Youth is wasted on the young – and so is voting
Young people make up the bulk of the voting population, but they prefer striking to casting a ballot
Young people could fundamentally change the political landscape if they vote in the 2019 election, but they are the least likely to cast a ballot.
This is according to a report by the Institute of Security Studies (ISS) into the perceptions and motivations for youngsters voting in next year’s election, released on Thursday.
The report by Lauren Tracey-Temba, a researcher in the justice and violence prevention programme at ISS, involved 209 people between the ages of 18 and 29 in six Johannesburg areas identified as having high levels of public and collective violence: Meadowlands, Atteridgeville, Actonville, KwaThema, Katlehong and Eldorado Park.
According to the data, the youth vote is important because it makes up the largest population of eligible voters, with those between the ages of 18 and 19 currently accounting for 15.6% of the estimated eligible voting population, while those between 20 and 29 account for 56.7%.
Tracey-Temba said: “While some of the young people in this study still see value in voting, they are disillusioned with formal democratic processes such as elections. As a result their potential to shape elections goes largely unfulfilled.”
According to the IEC, despite the huge number of youngsters turning up for voter registration in March this year, they are still the age group with the least number of registered voters.
The ISS study found young people believe informal platforms of engagement, such as protests, are much more effective for change. “For some of these young people, the lack of change after an election brought on the perception that their vote didn’t work and as a result deterred them from going back and voting in the next election,” Tracey-Temba said.
A 25-year-old employed man from Eldorado Park said: “There are specific services that we need and if I don’t get those small services, you have failed me as I have put you in power and I believe that if you are in power everything will go the right way. [If it does not] I am going to protest so that you must hear!”
Tracey-Temba said young people “withdraw from voting altogether if the promises made by politicians do not materialise, rather than shifting their vote to another party”.
A 26-year-old woman from Actionville said: “I think the only [way to get government’s attention] is to strike ... the government understands striking ... The moment you take action and strike, that’s the moment they come and listen to you and then promise to do something, and if they are not doing it again we strike again, then they will understand this is serious.”
In March 2018 the IEC held its first voter registration weekend: More young women than men have registered to vote according to the IEC;
2.7m voters registered or updated their registration details in March;
82% of the new votes registered were voters under the age of 30;
26 million citizens had registered for the 2019 national elections;
5.2 million are between the ages of 18 and 29.
A need for change was the reason the youths cited for wanting to vote. “The issue of ‘change’ was mainly spoken about in relation to the need for more job opportunities and free tertiary education, while a few mentioned the need for better service delivery, housing and infrastructure,” Tracey-Temba said.
Unemployment was the main reason for protest among the youth. She said it was not true that youths were apathetic, citing a survey conducted by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation which found that over half of South Africans (53%) do not feel close to any political party, with just under a third of South Africans (29%) feeling close to the ANC.
However, the report found the youth are feeling optimistic about the country's leadership. President Cyril Ramaphosa has been identified as the ANC’s one big pull factor due to his popularity with the youth.
“There was a clear sense of optimism among both the young male and female participants particularly regarding the change in leadership in the ruling party and the popularity of the new president, Cyril Ramaphosa,” Tracey-Temba said.
A 24-year-old employed Medowlands woman said: “I believe there will be change. I believe that a lot of change is going to happen since we also have a new president. There will be the creation of new jobs.”
“Based on the interviews and with at least half a year to go before the 2019 polls, the top three political parties will be hard-pressed to hold on to their political dividend, particularly where the demands of the youth are concerned,” Tracey-Temba said.