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Unlocking youth involvement is key to SA’s democracy

South Africa


Unlocking youth involvement is key to SA’s democracy

President Cyril Ramaphosa attended the Peter Mokaba 60th youth rally celebrations on January 9th 2019 in Durban, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images / Netwerk24 / Felix Dlangamandla)

Young people are the fastest-growing population sector in South Africa, and on the continent as a whole. But youth involvement in democratic processes like elections is one of the toughest nuts to crack. That’s why the Democracy Works Foundation is co-launching the Democracy Academy, writes Olmo von Meijenfeldt.

In Township youth say no major party may have what it takes to secure their future, (Daily Maverick, 17 April 2019), Rebecca Davis touches on reasons that many South Africans give as to why they don’t participate in democratic processes, national or local.

The need to improve youth participation in our democracy – at community, regional and national level – is a key reason why Democracy Works Foundation (DWF) has just announced its launch of a youth-focused training initiative to give participants the practical knowledge they may be lacking in this area. The aim is to assist young civil society leaders to run more impactful community organisations in their own communities.

We all know that Africa’s youth constitute a large share of the total population, with over 226 million young people being between the ages of 15 and 24 years old, and are aware of the forecast made in Unicef’s Generation 2030 Africa report that the child population will rise by two-thirds to almost a billion children by 2050.

Despite this, in South Africa at least, young people remain on the sidelines of the democratic process, with limited effort to include this group at the decision-making table. We see this in the lack of representation of young people in key positions within parliament, academia and civil society. And the Parliamentary Monitoring Group has indicated that the number of young people who have registered to vote in the May 2019 general elections has declined substantially in comparison to the 2014 elections, despite population growth.

How then to assist young South Africans to play a greater role in the country’s democratic processes? This is the context for the launch of the Democracy Academy, which will train and mentor young leaders committed to building an accountable South Africa. This annual programme is targeting 30 young South Africans between the ages of 19 and 25 who fulfil criteria including social involvement, leadership ability and a matric qualification.

The Academy, founded by DWF in partnership with the In-Transformation Initiative (ITI), aims to teach participants the practical skills to make them better-equipped community leaders, ultimately contributing to a more transparent and accountable South African society. We will bring together a diverse group of citizens from across South Africa, developing their capacities to serve as responsible leaders of government, civil society, business and in their communities.

Our experience in initiatives across SA as well as the broader region has shown us that young people want to take on more leadership roles in society but aren’t attracted to existing institutions or processes. For that reason, the foundation may offer funding and support to delegates who complete the programme to implement community projects. As Davis’ article demonstrates, there is a great need in this area.

To find out more about the Democracy Works Academy, please click here. DM

Olmo von Meijenfeldt is Executive Director of Democracy Works Foundation


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