What has fuelled political apathy among South African youth?

By Somila Tiwani

It is devastating to learn that youth participation in elections is low. According to an article by The Voice360, “South Africa once hailed as best jewels of democracy in Africa, however it is also pushing low in youth participation when it comes to democratic processes such as elections.” This is concerning.

The Voice360 also reported that only 6% of all members of the parliament in South Africa are in the category of the youth (35 and younger). Evidently, South Africa’s youth is politically disengaged.

Youth Activist, Phumlani Msenge examines the explanation behind this reasoning. “Politics are what drives our day to day lives and it is unfortunate that young people are not participating in politics. They are not part and parcel of those who are shaping the future yet they are the future”, he says.

Msenge mentioned corruption, political patronage and misconduct of governance as a large contributing factor to youth apathy in politics.

The most critical reasoning for youth political apathy is unemployment. According to Stats SA, South Africa’s youth unemployment rate was as high as 59% in the 1st quarter of 2020. Among graduates in this age group, the unemployment rate was 33,1% during the same period. Although the youth is vulnerable in the labour market, those with further education (tertiary level) are more likely to be employed. 

Also, “young people are generally ignorant on many things that are happening in society”, says Msenge. He believes that young people think they exist in a space of social media and that is not where decisions are taken in terms of governance.

“Young people think it is enough for them to voice out their concerns in social media. Those platforms might be effective in some certain extent to put pressure on the government, but ultimately they are not legitimate platforms for the participation in government issues”, adds Msenge.

Msenge also mentioned that the way we are groomed as Africans also plays a significant role in youth political apathy. We have grown with the mentality of not arguing with our elders, that we should always respect our elders and never fight with them. It has not been contextualised that at a certain level, we must be able to voice out our own interests and views.

Youth representation is lacking in South Africa’s parliament and this can be a substratum for economic growth.

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