As the beating heart of South Africa’s future, our nation’s youth possess an unparalleled power to reshape our collective destiny. Yet, a worrying trend has emerged: “The Missing Majority” of young voters who have yet to claim their rightful place in the electoral process.
By stepping up and embracing our civic responsibility, we have the unique opportunity to shape the policies and decisions that will impact our lives for years to come. It is time for us to seize our electoral moment, and in doing so, ignite a flame of change that will burn brightly for generations.
In a world where democracy is often taken for granted, it is essential to remind ourselves of the power that lies in our hands as citizens. This power is our right to vote, and nowhere is this more crucial than in South Africa, a country with a rich and complex history of the Struggle for freedom and democracy.
As young South Africans, it is not only our responsibility but also our duty to register and participate in the voting process.
Shape our nation
South Africa’s history is marked by the fight for democracy, with the end of apartheid in 1994 paving the way for millions of citizens to exercise their right to vote for the first time.
Yet, as the torchbearers of this hard-won legacy, we now face a disquieting challenge: The Missing Majority of young voters who have yet to embrace their pivotal role in shaping our nation’s future.
As the next generation, we must honour the sacrifices made by those who came before us and ensure that their fight for a democratic and just society is not in vain. By registering and voting, we can make our voices heard and actively participate in shaping our country’s future.
The dangers of not voting are all too real. When young people abstain from voting, it leads to a lack of representation and skewed decision-making. Politicians are more likely to cater to the needs and wants of their voting constituents, which means that if the youth are not voting, their issues may not be addressed.
This can lead to policies that disproportionately affect young people, such as inadequate funding for education, lack of job opportunities, and insufficient attention to climate change.
Additionally, low voter turnout among the youth can encourage complacency and apathy, resulting in a vicious cycle of disengagement from the political process. If we do not stand up for our rights and participate in elections, we run the risk of perpetuating the very problems we hope to solve.
The statistics from the last election cycle paint a troubling picture of the state of youth voter participation in South Africa. According to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), only 56% of eligible voters aged 18-29 registered to vote in the 2019 national and provincial elections. Furthermore, voter turnout in this age group was a meagre 46%, significantly lower than the national average of 66%.
These numbers are a stark reminder of the urgent need for young South Africans to become more engaged in the political process. It is not enough to merely discuss our grievances and aspirations; we must take action and exercise our right to vote.
Vote for our futures
In the decades since the end of apartheid, our country has made significant strides towards building a more inclusive and equitable society. However, our nation continues to face numerous challenges that make it more important for young people to participate in the electoral process.
Today, South Africa grapples with issues such as rampant inequality, racism, high unemployment rates, a struggling education system, and the ever-present threat of climate change.
Addressing these problems requires the collective effort of an engaged and informed electorate, particularly from the youth who will be most affected by the long-term consequences of these issues.
The state of our economy is a significant concern. According to Stats SA, in the fourth quarter of 2022, the overall unemployment rate reached a staggering 32.7%, with the youth unemployment rate (ages 15-24) at an alarming 61%.
This means that nearly two-thirds of young South Africans are struggling to find work, resulting in disillusionment, frustration, and a growing sense of hopelessness. By voting, the youth can help elect leaders who prioritise job creation, skills development, and entrepreneurship opportunities, ultimately building a more robust economy for all.
Our education system, which should be the backbone of our society, is also in dire need of reform. In 2021, it was reported that only 22% of South African students achieved basic literacy skills by the age of 10, a crucial milestone in a child’s educational journey.
This educational crisis has long-term implications for the country’s development, as a poorly educated workforce is less likely to be innovative, competitive, and capable of driving economic growth.
By voting, young South Africans can demand that elected officials prioritise education and implement policies that ensure equal access to quality schooling.
Lastly, the consequences of climate change are becoming increasingly apparent in our daily lives. South Africa is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, with rising temperatures, prolonged droughts, and more frequent extreme weather events. These phenomena exacerbate existing socioeconomic disparities, putting the most vulnerable members of our society at even greater risk.
Unite the Missing Majority
As the generation that will face the brunt of climate change, young people have a vested interest in electing leaders who are committed to implementing effective climate policies and transitioning towards a more sustainable, low-carbon economy.
So, to all the young South Africans reading this, please remember that your vote counts. It is the most potent tool you have to create change, and it is the key to ensuring that your voice is heard.
If you have not yet registered, take the time to do so, and encourage your friends and family to do the same. Let us unite the Missing Majority and send a powerful message to the political establishment that we demand better governance, equitable policies, and a brighter future for all.
Voting is not just a right; it is a privilege that many have fought for and continue to fight for today. Let us honour their struggle by actively participating in our democracy and shaping a brighter future for South Africa. DM