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Change the world

02/04/2024

As a lecturer in the Department of History and Political Studies at Nelson Mandela University, and someone deeply invested in the future of South Africa, I see a critical gap in our democracy: the under-representation and disenfranchisement of young citizens.

By Dr Ongama Mtimka

We stand at a pivotal moment where the active involvement of young people is more crucial than ever before.

Empowering the youth of South Africa to engage meaningfully in our democracy is extremely important as our political system undergoes a crucial transition to multipartyism.

South Africa finds itself at a crossroads, where the decisions made today will resonate with generations to come.

With a burgeoning demographic of young citizens coming of age, the potential impact of their collective voices cannot be overstated.

However, despite growing up in a democratic country, many young South Africans still feel disconnected from the political process.

There are key barriers preventing young people from participating in civic affairs, obstacles that need to be dismantled. Historically, engagement in political processes has been monopolised by the propertied and employed, leaving the youth feeling marginalised and disempowered.

Furthermore, traditional spaces of political discourse are often perceived as inaccessible or irrelevant to young people, further exacerbating their sense of alienation.

Amidst these challenges, there is cause for optimism. The advent of social media has provided a platform for young voices to be heard and amplified like never before.

Platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram have become virtual town halls, where ideas are exchanged, movements are born, and change is catalysed. Social media has redefined the boundaries of political engagement, making it more accessible and inclusive for all.

However, the transition from online activism to tangible participation remains a hurdle that must be overcome. While social media has democratised access to information, it is essential to bridge the gap between virtual and physical spaces of political engagement.

Education plays a pivotal role in this regard, equipping young people with the knowledge and skills needed to navigate and contribute meaningfully to the political landscape.

The power of the youth vote is perhaps most evident on university campuses and colleges across South Africa. Here, young people are not only shaping campus politics but also influencing broader national discourse. The impact of student activism and mobilisation cannot be understated, as it often sets the agenda for larger societal debates and pushes for progressive change.

Research in political science has shown that voter behaviour evolves with each new generation. As younger cohorts enter the electorate, they bring with them distinct perspectives, values, and priorities. This generational shift has the potential to reshape the political landscape, leading to greater responsiveness and accountability from elected officials.

To those who may feel disillusioned or apathetic about politics, I offer a simple yet powerful reminder: silence is not neutrality. The principle of tacit consent dictates that by abstaining from participation, one effectively surrenders their right to shape the outcome.

However, with the upcoming elections, there is renewed hope for meaningful change. New political parties, led by young leaders, offer a fresh alternative to the status quo, providing a platform for diverse voices to be heard and represented.

Early exposure to civic engagement is essential in shaping attitudes towards political participation. Schools and communities play a crucial role in cultivating a culture of active citizenship, where young people are encouraged to voice their opinions and contribute to decision-making processes.

By empowering the youth to become agents of change, we lay the groundwork for a more vibrant and inclusive democracy.

Parents and parental figures also play a crucial role in nurturing their children's sense of agency and autonomy. By fostering open and supportive dialogue at home, we empower our youth to have a voice in shaping their own future. Parents should encourage their children to ask questions, challenge assumptions, and engage critically with the world around them.

Mobilising young voters requires a concerted effort to engage with them on their own terms. Social media campaigns, led by influential figures and grassroots organisations, can help inspire and empower young people to take ownership of their political destiny.

By leveraging the power of storytelling and relatable messaging, we can bridge the gap between political apathy and active participation.

The youth vote is not just a numerical demographic but a force for transformative change in South Africa. By recognising the inherent value of young voices and providing avenues for meaningful participation, we can build a stronger and more inclusive democracy for generations to come.

Every vote counts, and every voice matters. It is time for the youth of South Africa to rise up and claim their rightful place as architects of our collective destiny.

With this in mind, let us unite in our efforts to empower the youth, amplify their voices, and build a brighter future for all South Africans. Together, we can harness the power of the youth vote to shape a more equitable, prosperous, and just society for generations to come.

Ongama Mtimka is a lecturer & political analyst in the Department of History and Political Studies in the Faculty of Humanities at Nelson Mandela University. He comments in his personal capacity.

Contact information
Primarashni Gower
Director: Communication & Marketing
Tel: 0415043057
Primarashni.Gower@mandela.ac.za