Voice of the Cape

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ANALYST: Lack of youth votes does not mean they don't care about politics

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A political analyst believes that the lack of youth casting their votes in South Africa’s 2019 general election on Wednesday was expected, but does not indicate a lack of interest in politics.
Political analyst Tasneem Essop shared the sentiments of several other commentators who have analysed the country’s political landscape and youth participation. Essop said that according to figures, only 18% of registered voters were under the age of 20, while all categories under 30 experienced a decline.
According to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC)’s data, the number of South Africans under 20 registered to vote has dropped to the lowest level since at least 1999. Registrations are also at the lowest in at least a decade for the 18-29 age bracket.
The IEC had attempted various campaign strategies to get young people to register, which failed. The commission stated that of nine million South Africans who were eligible to vote did not. Forty-six percent of the unregistered group are aged 20 to 29.
Essop said youth may feel that voting is not a viable way of influencing change.
“Even the young people who have registered may not have cast their vote. Young people aren’t necessarily disengaged or uninterested in politics as they’ve been described, but are rather choosing to turn away from this form electoral politics because they don’t see the role it plays in their lives and don’t see a significance in actually changing issues and conditions in the country.”
Essop highlighted that by choosing not to vote, young people are still making a conscious decision.
“This (not voting) is a political decision in many ways. It’s important to see it in the context of a much bigger political system where you can engage in different ways and not just narrow it to an electoral moment as if that’s the only way to engage in politics.
She explained that youth participate in various movements and protests to hold those in power to account and cites the success of mass protests such as #FeesMustFall a few years ago.
“Youth are taking the fight to the street. I think it calls for some deeper connection on the side of political parties. Why are they not managing to translate this kind of political engagements into votes? For example, education hasn’t been among the topics focused on during election debates. But jobs, corruption and land were quite central.”
Many analysts, including Essop, noted that the lack of youth presentation in parliament could influence the way young people view the “game of politics”. She pointed out the reach of young party members is not efficient.
“It’s important to recognize that there have been young people that have kicked the door open so as to speak in these political parties and the movements they came from really opened that door. At the same time, it’s not enough. You have parties putting young leaders in their parliamentary list but it doesn’t do much to sway the numbers of young people that are represented in those parties.”
VOC


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