative effort with members of their communities.

The work that young community leaders do should not run parallel to the work of the government — they need to work together. Young people continue to show they have the power to change their communities and in the same way they have the power to change the outcome of the 2024 elections.

Mobilising young voters necessitates meeting the youth where they are, finding out where they are organising and what issues they are organising around. Young people make up a third of the population — that is the heart of our democracy.

As 2024 draws closer, the time has come for young people to be strategic, intentional and bold about the kind of South Africa they want and to work towards and creating it in one generation by having a clear generational mandate.

Historically, the youth has demonstrated the power of organising and of showing up together. Organising has changed political systems in South Africa, across the African continent and globally as well.

The world witnessed the generation of 1976 make their mark on the political trajectory of South Africa during the peak of apartheid. Even in post-apartheid South Africa, young people have continued to mobilise — for example, the Fees Must Fall movement, which was a clear, decisive and organised call to not only decolonise the curriculum in higher institutions of learning but to make education more accessible to all.

One of the strategies to mobilise young voters for the 2024 elections involves having conversations about what this generation wants and ways to create it. The conversation must shift to what is on the ballot rather than who is on the ballot.

One of the ways this can be done is by holding meetings in public areas, such as parks, to have conversations about politics and voting.

Tessa Dooms, director of programmes at the Rivonia Circle, which encourages political participation at community level and across sectors, calls this a “voters caucus” — a call to action for voters to discuss strategies to use their vote in the most effective way, the issues that should be on the ballot and how to make their collective voice count.

Emphasis should be placed on the fact that voting is a collective action and numbers determine electoral outcomes. Numerically, young people are the majority, therefore young people cannot continue to sit on the sidelines and allow political parties and leaders to make decisions on their behalf that will directly affect their lives.

The young people of South Africa have it within themselves to create a just, equal and modern society for generations to come.

The Independent Electoral Commission of Zambia, and civil society organisations, spearheaded an ambitious campaign to raise awareness among young voters about the importance of voting through social media platforms, which facilitated debate and discussion on governance, the economy and politics. There is an urgent need for this in South Africa.

As a country, we can agree that there is a need for urgent political change and these elections provide that opportunity. The time has come for young people of South Africa to thoroughly interrogate how they will use their years of youth to further the work of justice and change — their time is now.

Naledi Ngqambela is a research coordinator and Khanya Burns-Ncamashe is a programmes coordinator at Rivonia Circle.

Original Article – Mail & Guardian

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