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Is 2024 the new 1994 for South Africa?

Limitless Africa correspondent Dimpho Lekgeu talks to Claude about the upcoming election in South Africa and speaks to democracy activist Yanga Malotana.

What are the big issues in South Africa’s election? And how do these affect young people?

The views expressed in this episode belong to their speakers. Limitless Africa and its sponsors do not support any of the candidates or parties discussed in the episode.

Please listen to a previous episode:
Should young people bother voting?

And let us know what you think here.

TRANSCRIPT

Claude:
Limitless Africa is the podcast that lets Africans have their say.

In our first episode of season 2, we asked the question: should young people bother voting?
We spoke to activists in Ghana, Rwanda and South Africa.

It’s a big question especially in a year of big elections.

And I felt we could go deeper.

And we’re doing that – every Thursday, we’re releasing extended episodes. We want to give the amazing people shaping the continent the time and the space to really have their say.

So that’s why I invited Dimpho on the show – I wanted her introduce her interview with democracy activist Yanga Malotana and tell us a little about what’s happening in South Africa at the moment – hi Dimpho!

Dimpho: hi!

Claude:
Let me just introduce you, you are one of our Limitless correspondents, and you spoke with Yanga Malotana as part of the episode around young people and their voting habits… It’s really a key time for South African democracy. On May 29, South Africans are going to the polls.

So Dimpho, why did you choose to speak to Yanga?

Dimpho:
I chose to speak to Yanga rather for a number of reasons. I think first of all, she’s just an incredible young person that I’ve had the opportunity and the privilege of working with in the youth development sector here in South Africa. She’s a political sciences graduate from the University Of Pretoria. She’s worked as the comms manager for the democracy development program as well as the Centre for Human Rights before moving to ESI press where she is now as a project manager. I think, because she has engaged with the issues of young people both academically and from a civil society point of view, she’s just able to articulate what those issues are so well, but I think most importantly, relate those issues to democracy and voting. And the relationships that young people have with democracy and voting because of some of the problems and the challenges that they’re faced with on a day-to-day basis.

So I really wanted to understand from her point of view how she thinks things are going to change during this election year, an important election year like you mentioned, especially because youth voter turnout in the country has been on the decline. It declined in 2014, in 2019, and the most dismal performance was in 2021 during our local government elections.

But interestingly what we’re hearing from the IEC, our independent electoral commission, is that of all the new people that registered between last year and this year in February, 70% of them are under the age of 30. I think it’s a very interesting time and I think we might just see. I’m a huge shift in the way that young people show up in the polls and I thought that he was just the best person to give us that prediction and also help us understand where the mood and the feelings of young people are during this time.

Claude:
Well, we’ll get to her interview in a minute but as this election years we do have to say that we’ve been reading and hearing about the fact that many South Africans are really disillusioned. With the ANC. So How are you feeling about the election?

Dimpho:
Yeah, I’m nervous and I’m excited. One of the slogans that’s become quite popular on on social media ahead of this election is that 2024 is our 1994.

And I think that speaks to what you’ve just mentioned… The fact that a lot of South Africans are disillusioned with the ruling party but a lot of people also realise that this election is just as critical as the election in 1994, the election that gave birth to our democracy.

I think there’s general consensus that our country has made a lot of gains in the past thirty years. We have a lot more people now who have access to basic social services such as education and health care and things like housing and so forth. But we can also recognize that our country is not headed in the right direction even though democracy allowed us to make a lot of gains over the past fifteen years….

Because of poor governance and administration, we’ve actually reversed on those gains and so less people are employed, less people are able to have housing, less people are actually showing up to the polls and engaging with our democratic process and so there is a realization that something has to change fundamentally.

I think what makes me excited is what I mentioned earlier around the statistic that the majority of new voter registrations have come from young people. So I’m excited that young people are disillusioned with what’s happening in the country but realise the power that is in their vote; realize that if they want to make a change, they really need to step into the ring and fight with the x on the ballot and just that young people are actually buying into or stepping up um to have their voices to have their voices heard.

I think there’s this misconception that young people are are apathetic and young people don’t care what’s happening and don’t care about the politics of the day but they are thoroughly invested because they are the ones who are going to feel the impact of the decisions that are being made now and they are going to feel the impact longer.

I’m also excited because there’s a number of new parties that have kind of entered the ring. Some parties come as breakaways so they’re led by leaders from the bigger parties that are currently in parliament and some parties are completely new. Just led by a few South Africans who have banded themselves together to say we do not want our country to go in this direction and so we can no longer sit back in our different corners of society watching as our country is not led by the people that we feel are the best to lead it and so we’re putting our hands up to step into public office. So there’s a lot happening and it’s all exciting.

