2021 Local Elections


Out with the old: Meet the young ward candidates ready to rattle the status quo

2021 local election councillor candidates Carli van Wyk, Damian De Barros and Zizo Vokwana: (Photos: Supplied)

While roughly 60% of the 13 million South Africans who did not register to vote in the local government elections are below the age of 29, not all the country's youth are apathetic.

In the November local government elections (LGE), 922 candidates standing are 24 or younger, according to Mawethu Mosery, deputy chief electoral officer at the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC).

In stark contrast to these young candidates, voter registration for the LGE is lowest among young people, as IEC figures show that more than 13 million South Africans who are eligible to vote, have not registered.

It is estimated that about 60% of these 13 million are below the age of 29, according to Mosery.

Last month, Daily Maverick reported that among potential student and young voters there was a lack of awareness of, and despondency about, the elections.

They may also be despondent about the bleak prospects for getting work in South Africa. In the second quarter of 2021 the youth unemployment rate rose to 64.40%, from 63.30% in the first. The overall unemployment rate is at an all-time high, standing at 34.40% in the second quarter.

However, 922 young people standing for office in municipalities is a sign that young South Africans are still buoyed by the opportunity to steer local governance – possibly in a new direction.

Carli van Wyk – young people were handed a ‘lucky packet’

In the Stellenbosch Municipality, DA candidate Carli van Wyk (24) is running for councillor in Ward 8.

Ward 8 includes the Coetzenburg and Koloniesland residential areas, as well as part of the university campus in town.

“I don’t blame youth for feeling despondent,” says Stellenbosch Municipality Democratic Alliance candidate Carli van Wyk, 24. (Photo: supplied)

Van Wyk – who has held various leadership roles on campus, including Stellenbosch University SRC chairperson, being involved in the DA from a young age, and taking part in the party’s Young Leader Programme – is completing a postgraduate law degree.

Her aim is to motivate active citizenship that seems to be lost among young people and across the country in general, she says. To this end, at the beginning of the year she set up an Instagram profile, “Citizen Carli”.

“The idea is to get more young people involved in understanding what is going on around us… to encourage people to come from this platform and to go out to take ownership and to contribute to a better South Africa.”

“I don’t blame youth for feeling despondent,” Van Wyk adds. “If we look from a socioeconomic level, our youth don’t have an opportunity to get jobs, to get an education that can compare to other international students. Why would you want to get involved in the political mechanism, the structure that is supposed to bring change?”

However, “I have also realised as a youth myself, that we are responsible for the future that we want”.

Youngsters in the country had been handed a “lucky packet that we didn’t choose, and now we have to deal with that. But, if we are not going to deal with that, we are the only people who are going to sit in 10 years’ time, or even less, that are going to be unhappy.”  

This was why it was “important to be active citizens”.

It is the crux of what is going on in the country, she says, adding that people are not politically aware – they don’t know what their rights are, what they can do, why they should care.

“Being a legal scholar, I can’t boast about our wonderful Constitution if I don’t see our Constitution actualised.”

Van Wyk has taken on the mandate to ensure the Constitution becomes a “lived reality” for all.

“Sometimes you just need the willingness to put up your hand to serve.”

Zizo Vokwana – ‘municipalities need something new’

Zizo Vokwana (23), another young councillor candidate in the Stellenbosch Municipality, is completing a degree in development and environmental studies. She is running in Ward 9, which encompasses the town centre.

“Having a young person standing [in the local elections] will show, it’s not about age, anyone can stand,” says Stellenbosch Municipality ANC councillor candidate, Zizo Vokwana, 23. (Photo: Supplied)

Vokwana is among the young ANC councillors who make up 25% of the candidates in the LGE, about which President Cyril Ramaphosa boasted ahead of the party’s manifesto launch.  

