CityPress - - Voices - Mtwesi is a political strate­gist and an en­tre­pre­neur

ince the elec­tion of for­mer US pres­i­dent Barack Obama a decade ago, the spec­tre of youth has been haunt­ing many a political es­tab­lish­ment around the world, in­clud­ing act­ing as a cat­a­lyst in the forcible re­movals from power of de­plorable (mis)lead­ers in Egypt, Tu­nisia and Burk­ina Faso.

So per­va­sive has this agency of the youth been that it has lunged from ob­scu­rity to the main­stream of global pol­i­tics.

With about six months to go until next year’s gen­eral elec­tions, data from Stats SA and the In­de­pen­dent Elec­toral Com­mis­sion, the coun­try’s elec­tion man­age­ment body, show that young peo­ple cur­rently make up 49% of the elec­torate – about 17.7 mil­lion of the 36 mil­lion South Africans el­i­gi­ble to vote.

This is a mine­field for any political party that wants to get the youth to reg­is­ter and turn up to vote on elec­tion day, a steep curve that no political party has ma­noeu­vred since 1994.

Based on the rhetoric com­ing from the three largest par­ties in Parliament, a con­clu­sion can be drawn that there is lit­tle to no ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the sig­nif­i­cance of the “youth vote”.

To its credit, the Eco­nomic Free­dom Fight­ers (EFF) has been up­front about its am­bi­tions of se­cur­ing 9 mil­lion votes in the up­com­ing elec­tions, the ma­jor­ity of which it hopes will come from young peo­ple.

A cur­sory glance at the num­bers, how­ever, shows this would be a tall or­der for the party. Its sup­port in the 2016 lo­cal gov­ern­ment elec­tions only in­creased by a mea­gre 98 908 votes from the

1 130 640 votes it se­cured in the 2014 na­tional elec­tions.

The EFF’s ster­ling per­for­mance dur­ing univer­sity Stu­dents’ Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Coun­cil (SRC) elec­tions seems to have given the party false hope.

Put into con­text, sup­port in SRC elec­tions has never trans­lated into sup­port among young peo­ple gen­er­ally. Sev­eral rea­sons ac­count for this. Chief among these is that voter turnout at SRC elec­tions has re­mained stub­bornly low, at an av­er­age of 25% across most cam­puses, even with the in­tro­duc­tion of elec­tronic vot­ing and the re­moval of the bar­rier to par­tic­i­pate through au­to­matic reg­is­tra­tion.

Se­condly, the ma­jor­ity of young peo­ple are not in in­sti­tu­tions of higher learn­ing.

Of the 10.3 mil­lion young peo­ple be­tween the ages of 15 and 24 who are un­em­ployed, 3.3 mil­lion are clas­si­fied as NEET – not in em­ploy­ment, ed­u­ca­tion or train­ing – re­duc­ing even fur­ther the size of the pond from which the EFF is fish­ing.

The DA, on the other hand, seems to be at sea, “mu­ti­lat­ing it­self in a cor­ner, un­pro­voked”, as one an­a­lyst aptly noted.

Hav­ing suf­fered a loss of 60 450 votes dur­ing the 2016 lo­cal gov­ern­ment elec­tions, down from 4 089 215 votes in 2014, its prospect seems bleak in its cur­rent bat­tered shape.

Whether the party pos­sesses the where­withal to ac­com­plish the tar­get it has set for it­self, to drag the ANC’s na­tional elec­toral sup­port be­low 50% and win ma­jori­ties in the West­ern Cape, Gaut­eng and in North­ern Cape, re­mains a mys­tery be­yond hu­man cog­ni­tion.

What is clear, how­ever, is that the DA is sim­i­lar to the ANC in that it does not recog­nise the power of the youth vote and has no strat­egy to at­tract it. As the ANC got to its na­tional con­fer­ence in Nas­rec last De­cem­ber, it un­der­stood well that next year’s elec­tions will be an up­hill bat­tle, even with for­mer pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma out of the pic­ture.

This was a big mo­ti­va­tor for deputy pres­i­dent David Mabuza’s fac­tion to dis­card then party pres­i­dent con­tender Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma in favour of Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa.

The ANC suf­fered a loss of 2 834 441 votes in the 2016 lo­cal gov­ern­ment elec­tions, down from 10 958 634 votes in the 2014 elec­tions.

It would, there­fore, be rea­son­able to ex­pect that at this point in the elec­toral cal­en­dar the party would have elab­o­rated a much clearer elec­toral pro­gramme than the cur­rent con­fused Thuma Mina message.

In ad­di­tion to the sus­tained bel­liger­ence of the Zuma fac­tion within all its struc­tures, the Zondo com­mis­sion will re­main an al­ba­tross around the ANC’s neck go­ing into the elec­tions. One of the un­in­tended con­se­quences of the com­mis­sion is that it has be­come a bat­tle­ground for ANC members to con­tinue with their un­fin­ished busi­ness from Nas­rec.

Zuma and his ag­grieved le­gions re­main stead­fastly committed to trans­act the agenda of “ei­ther us or there will be no ANC” from within.

A slight de­cline in elec­toral sup­port next year will en­gen­der calls for Ramaphosa to step down at the na­tional gen­eral coun­cil, as was done af­ter the 2014 and 2016 elec­tions dur­ing Zuma’s ten­ure.

In the ab­sence of an hon­est self-ap­praisal by political par­ties of their own short­com­ings, it is safe to con­clude that young peo­ple will once again be ig­nored go­ing into the elec­tions. This poses a par­tic­u­lar chal­lenge to young peo­ple, given their con­sis­tent de­mands for chang­ing the sta­tus quo.

Is it not time to con­sider cre­at­ing political plat­forms that ar­tic­u­late the needs of the youth and their as­pi­ra­tions for the fu­ture?

If the an­swer is in the af­fir­ma­tive, firstly, they would have to come out in num­bers to reg­is­ter and show up on elec­tion day. Are you part of SA’s youth? Are you go­ing to vote next year?

SMS us on 35697 us­ing the key­word VOTE and tell us what you think. In­clude your name and prov­ince. SMSes cost R1.50. By par­tic­i­pat­ing, you agree to re­ceive oc­ca­sional mar­ket­ing ma­te­rial

Julius Malema

Mmusi Maimane

Cyril Ramaphosa

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