SLICE: Will youth call the shots in 2024 polls?  

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


The youth still fights to be heard, 46 years later

On June 16, the youth of 2022 braved the cold weather and hostility from authorities to sound the alarms

Disappointment was etched on the faces of several young marchers, as the memorandum with their demands was handed over away from public view, at the ‘Youth Day Parade’ hosted by the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation (AKF) on June 16, 2022.

Instead of collecting the memorandum in front of the crowd of about 200 people gathered on the Union Building’s lawns, those leading the parade met with representatives from the presidency on the side lines.

“I am feeling disappointed because we went through a lot to come and deliver this memorandum; from organising and mobilising. We were expecting someone from the presidency to come and receive this memorandum,” said Zamajozi Sithole, projects officer of the youth leadership program at the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund.

“[It] just tells me that young people are still not taken seriously, and it does make me question: will our memorandum be taken seriously?”, said Sithole.

Simon Witbooi, member of the Khoi community that has been camping outside the president’s office for over three years in protest, said he had “seen protests like these” come and go, with nothing done once memorandums are handed over.

But officials promised this time would be different and the issues would be deliberated and resolved. A tall order, considering some of the demands.

The memorandum made calls for better service delivery, climate justice, sustainable employment for youth, a universal basic income of R1 500, and the eradication of corruption, xenophobia, and crime.

Cameron Rodrigues, a University of Pretoria student, said she wanted the government to start listening to the youth’s voices calling for “climate justice” as it equates to education justice.

The youth of 2022 came out in their hundreds to voice out their concerns to the presidency. Photo: Keamogetswe Matlala

Calling for gender equality, Soul City Institute social mobiliser, Nathi Ngwenya said, “we are against patriarchy” and could work with government to bridge current inequalities.

The parade commemorated the 46th anniversary of the 1976 Soweto Youth Uprising, where students protested the Apartheid government’s efforts to make Afrikaans the medium of instruction in township schools.

Speaking to Wits Vuvuzela, Zaki Mamdoo from AKF said: “the youth are the answer. We have solutions to our crises, we are able to lead, organise and […] to present ourselves as the hope for the future of this country”.

The foundation plans to meet with involved stakeholders on July 16, 2022, to follow up on the progress made in meeting their demands.

FEATURED IMAGE: Children as young as eight joined in on the march, putting their best feet forward to secure their future. Photo: Keamogetswe Matlala