By Gugu Ndima
There is a growing concern at the rate in which the loosely categorised “born-frees” or “Mandela generation” is registering to vote. The current percentage of young people eligible to vote between the ages of 18 and 29 currently sits at 8.4%. As a nation this should be of grave concern given that we are fast approaching the 2014 elections. We should assess the causes or reasons for the perceived lag and what the potential long-term corollaries are of this trend. I recently wrote an article highlighting the class disparities as well as the diversity of this particular segment of the population; I mainly cited that there are distorted notions about who they are, subsequently boxing them into one category, discarding all variables which characterise them.
The IEC has recently gone on an aggressive “social media” campaign. This is all good and well if in all probability the youth or this particular age group were all to be found on social networks. The reality is that in a society like South Africa you can never take a sophisticated approach when trying to reach out to the majority of our people, even in one of the most urban and technologically savvy provinces like Gauteng, albeit the smallest.
Our largest provinces in SA for example are highly rural and access to information, especially on social networks is limited and in some areas none existent. Even within Gauteng, you may find that access to technology is still vastly limited as it speaks to higher income, which sadly is a privilege for many of our communities. I believe that in as much as the strategy of the IEC has all good intentions, our approach should be ensuring that we reach every South African and utilise effective mechanisms in order not to prejudice any South African, especially the working class and the poor who make up a large segment of the population, from accessing information.
Another concern is the growing perception that voting only applies to political organisations or that it is a favour to politicians. South Africans, intentionally or otherwise, seem to outsource their patriotic duty and responsibilities to partake in building this country only to politicians. Sadly the media has played a culpable role in perpetuating this view. South Africa has a proportional parliamentary system, and this is how constituency representation is determined – through the number of seats in Parliament attributed to by the percentage share of electoral vote. South Africans who are eligible to vote decide who represents them in this manner. This representative democratic system speaks to the core of our democracy and, more importantly, our patriotic duty to protect and preserve democracy. In our eagerness to complain and have pessimistic views on the country, we must equally understand the cumulative responsibility we have as citizens to ensure that we exercise our democratic right. Passive participation in a democracy disempowers our voice because we did not add its weight by being vote apathetic.
For the aforementioned youth, this starts with the parent at home. If our young people are not going out to register, it arraigns the parent at home, the department of education and the like of deficiencies in strengthening the message sent out by the IEC in schools and public spheres. Do we have a plan advocated by the IEC for involving all key players in disseminating information to society beyond Home Affairs?
Voting and elections should not be distorted and only viewed as a political campaign to get politicians into office. Voting is fundamental right for all citizens eligible to vote to ensure that they have their representatives in Parliament who will champion their views in relation to the country. Politics make up our daily lives, and it is within our best interest to be an active part of the political landscape in our country. This doesn’t necessarily mean we must join political parties, but we must be aware of our political surroundings and add value to the decisions which impact our daily lives. These decisions that are taken in education, infrastructure, the economy and even in formulating or changing laws must be determined by our active involvement in the value chain. Institutions such as Parliament as well as the provincial legislatures are mandated with the task of upholding democratic processes and facilitating public representation; all congenital from our hard-earned democracy
We must be cognisant of young people’s lack of understanding of our parliamentary process and systems that are put in place to advance their future. We must give them platforms and a voice to contribute to the architecture of our democracy. In the same breath, leaders in politics, society and the private sector must play a pro-active role in ensuring that we do not only involve young people closer to elections. Involving young people in broader politics shouldn’t be just glossed-up appeasement events during commemorative youth days like June 16 or when there are recognised events. We should involve them in all events that instill an ethic of contribution and national service. Let’s make patriotism fashionable; this can be reinforced through youth formations such as the Progressive Youth Alliance and others, to get young people taking and understanding democracy even within the four years between elections. Society, especially the media, can play a major role as well in building patriots and active citizens of tomorrow.
Our young people are fed with entertainment perversely, daily on social platforms and through the mainstream media. We fail to orientate them using the same aggression to enjoy political debates and informative programmes. Politics is still largely perceived as an isolated issue just for senior citizens. Let’s reorient programmes in the media to equally attract young people but more importantly, let us change strategies to get the youth to vote and let us communicate the importance of our democracy in a language and manner that makes them understand and value their citizenship and patriotic duty towards the Republic of South Africa.
Gugu Ndima is a patriot and a registered voter. A former spokesperson for the Young Communist League, she now serves as a spokesperson in the Gauteng legislature. Ndima was one of the Mail & Guardian‘s 200 Young South Africans for 2013. She tweets as @MsNdima.