On 8 May, South Africa is headed to the polls for the sixth time. As the youth of this country, we need to ask ourselves who to vote for and why they’re getting our vote. After all, the powers of today leave their legacy behind for us tomorrow.
Voting in 2019
The first thing to ask is “why vote at all?” and it’s the easiest to answer: because we live in a society. Each one of us make up the various parts that keep society running. Not voting leaves the task of running the nation as an open-ended question, to be answered by whomever takes the mantle, qualified or not, not put there by your vote. Meaning that by not voting, the officials in power are not representative of the beliefs and needs of the majority of the population.
Do we vote for promises of prosperity doused in corruption? Do we vote for a party that has a long list of grievances towards the party in power, but few real policies of their own? Do we fall for the former mayor in the guise of a loving auntie who will take care of us? Do we gamble on radical red? That’s up to individual choice. It’s also misleading to say that the ruling party have done no good at all; they’ve brought us this far, after all. However, that is not a valid reason to vote for the same party over and over when that party no longer functions with the country’s best interests.
Those who are privileged might overlook things that have no direct effects on them – in the cities and suburbs most have electricity, schools, running water, refuse removal, hospitals, public libraries and other facilities provided by the state. In stark contrast are areas in South Africa that receive none of these, or, when they do, it is detrimentally subpar. We also tend to take for granted where we’re situated economically, politically, and socially in comparison with the rest of the continent. Uprising in the Northeast, semi-regime changes by our close neighbours, indentured servitude in the military in the Horn. These are things we do not have to worry about in South Africa, and we need to protect that with our most important political power: The ability to vote.
Voting based on the past both is and is not a good reason to vote. It is necessary to remember, and it is also necessary to move forward. Some might feel that we need to let go of the past because it was 25 years ago. But we need to remember, because it was only 25 years ago. We still feel the effects of disenfranchisement and will still feel them well into the future. Many of us are old enough to recall, but many of us were not even born yet and that is why we can’t only vote on a crusade to correct the past. That’s one of the reasons why making the concerted effort to vote is so important – by voting, and in making a conscientious effort to place the right people in the right positions in our government, we can truly work on undoing the wrongs of the past. For those who fought for us, and for ourselves right now.
Voting and the South African Youth
Apathy towards elections is not an uncommon problem. It’s not even a problem exclusive to South Africa; voter apathy is a global issue prevalent in Chile, Japan, the United States and the United Kingdom.
Part of the reason the youth don’t bother to vote, or even register to vote, is the sense that one vote does not make a difference in the grand scheme of things. It’s easy to feel this way, when one party barrels over the rest election after election, however, this would not be possible without the help of the masses. Another reason for voter apathy is that some may feel a sense of under-representation.
According to Stats SA, the youth (15-34) currently make up 20.6 million people, or 35.7% of the total population. There are just under 350 000 youth aged 18-19 who have registered to vote. For comparison, in 2014, 25 million South Africans registered to vote from a pool of 31.4 million eligible. At the time, the eligible youth made up 10.9 million people, or 34% of possible voters. Of these, 646 313 were first timers who registered to vote, out of a total of 1.9 million eligible.
These stats indicate that many young, eligible voters might not understand the election process, the governmental process, or how instrumental just one vote can be; conversely, they could just not care. Many, understandably, cannot find a party that they relate to. Others are frustrated at our frightening unemployment rate which sees one in three youth without a job. Even more are frustrated by the level of corruption present in our existing government.
One solution to low voter turnout might be to register a person as a voter when they apply for their ID for the first time, so that having to hold dedicated registration weekends could be left only for those who have relocated from their homes. Another solution could be to institute mandatory voting to increase voter turnout, but this could lead to greater levels of apathy among voters if they feel forced to do it instead of doing it willingly.
What are we voting for?
Why do we need to question who we’re voting for? We question who we vote for because we have to question what we vote for. We have the benefit of free healthcare, but overcrowding and unsanitary environments in our government hospitals and clinics mean that we cannot truly appreciate this until major changes take place. We can’t be globally competitive with school pass marks of 30%.
Every party makes claims while campaigning for votes. When deciding where to place that all-important X, here are some questions to ask:
- How are they planning to fix our current and future energy problem?
- How, as a government, are they going to combat the growing problem of climate change?
- Which laws are they planning on changing, repealing, or adopting?
- How do they plan to run the education system broken by the previous government? Moreover, what are their plans for the education of girls, the education in rural and poor areas, and tertiary education?
- All parties claim to be able to provide jobs – but what jobs? And how are they going to be able to provide them?
- Does the party have a history of corruption, and if so, what measures have they taken to correct this?
- How are they going to provide social security, health care and aid to the poor, elderly and those with special needs?
We need to ask these parties how they plan on making good on all their promises – we’ve had governments promise us the world, only to take a large portion of that for themselves.
We have one of the best constitutions in the world, with protections for women’s reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, freedom from racially based discrimination, freedom of religion, a free press, freedom of speech, no death penalty, and above all, no infringement on the right to vote for any reason. We need to protect that legacy. In South Africa, as long as a person is over the age of 18 and registered on the voters’ roll, they may cast their ballots. When examining the volatile and turbulent state of so many countries on the globe, we need to grasp how important this is. Some countries, like Brazil, Chile, Russia, the United Kingdom and parts of the United States, disallow prisoners from voting. Some places employ discriminatory tactics like gerrymandering to make it much more difficult for eligible voters who are more likely to vote for the opposition.
We must be cognisant of the fact that, if one vote truly made no difference, then party leaders would not be out on public trains and stadiums trying to convince people to vote for them. It’s become more than voting because people we were too young to know fought and died for the right. Regardless of party, the best way to honour true fighters of the struggle is to vote. We owe it to our history, but more so, we owe it to our future, to cast our votes come May 8th.
By Tiffany Holland