2021 LOCAL ELECTIONS
Win or lose, these young South Africans entered the race to shake up the status quo
A mere 45.9% of registered voters turned up to cast their ballots in the 2021 municipal elections. While figures for the number of young people who voted are not readily available, the numbers are usually worryingly low. Despite concerns that the youth are fed up with politics, several young people contested this year’s elections. Some were successful and are now ready to shake up local government.
Despondence, political apathy and distrust are some of the viewpoints tethered to the attitude of young people on the electoral process. But despite these sentiments and data showing the 18- to 29-year-old age group accounted for only 17.54% of registered voters, several young politicians tossed their names in the hat as candidates for this year’s local government election.
Chris Pappas – uMngeni’s new mayor
After his historic victory in KwaZulu-Natal, DA candidate Chris Pappas has been a busy man. Daily Maverick struggled to get in touch with uMngeni Local Municipality’s new mayor, but the 30-year-old already has a 100-day plan for the DA’s first fully controlled KZN municipality.
Speaking at a DA victory rally in Goddard Park in Howick, Pappas promised the residents of uMngeni five things:
- A growing economy and jobs;
- A clean environment;
- Safer communities;
- Better infrastructure and;
- a responsive and transparent government.
The DA secured 47.41% support, ahead of the ANC and the EFF. The blue-and-white party has 13 seats.
During an interview with SABC on Friday, Pappas said part of the 100-day plan was auditing the municipality’s existing resources and re-establishing collapsed community forums to rebuild the relationship between local government and residents.
In 2016, Pappas was ward 31 councillor in eThekwini and in May 2019 he led the party’s cooperative governance and traditional affairs portfolio in the KwaZulu-Natal Legislature.
Pappas is quite the anomaly in that he speaks fluent isiZulu, which some analysts speculate helped secure his victory in the municipality where 71% of the population speaks isiZulu as a home language. The party had also promised to get the basics “right”, such as service delivery.
uMngeni has its seat in Howick, less than an hour’s drive from Mooi River, where Pappas grew up on a farm.
Educated at the elite Midlands private school, Hilton College, and later the University of Pretoria, Pappas has been described as “extremely intelligent”. DA KZN leader Francois Rodgers said he was sad to lose one of the “hardest-working members” of his caucus, but believes Pappas is the right fit to lead uMngeni.
“He also has a great understanding of business and the economy and I think that will be another big asset to him to build up tourism, the economy and to encourage business and industry into that area.”
Mikhail Manuel – ‘Process is more important than outcome’
Thirty-year-old Mikhail Manuel, from the DA, is taking over from Ian Iversen as ward 59 councillor in the City of Cape Town metro.
The DA gained 83.47% support in the ward which includes Rondebosch, Rosebank, Claremont, Newlands and Kenilworth. Trailing the DA was the Good party with 5.5% and the ANC with a mere 2.7%.
Manuel, who has several ideas to improve the largely affluent constituency, said his first step is to conduct a three-week audit of the ward’s outstanding issues.
“We’re going to use the data from service requests to effectively solve systemic problems,” Manuel told Daily Maverick, noting that residents in the ward were consistent with logging complaints when issues arose.
At the top of his agenda is tackling homelessness which is concentrated in the Kenilworth and Rondebosch areas. In early 2022 he plans to form a street people’s working group partnering with stakeholders in the homelessness sector.
For Manuel, the “process” is more important than the “outcome”. What he means by this is he wants to ensure participation and buy-in from the community on his proposals.
“Residents should be leading us and we should be listening,” he said.
His plans to modernise public participation processes include using social media channels, video content and soundbites more often as well as creating a dashboard for service requests.
“It’s all little things that help us bring the government from analogue to digital.”
Painting new cycle lanes is the councillor’s plan to decrease transport congestion while apps and QR codes are potential mechanisms to improve safety in the ward.
The University of Cape Town graduate from George said his role as a councillor is not to solve all problems, but to encourage the ward to be “future-focused”.
Manuel joined politics when he realised it gave him a platform to effect change. He encouraged other young leaders in local government to “not be scared”.
“What it requires to be different from anyone else is to have an insane amount of courage,” he said.
“Figure out what you think is right and stand for it.”
Zizo Vokwana – ‘young people bring fresh perspectives to local government’
Twenty-three-year-old Zizo Vokwana, who ran in ward 9 in the Stellenbosch Municipality, may have only secured 25 votes under the ANC, but the provincial deputy chairperson for the South African Students Congress said she will continue participating in community work.
“For me, it’s never been about positions or to occupy an office to make a change. I think I will continue with how I’ve been tackling issues. We’ve been helping with community service in Kayamandi, renovating libraries and schools,” she told Daily Maverick.
Ward 9, which includes Stellenbosch’s CBD, was retained by the DA with 85.52% support. Vokwana said the ward’s constituency was a “tough crowd to please” given their staunch loyalty to the party. In the 2016 election, the DA secured 94% of the vote.
Vokwana, who cut her teeth in student politics at Stellenbosch University, said it was difficult being taken seriously as a young councillor candidate. However, she believes young voices are vital in local government leadership as they bring fresh perspectives to the table.
“For us to tackle issues like youth unemployment we need the youth involved,” said Vokwana. “Things like issues in the LGBTQI+ community and making public spaces more inclusive is something that someone from another generation will not understand because these are things we are only being open about now.”
See a pre-election article on Vokwana and other young candidates here:
Tshiamo Malatji – ‘young and independent’
Twenty-three-year-old Tshiamo Malatji, who contested ward 19 in the Mangaung metro in the Free State, said although his campaign as an independent candidate reflected a loss in this election, he would continue lobbying for initiatives such as food gardens, boosting entrepreneurship and keeping a close eye on the incoming leadership.
“We’re going to keep pushing the elected councillor to meet the interests of people and fulfil the promises they made during the campaign trail,” Malatji told Daily Maverick.
More than 1,500 independent candidates contested the 2021 municipal election. In 2016 the number was 865.
Malatji chose to contest the elections as an independent candidate as he does not believe in top-down structures. He hopes to shake up the political system.
“I also believe that government has never served people, it has only served the interests of power.”
Community-based organisations and NGOs were the lifeblood of the ward, said Malatji, who worked at a soup kitchen. “Local government is failing to help”.
“We’ve got abandoned buildings and vacant land that isn’t being used to help people,” said Malatji. According to the young politician, the suburb of Willows, which was his area of focus, has a profound homelessness problem.
Problems in the community were exacerbated during lockdown when NGOs lost funding and youth unemployment grew. Crime, violence, lack of access to basic services and substance abuse are further issues.
As an independent candidate, finances were a lesser issue for Malatji compared to the brief campaigning period for this election.
Hiccups with online voter registration may have also cost him votes.
“I think the way the election was handled this year made it harder for smaller parties and independents to build up their [voter] bases”. DM