Is Youth Participating in Democratic Institutions?

Youth have an immense opportunity to influence South Africa’s political landscape.  Research suggest the current generation of youth in South Africa is being alienated from the country’s democratic culture. This is reflected in the low levels of youth participation in democratic institutions, low voter turnout among the youth and seemingly low levels of interest in political activities.

According to a 2014 report by the Institute for Security Studies, voter registration levels among eligible 18-29 year olds was just over 50%, a registration rate far lower than for older cohorts. It is commonly argued that youth have opted out of democratic processes such as elections due to the disinterest of the ruling elite in responding to their interests.  Promises of “a better life for all” are weighed against the lived realities of high levels of unemployment, poverty and inequality. Any genuine effort aimed at addressing the challenge of youth alienation from the country’s democratic culture must be representative of the dire need to create an enabling environment for youth participation in democratic institutions.

Despite their apparent lack of participation in formal political activities, youth have been at the forefront of many of the recent protest actions over service delivery, education reform and emerging social movements seeking to shift structural and systematic oppression such as “Rhodes Must Fall” and “FeesMustFall.” Thus, while young people are alienated from contemporary South African democratic culture, they are not singularly apathetic, and seek mechanisms and avenues to express their dissatisfaction outside of formal institutions. In light of the above, it is clear that South Africa’s youth are socially and civically engaged, albeit in less formally organised activities than prior generations may have been. One such event held by Activator Mzimkhulu Radebe on 26 July, in conjunction with the Department of Social Development and the Free State Unemployed Youth Forum convened a dialogue at Ntha Public Hall in Lindley, Free State. The event was aimed at providing a platform for youth and various thought-leaders in government, the private sector and civil society to engage on the pressing issue of low levels of youth participation in democratic institutions and processes

It is important to understand what drives young people to participate in democratic processes and with this understanding create an enabling environment for young people to contribute positively to the public realm.

In an effort to contribute towards enhancing civic engagement and social participation, the Activate Change Drivers network has, through initiatives such as “Activate! Youth Imbizo” and “Youth Making Local Government Work”, helped facilitate youth-led dialogues across South Africa. Projects Coordinator at Activate Change Drivers, Lezerine Mashaba explains that through platforms such as “Activate! Youth Imbizo” and “Youth Making Local Government Work”, the Activate! Network seeks to connect and collaborate with Activators in advancing the imperative of driving change for public good across South Africa.

Youth Engagements

Representing the Department of Social Development, Sibusiso Mokoena, Regional Youth Development Coordinator for Thabo Mofutsanyana District in the Free State, reiterated the importance of youth playing an active role in decision-making structures of government, the private sector and civil society. Mokoena mentioned the various youth development interventions undertaken by the Free State government to address the issue of inadequate skills and capacity among the youth of the Free State, including the NYDA Grant Programme, and bursaries offered by various government departments. Mokoena emphasised: “Young people must recognise that they have a responsibility to take advantage of these programmes, and many other youth development initiatives which seek to empower and capacitate them to contribute towards the development of their communities.”

As part of the proceedings, participants were also guided through processes of registering their NGOs and accessing funding provided by Social Development in an effort to ensure that their engagement and interaction with the public realm was not confined to the party-political framework.

Creating avenues and spaces for young people to make a contribution in the public realm will have important socio-political ramifications for their communities.


Image from LiveMag


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