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Study shows young South Africans have no faith in democracy and politicians

There’s been a systematic decrease in youth participation in elections.

On the eve of South Africa’s sixth democratic elections on 8 May, thousands of young people took to Twitter to state reasons for why they had no intention to cast their votes. They used the hashtag #IWantToVoteBut.

The trending topic at the time of the elections provides some insight into why young people opted out of casting their vote. At the time, pollsters and commentators were already touting the power of the youth (people under 29 made up 21% of eligible voters) as well as the threat of non-participation.

The Electoral Commission of South Africa has revealed that about nine million people eligible to vote were not registered to vote. Of these about six million were young people. Alarmingly, less than 20% of eligible first-time voters (those who turned 18 since the last national election) registered to vote. The election was ultimately held with the lowest voter turnout since 1994.

Looking at the trends over the last few years, there’s been a systematic decrease in youth participation in elections. Does this reflect youth apathy or lack of confidence in the system of democracy to meet their needs?

The Centre for Social Development in Africa, at the University of Johannesburg, did a study – “The 2019 Elections: Socio-economic performance and voter preferences”. It shows that young South Africans place socio-economic well-being above democratic rights. Simply put, the vast majority of young people believe that it is more important for the country to cater for their needs than to vote. This is a worrying trend indicating a loss of faith in democracy.

The findings were drawn from a survey conducted in the fourth quarter of 2018. The study asked to what extent are government performance in the delivery of socio-economic rights, perceptions of corruption and issues of governance likely to influence voter preferences in the 2019 national general elections? It consisted of 3431 respondents (representative of more than 38 million potential voters), the majority of whom are youth between the ages of 18 and 34 years.

Livelihood trumps the vote

The study found that young people were more distrustful of political parties and governmental organisations than older people. While all potential voters put more value on socio-economic well-being than democratic rights, this was more pronounced among young people.

Specifically, 58% of youth in South Africa view meeting their basic needs (such as finding jobs, income, housing) as more important than voting, and having access to courts, freedom of speech and expression. Only 27% (less than three out of ten) of the young respondents believed democratic rights were more important. The remaining 15% said they didn’t know which was more important. Respondents also reported a lack of faith in democracy to deliver socio-economic transformation that can meet their needs.

Placing socioeconomic rights above democratic rights is understandable given the multiple struggles that young people face. 25 years since the end of apartheid, the country is still arguably the most unequal in the world. The most recent workforce figures show a 55.2% joblessness rate among the country’s youth –- almost twice the general (already shocking) national unemployment rate of 27.6%.

Young people are also grappling with the well-documented failings of the education system which has left many school-leavers unprepared for (or unable to access) tertiary education or become entrepreneurs.

As our research on youth unemployment shows, there are multiple barriers keeping many of the country’s young people locked out of labour market opportunities. These include a mismatch between their education and the skills needed in the economy. The particularly low level of skills among young people constrains their ability to enter the labour market. Another problem is that the costs of work seeking are particularly high for young people.

Lack of faith in government 

A qualitative study the Centre for Social Development in Africa conducted among young people aged on average 17.5 years old in 2015, called “Youth transitions in South African communities” shows that young South Africans do care about politics and their role as citizens, but were not convinced that the government would or could address their concerns.

Across the focus groups we observed young people who were surprisingly well-informed about current affairs. They held passionately expressed opinions about various political issues – from xenophobia to the government’s failure to provide basic services such as electricity, water and sanitation.

They also had real concerns about the problems facing their communities; including crime and unemployment. Perhaps it was this awareness that informed their views on formal political processes. The report also found that “most of the participants indicated an unwillingness to vote”. Furthermore, the report said

A common thread in all the focus groups was the notion that young people felt voting would not bring about meaningful change to their lives.

All of the participants said they generally had no trust in political structures and processes – like voting, demonstrations, and political party membership. They reflected a deep cynicism about formal political processes, indicating distrust of leaders.

They were well aware of the failures of the then President Jacob Zuma’s ruinous administration. But, more broadly, they felt that political leaders wanted their vote but then did not deliver on promises. They believed that political leaders were selfish and had no interest in the well-being of their communities. Many of the participants reported feeling alienated from all of South Africa’s political leaders.

Need for urgency

Tackling youth unemployment and social exclusion requires bold strategies and decisive action. Evidence-based strategies are needed that tackle the structural barriers to youth unemployment and the persistent educational and socioeconomic disadvantage that they face. These should include quality and relevant education that will prepare them for the changing world of work; smoother pathways to vocational and technical education; and access to employment services that link them with labour market opportunities.

