By Frederik de Ridder
In 2009, 23 million people registered to vote, and 18 million voted. In 2014, 21 million people in SA will be between the ages of 18-35 years. Seven million people will be between the ages of 18-24 years and 4 million young people will not be in employment, education or training. Also in 2014, 1 million born-frees will vote for the first time.
Young people are a majority in South Africa with the 2014 youth-voter eligibility numbers comparable to the size of the entire registered electorate of 2009. Yet, neither political parties nor their youth apparatus seem serious about finding solutions to the underlying problems that affect young people within acceptable timeframes.
Instead of pragmatic solutions to the largest present national crisis, the South African public is more likely to be offered condescending gestures by leaders almost perfunctorily acknowledging the plight of the poor or unemployed without a sense for the consequences of their inaction on those realities.
Instead of substantive proposals, the public is offered opportunistic campaigns that obfuscate historical fact for electoral gain among younger voters.
Instead of radical reform, public is offered neither acknowledgement nor recourse in cases of rampant abuse of power, both in the executive and in parliament, contrary to what is envisioned in the Constitution.
There are exceptions, but a system is not salvaged by its exceptions — broken systems are salvaged through reform. And reform is not ushered in by itself.
The solutions do not all lie with government. But, the responsibility to create an environment that enables growth and responsibility does lie with government.
There is increased recognition that both success and sustainable solutions are wrapped up in partnerships between the citizen, business, labour and government. These partnerships appear at the heart of the NDP.
The most recent example of such partnership is the Youth Employment Accord, signed at Nedlac. The accord is a good start, but it will be slow on the uptake and it does not take away from the fact that there are underlying problems that require more radical action. The case is not helped by the proposed Licensing of Business Bill, which will almost certainly retard the creation of a more “enabling, high growth environment” and will disable young people seeking to take responsibility and create new opportunities, highlighting yet another damaging contradiction.
Young people should make certain policies, which are fundamental to the security of social, economic and democratic progress, non-negotiable, so as to overshadow the inefficiencies of contradictory policies or overly relaxed youth wings.
Young people should lobby and head to the polls in higher numbers than ever to assert their majority and insist that underlying problems be resolved, to address inequality, poverty and unemployment.
Given the docility of their leadership, relying on the youth apparatus of political parties to take up matters of serious importance is unlikely to bear results anytime soon.
Basic prerequisites should include at least:
(a) Binding minimum norms and standards in schools, (1) to ensure every school is able to conduct its business effectively and (2) to enable communities to hold officials accountable.
(b) The advancement of education as an essential service and fair pay for teachers, to ensure every school is always open for business.
(c) The advancement of mother-tongue education, to achieve higher over all learner performance and to further the transformation project in South Africa.
(d) The eradication of spatial inequalities in budget-spending patterns, to eradicate the non-delivery of educational services in some areas.
(e) The advancement of learnerships and teaching colleges, to afford teachers quality and freely accessible opportunities as well as support for further learning.
(f) The progressive introduction of electoral reforms (1) to enhance accountability between representatives and communities they represent and (2) to advance both community control and agency over matters that affect them.
Frederik de Ridder is co-founder of the African Student Leaders’ Summit, The Bluebuck Network and the InkuluFreeHeid Association; University of Cape Town Students Representative Council 2010 and also served as secretary-general of the United Nations at G8 & G20 Youth Summits 2012. University of Cape Town BSc civil engineering (economics) First Class Honours 2012.