One of the ANC’s youngest candidates is 20-year-old Afrikaner Christiaan Hendrik Nicolaas Carstens, from Jeffreys Bay in the Kouga Local Municipality. In an interview with News24, he said: “Hopefully my candidacy will inspire the youth, as well as the general public, to participate in constructing a non-racial, non-sexist and democratic society.”

The ANC’s youngest candidate in the upcoming elections is 20-year-old Christiaan Hendrik Nicolaas Carstens of Jeffreys Bay. (Photo: supplied)

In Stellenbosch, Vokwana has held numerous positions on campus and is currently deputy chairperson of the South African Students Congress Organisation in the Western Cape. 

According to Vokwana, “we have had old people for years and we never gained anything”.

“Young people don’t understand their role in [the LGE]. They also don’t understand that they have the power in voting.”

According to her, municipalities need something new now.

“Issues and the manner in how things are handled has never involved young people,” she says, adding that young candidates can serve as well as older candidates.

“When it comes to the country’s history and the past, everyone in leadership understands the division that was caused,” says Vokwana.

The dynamics of South Africa were indicative of that – “look at how people are geographically located”.

“It is hard to say that no one has the knowledge of the past. The fact that I grew up in Khayelitsha, growing up in a township, means I am a product of the Group Areas Act, so in that sense, it is impossible that a person in leadership would not understand and acknowledge the injustices [of South Africa’s history].

“You don’t need to be in that struggle in order for you to serve your people.”

In any case, she adds, it is not necessary to understand these dynamics when it comes to local government.

“When it comes to local governance it is all about service delivery, it’s making sure that you make… a difference in whatever community that you are leading. It is about providing people with basic needs.”

Vokwana says the priorities of local government are providing basic needs and opportunities for better lives, as well as jobs and development in the town to improve locals’ living circumstances.

“People [should] realise that if they want to see change in this country they need to put themselves out there. Having a young person standing will show it’s not about age, anyone can stand.” 

Damian de Barros – ‘people are tired of cadre deployment’

Damian de Barros (23) is a Good party candidate in Ward 111 of the City of Cape Town, which includes Belmont Park, Bloekombos, Eikendal, Kraaifontein, Peerless Park, Scottsville and Wallacedene.

De Barros was also the party’s youngest candidate nationally for Parliament in 2019, when he was 10th on the Western Cape Regional to National List at the age of 21.

De Barros has always been community-oriented – from involvement in a neighbourhood watch, to volunteering at the fire department and soup kitchens, he says. “Everything we do and everything around us is affected by politics. Where we go to school, what we drive, the mode of transport we take, what we pay for in bread, what kind of institution we go to for healthcare – that is all determined by politics,” says De Barros, who became involved in politics after he could only complete two years of a four-year programme in emergency medicine at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology owing to funding issues.

“Unless you get involved to get your opinion and your solution heard, it will never materialise, and you will just fade away with everyone else who remains silent,” he says. “You will never be heard.”

Unsurprisingly, De Barros’s primary reason for getting involved in politics is to represent young people and the challenges they face, such as  student funding.

In his ward, substance abuse among young people and gangsterism are major issues, he says, adding that “young people are caught up in a system of unemployment and things at home are difficult”.

“Young people are caught up in a system of unemployment,” says Cape Town ward councillor candidate Damian De Barros, 23. (Photo: Supplied)

Not blind to the challenges that will come with holding office, De Barros points out that “being white in Good and {in} politics doesn’t benefit me”. It made it more difficult to win over trust from black communities, he says.  “Young white people are too scared to get involved with politics because you are expected to act a certain way, or align yourself politically with a certain party.” But that had never stopped him. “For me, it is a platform to make sure I reach as many people as I can and create the change that I want to see.

“Being young actually energises me. People are tired of older, recycled politicians that leave one position for another – today you are minister of police, tomorrow you are minister of education. How you got there and why you got there, we don’t know. People are tired of this cadre deployment.”

The older generation who continue to be disappointed are desperate for someone to step forward, take charge, be truthful and lead with integrity, De Barros says. DM

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