Rise Mzansi KZN Convener, Nonkululeko Hlongwane-Mhlongo, IFP President VF Hlabisa, DDP's Partner Liaison and Development Officer Mbalenhle Mkhize and Executive Director Dr. Paul Kariuki at the DDP Civic Education Conference.
On 22 August 2023, DDP hosted its annual Civic Education Conference under the theme “Democratising information: Centering Citizen Voices.” This conference comes at a time where globally young people have been labelled as apathetic and uninterested in formal democratic processes. This is due to the consistently decreasing levels of youth voter turnout in elections. While South Africa has witnessed a similar trend of lower voter registration and turnout, South African youth are far from apathetic. Rather, South African youth are highly critical of political leaders and parties who they feel have ignored their needs and fail to engage with them in a meaningful manner.
At the close of the last voter registration conducted by the Independent Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC), only 16% of 18-to-19-year-olds eligible to vote registered to vote, alongside 49% of eligible 20-to-29-year-olds. Arguably the reason for this decline in young people registering to vote is that many young people are despondent about formal democratic processes like elections. They do not see voting as something that brings about change in their communities. There are a number of issues that shape young people’s decision on whether to vote in an election or not. These include access to and responsiveness of state institutions; access to and quality of education; employment opportunities or absence thereof; and prevalence of corruption. South African youth are increasingly finding alternative modes of political expression and engagement useful. This can range from participation in public protests to social media activism.
Access to information is critical for enabling citizens to exercise their voice, to effectively monitor and hold government to account, and to enter into informed dialogue about decisions which affect their lives. It is seen as vital for empowering all citizens, including vulnerable and excluded people, to claim their broader rights and entitlements. But the potential contribution to good governance of access to information lies in both the willingness of government to be transparent, as well as the ability of citizens to demand and use information – both of which may be constrained in low capacity settings. A key question in this regard is: To what extent can access to information, and government transparency, advance the claims of poor and marginalised groups and make governments accountable?
The objectives of the event included:
Exploring the gaps in policy and implementation as it pertains to public participation
Identifying the existing civic education delivery methods, identify the synergy among them and evaluate whether these remain appropriate;
Exploring mechanisms to measure the impact of sustained civic education; and
Strengthening partnerships with stakeholders in the region
Ultimately, the DDP, and its stakeholders hosted this conference to unpack these concepts surrounding Civic Education particularly as it pertains to the re-framing of curricular and interventions towards ensuring that we have a more open, participatory and vibrant space for both political, and civic engagement. Speakers for the day included Lukhanyo Neer, Chief Operating Officer at the Thabo Mbeki Foundation, who unpacked the gap between civic education and political participation. Neer focused on looking at the role of legacy foundations in creating a sustained democratic culture. We were also joined Thobani Zikalala, independent analyst, who looked into the role of political parties in developing informed citizens. Zikalala tackled it from the angle of how the parties can work towards electoral participation and institutional accountability. Thabile Mdhluli, author and facilitator, explored activist initiatives in developing civic awareness. Other discussions in the room included participants unpacking the drivers of low voter turnout, the implications of own practice and avenues for advocacy and policy change.
DDP thanks our partner Konrad Adenauer Foundation for its partnership and continued support. DDP also thanks all the delegates and speakers that made this event possible.