The Level of youth turnouts in the election has been low compared to other age groups worldwide but, this gap is more significant in South Arica than in the rest of the world. Youth vote less frequently stands as candidates less often and remain underrepresented in electoral managerial functions. Although South African youth of the 1970-the 90s participated and initiated the movement to fight for equal right and democracy in the era of struggle for independence, the nowadays generation of youths is not participating much as the previous generations did. Nearly one-third of South Africa’s present electorate are now too young to have any memory from the apartheid. No memory of race classification, segregation or injustice, components which incurred their parent’s political involvement.
Youth have been exercising power outside of formal electoral processes in situations of social and economic exclusion and difficulty. Various reasons are reported to contribute to the low levels of youth participation in the election including, the phenomenon that youth are lazy and do not feel like they are a part of the society. It is considered that individuals who own their own property and have children generate more direct interest in how hospitals, as well as schools, are administered thus, developing more political interest. Today’s youths reach this stage at a later age than previous generations, which also could be an explanation of why fewer young people are participating politically. Another explanation is that young people of today’s move to this stage at a later age than previous generations, that why fewer young people are participating politically. Despite other varied reasons, it is also asserted that the elections often fail to attract the attention of youth. There is a general sense that traditional politics and representative democracy whereby voters determine the outcome of power struggles at the ballot box failed to attract younger cohorts who feel alienated from political processes. Little has been done to specifically target young people and build their confidence in formal democratic electoral systems as a vehicle for political renewal.
It is important for the young generation to engage in formulating politics as inclusive participation is a fundamental political and democratic right. Promoting the inclusion of youth in political processes is not only about norms, values and rights but also about practical politics. Youth find themselves in a different situation, and their political and socio-economic priorities differ from those of their older counterparts. Having grown up in a period of transformation related to the increased use of information and communications technologies, young people bring new visions and ideas to the political sphere. They are key democratic stakeholders, a notion which is also expressed in the African Youth Charter in the following words: “Africa’s greatest resource is its youthful population and through their active and full participation, Africans can surmount the difficulties that lie ahead.” Youth have been resorted to protest and often violent action to express political dissatisfaction. Therefore, it is important to build the confidence of young people in governance systems and in particular, in elections as a vehicle for change.
The following factors should be considered to addressing youth apathy towards increasing their participation in electoral processes in the country.
The use of Modern Technology
Global research indicates that modern technology is the main factor, which has contributed much to youths’ participation in elections. Social media, has played a significant role in increasing youths’ political interest and involvement in the political arena. Young voters tend to become voters for life. According to the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), celebrity endorsement has played an important role, building a bridge between the gap of politics and youth. People that youths look up to, seeing them participating would influence the youth to vote. Initiatives to capture youth can be successfully through entertainment or edutainment, as well as targeted educational interventions. For stance, social media and celebrities are two main factors that were used in the conceived youth campaign for the 2014 election in South Africa. The campaigns were on the television, advertising celebrities discussing voting and talking about why it is crucial, with the slogan “I Vote for South Africa”. These campaigns could be found on Facebook, Google, MXit, Twitter, as well as other popular websites.
The biggest challenge for young people entering politics is the mobilization of resources. There are limited resources for youth participation in politics. With little additional resources, it is often tricky for Electoral Management Body to engage in initiatives to encourage participation. Building confidence takes time and requires engagement with others in a respectful manner. It is, therefore, strategic to build credibility by avoiding practices that insult older people during campaigns. Sourcing funds for political campaigns is likely to be a continuing challenge for young people. It is vital to have to secure funding to support the participation of young people. Stakeholders should be creative in obtaining financing and using partnerships and other modalities to encourage youth participation. Since political parties often do not promote young people and youth cannot mobilize campaign funding very easy.
The youth population in South Africa is too large to remain on the margins of the democratic process. a multifaceted approach is required that covers all areas of the electoral cycle. Three key areas for youth engagement are considering youth as voters, as electoral contestants and as election managers. In addition to active participation as voters on election day, there is a need to include actions that will encourage young people to enter the political space and be represented in political parties and hence in legislative structures. South Africa’s Electoral Management Body must engage in multifaceted programmes and start thinking more creatively about how to bring the youth on board. Specifically, they should take a more proactive approach to engage with youth as voters, electoral candidates and electoral managers. This, in turn, requires the Electoral Management Body to engage more effectively with key partners on youth-related issues. Action activities are also needed in the pre-and post-elections period as part of a longer-term continuing strategy.
Political parties and civil society organizations
Two players of particular significance are Political parties and civil society organizations. Political parties remain a vital barrier to youth participation in decision-making structures through their control over the submission of the lists of electoral candidates. The Electoral Management Body should therefore consider facilitating interparty dialogue to foster broader agreements on the need for the advancement of youth as electoral contestants. The Electoral Management Body are more likely to achieve their goals when promoting youth as voters by working with youth-focused civil society groups. They must also consider youth in their internal organizational strategy and allow young people to train for and serve in managerial positions. Political parties are especially well placed to encourage the participation of young people. This would be well achieved if the Electoral Management Body will enhance good communication with youth. It is crucial for the Electoral Management Body to find new channels and innovative tools for engagement and disseminating information. She noted that working with political parties to encourage active youth participation will be an essential element for the future. Electoral Management Body should consider youth engagement a priority rather than just an ‘add-on’.
Structures and policies
The Electoral Management Body also need to look at their internal structures and policies to promote youth participation in the management of electoral processes. Provincial organizations and networks can provide a good platform for promoting the work carried out by the Electoral Management Body in this field. In Building on the existing platform of exchange, the Electoral Management Body supposed to be given the space to share experiences and explore new and innovative ways of engaging younger cohorts. Through the documentation of these exchanges and the development of resources, the results may serve as an important source of inspiration. Universities and similar centres of higher education are helpful in encouraging deeper participation. Elections at these institutions for student structures are a significant learning ground for politics. They are essential as centres for registration and civic education. Students can also serve as ‘youth elections ambassadors’.
Other essential elements for increasing youth participation in in electoral processes pointed out by a Programme Officer of International IDEA Mette Bakken include changes in legislation to affirm representation; differential registration processes; voter education and the participation of youth as observers; and monitoring mechanisms to secure the implementation of strategies.
South African youth have been less involved in the aftermath of such critical engagements. Perceptions of exclusion have resulted in young people seeking alternative ways to express their dissatisfaction. When frustration reaches high levels, especially in transitional and fragile states, youth may turn to civil disobedience and violence. Therefore, the inclusion of youth in political processes is crucial to longer-term stability and peace. When young people engage, authoritarian regimes fall, and countries’ political trajectories may shift.
Dr. Norah Hashim Msuya is an academician and researcher. She writes in her personal capacity.