Gauteng Activators joined dozens of young people from Gauteng in robust dialogue about youth participation in elections in Braamfontein at the iconic liberation Constitution Hill on the 23rd of October.
The Corruption Watch Youth Campaign event ‘Youth To The Polls’ was hosted by human rights activists and social change driver, Mzwandile Banjathwa and it interrogated the current electoral system, underlying reasons for youth voter decline and many factors that have a potential to affect the upcoming municipal elections. The event was supported by Constitution Hill, the Electoral Commission of South Africa, Local government Action group (LGA) and Activate Leadership.
Corruption Watch is one of the leading Civil Society Organisation whose objective includes fighting corruption and the abuse of public funds in South Africa. The organization also provides a platform for young people to get an opportunity to interact and engage with public figures and institutions that resembles ethics and integrity on various topics around corruption, transparency, governance and various socioeconomic.
In the past, Corruption Watch has mounted a Youth campaign under the theme #MyHandsAreClean, with the aim of helping youth to understand what it means to live in a constitutional democracy, how corruption affects them and the role youth have to play. Moving forward the organization is intending to host several activation on university campuses.
Participants highlighted a number of critical observations from past elections that might discourage young people from going to the polls in the upcoming municipal elections. Those issues include, youth being used to gain positions and then neglected after the elections, the role and the mandate of local government, the patronizing and emotional blackmailing communications strategies by politicians during elections seasons, the powerlessness of municipal or grassroots leaders. (Even going on to describe councilors as “talking heads with no power to influence policy), social economic challenges, corruption and maladministration of government perceptions as some of the reasons young people are not participating in municipal elections.
Gauteng Activator Bongi Ndlovu explained the logic behind Activate Leadership’s to support for the youth integrity debates and democracy advancing initiatives. Ndlovu said “At Activate Leadership we teach youth how to navigate and populate political structures. Organizations such as those you mentioned are key stakeholders in our communities. So, a strategic partnership with them is vital to drive change at the grassroots level.”
The Electoral Commissions representative, Lonwabo Jwili’s presentation focused on the upcoming 2016 elections. Jwili spoke a little bit about the work that the Electoral Commission is doing in preparations for the upcoming elections. He also provided information on how young people can better interrogate political party manifestos, strategies for holding political leaders responsible (but emphasised that the Electoral Commission can only work within the stipulated legislation and could not interfere in political and party issues) and many other important issues that the electorate needs to know and how to apply it when the needs arises.
Renowned columnist, political analyst and the first democratic South Africa IEC National Head of Information Analysis Department, Steven Eli Friedman applauded youth who make take time to discuss important issues like elections. The former University of Johannesburg and Rhodes University for Centre of Study of Democracy leader said “If you look at the figures for participation by young people in our elections, they are high by international standards. So there probably isn’t a way of attracting more young people to the polls.”
Friedman went on to dismiss some of the claims that young people are not interested in top political leadership elections or appointment. “We do not have youth apathy problem here, so there is nothing which needs to be fixed. Voters everywhere tend to be less interested in municipal elections because they feel much less is at stake. Most tend to believe that important decisions are taken at national level or in the provinces. Our participation rates are very high by the world standards.“ said Friedman
Banjathwa encouraged youth not to distance themselves from issues of national importance because the decisions that are taken by elders now will affect youth in future. “I think it is wise to be more active now while things are not that bad because things might be bad when we are older”, he says.