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The Youth Vote and South Africa’s Election Season

By Refilwe Mosia

Refilwe Mosia holds a Bachelor of Social Science in Management and Communication studies from the University of Kwazulu – Natal (UKZN). She is the Congress and Exhibition Coordinator for the International Aids Society which brought the 21st International Aids Conference to Durban in July 2016. As a UKZN alumni, her focus is on youth empowerment specifically working towards the advancement of African women in rural communities.

South Africans headed to the polling stations on the 3rd of August to cast their votes for the most anticipated Local Government Elections in recent years. The introduction of a significant proportion of young voters saw political parties designing their campaign messages to attract the youth vote. Social media was the go to place for political parties to drive their messages across, with trending hash tags being the order of the day. Gaining popularity with young voters was the prevalent tactic that defined the 2016 Local Government Election season.


With the African National Congress (ANC), Democratic Alliance (DA) and Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) all running for the number one spot, media platforms were flooded with promises of a better South Africa. As evident from the recent #FeesMustFall riots and with youth unemployment on the rise, there is an evident demeanour of discouragement amongst SA’s youth. The ANC and its counterparts had already failed this group through the inclusion of celebrities during their campaign run. The party’s social media campaign was received as a slap in the face as the famous faces proved to be nothing more than political mouth pieces for the ruling party. The ANC failed in this area by not tackling issues of the youth head-on. It is evident in state of public institutions that education has seen a significant lowering of standards post 1994. If against the odds, you manage to get a diploma from a Further Education and Training (FET) institution, you face the risk of not being an ideal candidate to participate in the private sector - leaving the public sector to absorb the pressure. This scenario has led to the steady increase of unemployed graduates and this is only the tip of the crumbling Higher Education iceberg. The economy is even more ruthless to their attempts to integrate into the economy.


On the other hand, the DA’s strides were received differently due to racial divisions. The inception of their campaign was solely based on the inaccuracies of ANC policies, failing to properly address where the youth benefit immediately. The party used the inefficiencies of the ANC to pull voters in and lost votes with African youth. With a cabinet consisting mostly of white members, their efforts to solve the problem, although valid, have little or no mention of the strides to rectify the economic injustices that came with apartheid. This gives rise to a huge degree of scepticism from the majority of African youth. Social integration in this space is affording the ‘previously’ marginalised populations a better economic standing. The ANC with already placed policies like Affirmative Action, Land Reform and Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) is what entices this demographic  - for those who register of course.


At first glance, the EFF is the party that probably consumes most votes from the youth. The leader Julius Malema, who is the former ANC Youth League president, is a young, charismatic and controversial individual with a cabinet which mostly consists of energetic young individuals like him. His party has seen the most growth in the three years it has been in parliament - no party has achieved such a feat. The party is attractive to the majority of the African youth population because it speaks to youth issues through policies they want to put in place and the brute manner in which they approach matters. They mention Land redistribution in detail and prioritise it highly along with social integration, education, labour irregularities and much more. Their disruption of parliament using chants like ‘Pay Back the Money’ and ‘Zupta must Fall’- the relationship between President Jacob Zuma and the Gupta family - seems to give out the desired result for the youth. President Jacob Zuma, was instructed by law to pay back the public funds used to renovate his personal home and the Gupta’s relocated from South Africa after the ‘big four’ (ABSA, FNB, Standard Bank and Nedbank) banks froze their bank accounts. This alone would get me to vote for the EFF, which is why they are becoming more and more appealing to not only the youth but to my mother and grandmother too. The party’s brute methods, erratic behaviour, potentially unstable policies and its leader do however bring the EFF into question. Without any experience their plan is to change the South African political and economic landscape.


One thing is certain though and that is that young South Africans are not swayed by social media campaigns and gimmicks to win popularity as displayed by the ANC. Nor are they shifted by a promise of change and a non-racial society promised by the DA. The youth of South Africa demand real change, change that outlives hashtags and placards promising a better life for all.

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