On May 7 2014 I’ll be voting for the second time. This time I won’t quiver as I draw my “X”. I won’t care about all the hopeful politicians populating party election lists. I’m voting for me, and I’m voting so that some of those hopeful politicians don’t get in again. I am not going to keep quiet about the issues that affect me any longer, and voting is the only way I can show the political parties that I have a real voice — one that affects them tangibly.
I have been a part of the labour market for just over three years, while juggling my studies and political commitments. In my first year at university I stumbled into teaching children German for very little pay, while moonlighting as an underpaid bookseller and an impatient schools debating coach. Employment was and remains a necessity.
But I am one of the lucky people with a job.
The South African economy is extremely inhospitable, and I know too many jobseekers and struggling students. There are students at my university who eat leftovers out of the bins once the campus clears; and there are some who travel to Pretoria from their homes a province away because their parents can’t afford accommodation in the city. As a young person, this election will be about jobs and the economy for me. Too many people are struggling, and too few of us are getting anything out of the economy — myself included.
I want to vote for a government that fights against the (old) caviar communists and trade unionists that are afraid of a youth wage subsidy to create youth employment. I want to place my “X” next to a political party that understands that the economy is excluding many young people from accessing opportunity. This government must believe in the value and spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship — not pipedreams and half-baked promises to nationalise the mines. This election isn’t about nationalising mines or doubling social grants — it’s about jobs!
I see voting as a duty for those of us who can see that the current government is failing young people. Despite my political affiliation, I would find it incredibly difficult not to vote in this election. I feel as though bad policy decisions and governance have affected me directly. This is why I need to have my voice heard in a way that really hurts the politicians who are to blame by reducing their job security. This can be an incredibly effective way to force change.
Choosing to vote in 2014, even where you may not agree with a single political party on all the issues you’re passionate about, is also about ensuring representivity. Voting increases the political clout of groups that traditionally haven’t been served by mainstream politics — the poor, gay and lesbian people, women and the many youth who are struggling. Political parties are more likely to pander to the specific issues raised by these groups when there is a collective effort to show strength through voting. Political pandering isn’t pretty, but it is one way to ensure action. And if the politicians ended up lying to these groups (they’d never do that, would they?) then the individuals in the under-represented groups can switch their political affiliation.
Again: when you put the politicians’ jobs on the line, they’re more likely to deliver. This is a crude reality in a country where politicians live a little too comfortably, and political careers pay well.
Young people can fight for a place at the dinner table; we can do this by creating the political clout necessary to spur politicians into delivering on the issues we care about. We won’t create the clout by spoiling our ballots or staying away on election day; we can only create the (necessary) movement for change by voting.
This year I’m voting to put the politicians who don’t care about jobs out of work.