Opinionista Ashley Mabasa and Thlologelo Collen Malatji 7 May 2019

Youth apathy is a threat to democracy, so get out there and vote

There is widespread youth apathy about voting on Wednesday, much of it coming from young people organised within urban spaces and liberal universities such as Wits and UCT. They miss the point that there is no alternative tool for social change other than the power of voting in a democratic society.

It’s just hours to the sixth national democratic elections and some of the youth, which according to the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) are people between the ages of 18 and 35, are taking a dim view – that is, they are not participating in the upcoming polls.

From the IEC statistics released in January 2019 on voter registration, it is regrettable to note that the majority of youth did not register, which  means they will not be voting on 8 May 2019. The IEC revealed that only 16% of 18 and 19-year-olds, and 54% of 20 to 29-year-olds have registered . This signifies the senselessness of the political apathy of 21st century liberal South African youth.

The Youth Lab, in the Youth Manifesto foreword, declared itself as the youth policy think tank. The Youth Lab argues that the youth are not apathetic to politics, but are dissatisfied with the government’s performance.

Furthermore, Pearl Pillay, the director of Youth Lab, in an interview with Africa Melane on Radio 702, expostulated that she would not be voting although she was registered. Among her reasons were that political parties did not value young people and excluded them from the political space.

Most of the youth with political apathy about voting are organised within urban spaces and liberal universities such as the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) and University of Cape Town (UCT). This social group of youth misses the point of the importance of voting as a tool for social transformation in a democratic state such as South Africa.

It is important to point out why there is no alternative tool for social change other than the power of voting in a democratic society.

First, the theses of history taught us that the democratic system owes its existence to the poor and the working class. This is evident from the modernising era of the French revolution in 1789, which removed the absolutist rule of the monarchy and the Russian revolution in 1917, which also removed the undemocratic rule of the Tsar.

In addition, we can point to the April 1974 Portuguese Carnation revolution that ousted dictator Marcelo Caetano and installed a democratic system that gave birth to Mozambique, Angola, Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissaus’ independence from Portugal’s colonisation.

In 1994, the democratic system in South Africa did not ascend from Santa Claus as a Christmas gift but is a consequence of the struggle waged by the working class and the poor. Henceforth, the youth of South Africa must take advantage of democracy and vote to safeguard the legitimacy which is symbolic and substantive of the democratic system from the spectra of the past. On 27 April 1999, on Freedom Day, the freedom fighter and former president of our country Nelson Mandela said that: Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will experience the oppression of one by another. Only free men can negotiate; prisoners cannot enter into contracts. Your freedom and mine cannot be separated. Only free men can negotiate.

As part of the youth, we will be voting on 8 May, with anticipation that my vote is an act that attempts to reverse history  – a history which Mandela underlined as a history of racial oppression, dehumanisation, colonisation and dispossession.

The second reason why it is significant to vote, which youth such as Pillay fail to understand, is that in an inherently capitalist system like South Africa’s, society is characterised by persisting disparities of poverty, unemployment, inequality and climate crisis.

The capitalist system is based on private property ownership and those without ownership of the means of production have to sell their labour to survive. In the context of our country, Wits scholars such as Davis Francis, Imraan Valodia and Eddie Webster, battling with the question of inequality, pointed out that in South Africa, 10% own 95% of the economic and social system. The inequalities in South Africa are deeply rooted in our colonial and post-apartheid system.

In addition, under the capitalist democratic system is the State, which can only reshape unequal property relations to reflect South Africa’s racial and gender demographics, gender relations and racial patterns. Therefore, by youth voting following political parties’ policy assumptions, they will be boosting state legitimacy and the capacity to advance the cause of social transformation.

If the youth are serious about social transformation, they have to participate in voting – with consideration of political parties’ policy assumptions for social change.

The third thesis is that the youth have to vote to give the state legitimacy and stability. Not voting can easily give external forces the ability to enforce regime change with the motive of destabilising our country to accumulate our natural resources.

Symbolic and descriptive legitimacy can only be shown through citizens participating in voting. It is an act of defending national sovereignty and assuring state stability.

Furthermore, those who understand the notion of imperialism or regime change will understand that imperialists can only infiltrate a country when its legitimacy is in question. Drawing from Venezuela’s situation, the US and Lima-Group of Latin America, except Mexico, do not recognise Nicolas Maduro’s government, because they believe that the 2018 presidential elections were not fair. With only eight million people voting, it is clear that millions do not recognise the legitimacy of Maduro’s government.

At the heart of Venezuela’s attempt at regime change, it is clear that the US generates crises by imposing sanctions and freezing Venezuela’s assets to destabilise the government in order to intervene as a peacemaker and control the oil, then extract its oil deposits.

Of course, it is 25 years since the democratic dispensation, and the ANC government has enormously transformed our society but failed in some aspects. The ANC government inherited an illegitimate state and over the years has transformed the State through democratic means to serve the overwhelming majority of the people who brought about democratic change. This is not to deny the fact that the State still needs to mediate social classes within our society to pursue social transformation such as expropriation of land without compensation, distribution of wealth to the whole population of South Africa, putting an end to gender-based violence and growing the economy that will create jobs for the youth.

Liberal youth with senseless voter apathy need to reassess their decision, made just because they feel failed by the government. Deeply reflecting on South Africa’s circumstances, there are many transformative programmes the ANC government has undertaken for the youth of South Africa, among them free primary and secondary education, including tertiary education.

Borrowing from Otto Rene Castillo’s remarkable poem titled “Apolitical Intellectuals”, we must question the senselessness of political apathy by asserting that: One day, the apolitical intellectuals of my country will be interrogated by the humblest of our people. They will be asked what they did when their country was slowly dying out”. Castillo’s poem warns liberal youth with political apathy of the possible repercussions of not participating in the political realm.

So, it is important for the youth to vote for social transformation, to safeguard sovereignty from imperialism and external forces, and give the state legitimacy to implement radical industrial policies to grow South Africa. DM


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