In a time where coalitions are the new reality for South Africa, will young leaders have the upper hand in next year’s national elections? 

If the rollercoaster coalitions at municipal level over the past couple of years are a trailer for 2024’s national scramble, then we are in for a crazy ride with new key players emerging.  

The 2024 national election is going to be an interesting one in South African politics – especially for the country’s youth. With an unemployment rate of 63,9% for those aged 15 to 24, and 42,1% for those between ages 25 and 34, things are not looking great for the youth – with some becoming fed up with the status quo.  

For the first time in our 29-year democracy, the ruling ANC is largely predicted to receive less than 50% of the vote – however, these statistics fluctuate from poll to poll. This has already been the case across various large metropolitan councils, including Johannesburg, Tshwane and Ekhuruleni, which has seen the frequent formation and breaking up of coalitions, resulting in unstable government.

We are likely to see this play out at a national level in 2024. Some parties, such as the Democratic Alliance and ActionSA, are already scrambling to form coalition pacts regardless of the outcome of the polls that are still 12 months away.  

The question this raises is: what will the youth’s role be in coalition politics next year? Of 43 million eligible voters, 18 million are youth, however, only 10 million or so are registered to vote. As history has shown, the turnout rate may be much lower. In addition statistics show that the lower the voter turnout, the higher the percentage of votes will be for the ANC. 

This article is not arguing the importance of the youth going out to vote. (Award-winning legal and development practitioner Karabo Mokgonyana did that very well in a Mail & Guardian article.) Instead, it considers a scenario in which the youth turned out in numbers to vote, and the ANC fell below the 50% threshold to form a government. 

Witsies cast their votes in the 2016 local government elections at the East Campus Old Mutual Sports Hall voting station. Photo: File

Would young voters vote for a youth-based agenda, and if so, who would be calling the shots in coalitions? The question is relevant as there has been a flurry of new youth-oriented political movements and parties, while existing parties with young leaders in positions of power such as the EFF are maintaining their relatively large youth support base.

On the other hand, parties such as the DA, are not only losing support in elections, but are losing prominent young leaders such as Phumzile van Damme, Mbali Ntuli, Mmusi Maimane and Bongani Baloyi. The reasons for their departures are varied and complex, but they have also pointed to the disproportionate representation of youth in decision-making structures, which has allowed those in positions of power not only to disregard their needs but to underestimate the will of the youth to do something about it. 

In terms of representation in addressing this, of the 446 members of parliament, only 51 (11%) are under the age of 35.  

In an interview with Wits Vuvuzela, former DA and ActionSA leader, and now founder and president of Xiluva, Bongani Baloyi,said that he believed that young people would vote for those pushing for a “youth-oriented agenda”. This agenda focuses on prioritising pressing issues affecting the youth, such as unemployment.  

“Young people deliver better governance,” said Baloyi who, in 2013 at the age of 26, was voted as mayor of Midvaal municipality, a position he held until November 2021. His tenure was well known for clean governance. 

With a large fragmentation of political parties in the country – 696 are registered nationally and 1634 locally – youth-oriented parties can pull support away from established parties with unrelatable leaders for young South Africans and play a crucial role in coalition politics. 

With some parties already ruling out the possibility of talks with the ANC and EFF, youth-led parties such as Xiluva, Maimane’s Build One South Africa and Rise Mzansi which was launched by former journalist Songezo Zibi on April 19, can gain the upper hand in coalition talks, and to push “youth-based agendas”.  

FEATURED IMAGE: Seth Thorne. Photo: File