These strategies are crucial to counteract their persistent marginalisation and restore their confidence in democracy. Only in this way will South Africa be a politically stable, just and peaceful society.The Conversation

Leila Patel is professor of Social Development Studies and Lauren Graham is associate professor at the Centre for Social Development in Africa at the University of Johannesburg.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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How long will it take these same young people to realize that it is more important to vote for another party than not vote, otherwise they are still doing the bidding of the leading party’s corruption mandate.

How long will it take all you brainwashed sheep from the 70s & 80s to work out that there isn’t a free and fair election anywhere in the world!

At least we have brains to wash….

@Saibotkram1988. Us old guys royally stuffed up the world. But so will your generation. And your youth will blame you, just as we blame our predecessors. Your indignation is warranted, but surely not unique… and no excuse to hide behind when your generation stuffs up the world, as they surely will. And it starts with not voting.

When the DA’ shadow minister of economics stops championing social ills like new casinos, then maybe their supposed pro-development story will sounds more plausible, and they will get more youth support.

Big capital has acted motivated by self-interest throughout this political process, so its no wonder the man in the street distrusts the DA as much as they distrust the ANC.

It isn’t even distrust. It is the simple fact that no fair election exists in the world. Voting is a farce created by the elite to keep you feeling like you’re in control, or have at least some. The fact is that the best kind of slave is one who knows not that he is a slave. i.e. every citizen in the world in current day capitalism which is being driven by fractional reserve banking. Or in other words legalised theft of the masses.
Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that the system is spiraling out of control at an enormous rate while reserve banks *cough* Rothschilds* cough* print money like it is going out of fashion… And we all pay for that!

Voting and looking back who got a better life. Youngsters today need a struggle to. Seeing , reading, the flashy life style of former struggle, rich man now, is coming wrong over by them. Old time struggle people created wars for the next one. Today no easy job. Former enemy boer is not cooperating by staying alive and some praying. Having handed over all power, land coming, justice done, is not fooling youngsters. They are the serfs who have to do hard land working labor to make others happy. Welcome back in Europe 1400 AD. Talk about a time circle coming around, meeting.

@CrackerJack are you suggesting the whole youth is stupid. What an asinine comment. Seems your ego is bruised a bit.

Dear Saibotkram1988, here’s another word you can look up – puerile, like your comment. Ironically it appears you yourself were born in the 80’s. Lol. I must thank you however – if it was not for your comment the concept of distrust of democracy would never have dawned on me – very maverick of you!

Dear S1988-I have it on good authority that there are actually aliens in Area 53? in the USA and that JFK and Princess Diana were murdered. Maybe you can investigate and add to your list of conspiracy theories and suspicions..

none of the older people I know have faith in democracy and politicians either

“democracy””government””rule of law” even the very subjects of philosophy and politics are completely foreign concepts to many Africans. The problem with a lot of you white Saffas and “clever blacks” in SA is that you are so far removed from the understanding of Africans, how they think and what they want/expect. They cannot read and write how can they possibly formulate/evaluate and execute “democracy”.

I love these types of articles because they state their sample size was 3431 respondents of more than 38 million potential voters. There are no statistical imperatives tabulated, how the data was collected, whether the sample size was sufficiently large enough to meet a predetermined confidence level.
This article is nothing more than smoke and mirrors presented by a couple of socialists who seem to have a hidden agenda

Low percentage youth participation is not unique to South Africa. In the US people participate in elections roughly at the same percentage as their age, 25% of 25 year olds, 70% of 70 year olds.

No faith in democracy as practiced by the ANC and politicians imposed on us by the ANC.

As well they might. This lot are going to do nothing for them, just like the last bunch and whoever is coming next.

Politicians are interested in themselves – oh, and the state coffers

I asked my Uber driver yesterday who he voted for and he said the ANC. I asked “what has the ANC done for you?” He said nothing. Again keeping people under-educated and state reliant keeps regime’s in business. They want your money to help everyone BUT FIRST it gets laundered through THEIR hands. The old, put in one Rand, get out 20 cents.I am not South African

The article refers to “the highest inequality in the world”, not when you compare SA Africans to their peer group in surrounding countries.

SA Africans compare well on most metrics, like income, housing, medical care, education and the amount of businesses started, to the populations of say Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, who are at a similar stage of development.

That is with millions of people moving away from subsistence farming in the rural areas, to the cities, to get entrance to the semi industrial economies there.

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