But I’m also nervous because this is the first time that our country is experiencing something like this and I guess it’s part of the teething process, so to speak, of our democracy.

Claude:
So I’m really thinking about what you just said about 2024 being the new 1994 and if we frame it that way, what are some of the key issues? And do you think there could be any surprises at all?

Dimpho:
Sure, so the key issues definitely are unemployment. We have one of the highest rates of unemployment, especially amongst the youth in the world. 7 out of 10 young people in South Africa do not have a job.

9 million young people fall into what we call the NEETS category. That’s young people who are not in employment education or training. There’s also a huge problem with hunger. We have heard reports, stories from provinces such as the Eastern Cape which is a lot more rural where mothers have committed suicide and killed their children and because they cannot afford to feed their families. And so the situation is that dire. There’s a story that’s trending right now where a young mother um left her toddler at a shopping mall and when she was apprehended by the police she said well I have problems I cannot look after my child and so we have a big issue with hunger and people having access to food but also corruption. We cannot not speak about corruption. We recently had the Zondo commission which looked into the corruption, the maladministration, just the poor governance that that we underwent during the Suma administration as well as allegations of state capture. And we know that the Gupta family was at the centre of that all but it’s not just corruption at that level. It’s corruption at a regional level and also locally in our municipalities that has led to the kind of decline that we’re seeing in our administration.

But again I think the introduction of newer parties and particularly the Umkhonto we Sizwe party which is a party that is led by our former president. It’s led by the former president of the African National Congress and they have already made gains. They’ve contested in by elections. And they’ve made gains in the wards that they have contested so I think it’s going to be very interesting to see how the dynamic of the three big parties that we’ve come to know is going to change because of the introduction of this particular party but also the introduction of the smaller parties.

Analysts are also saying that we are officially in the era of coalition governments in South Africa that it is something that we cannot ignore. We have seen coalitions happening locally and in and in municipalities. Following the local government’s elections in 2021 but this will be the first time that we see a coalition government happening in a province like Gauteng for example, which is the economic hub of our country or even nationally if the ANC dips below 51%. So those are the issues and I think the possibility of the first coalition we’ve ever seen. Is definitely a surprise. Well, it’s definitely something to be on the lookout for.

Claude:
Do you personally think there might be a reshuffling among the big three parties that everyone talks about in South Africa and what is your personal perspective on this election?

Dimpho:
So I don’t know about a reshuffling but I definitely think that there will be a dent in South Africa’s political landscape in that there are new parties that will most probably eat at the votes of the current political establishments because a lot of people simply feel disillusioned by them.

A lot of people are obviously unhappy with the performance of the ANC but they also feel as though the opposition parties have not done a good enough job of being viable political alternatives and so I think that the introduction of the Umkhonto we Sizwe party will definitely make a dent. It may just be the fourth biggest party in this election. There are newer parties that I think have also really managed to capture the imagination of young people and particularly young people who were civil society activists who have decided that they want to make the jump from civil society into politics and who want to lead in public office parties such as BOSA Build One South Africa which is led by Musi Mamani who is the former leader of the main opposition which is the Democratic Alliance party, such as RISE Mzansi which has a very youthful and energized leadership crop which have really managed to capture the imagination and the attention of young people. So it’s going to be very interesting just to see how much of um, their share the established parties are going to lose at the hands of these new energetic, vibrant, political parties.

Claude:
So Wow! Thank you for your own personal perspective, your conversation with Yanga Malotona is absolutely fascinating.

Let’s now listen to you and Yanga’s conversation together. I think you really get to the heart of what many young people in South Africa want from their leaders today and I really love how you talk about it in a broader context both globally. In terms of anti-a apartheid movements and also the black lives matter movement in America but you also talk about youth participation in democracy in a historical context… you touched upon the 1976 protests by black students against the imposition of the Afrikan’s language in schools right up to the recent survey from the HSRC, which is South Africa’s human sciences research council, looked at the impact of social media influencers on politics. So these are really important topics.

So let’s get into it here’s the conversation.

***

Dimpho:
Now Younger despite the power of young people in the electorates. There has been a decline in youth voter turnouts. What do you think the reason for this is?

Yanga:
Thank you so much Dimpho for your question and good morning and good afternoon. Good evening to all the listeners. Thank you for having me here on the platform. I think when it comes to the decline in youth voter turnout. The most important thing that people need to note is that it is not something that is unique to South Africa. If you look at democracies in different parts of the world you will recognize that it is an issue or a theme that comes up almost everywhere in the world. usually the easy copout answers I’ll call it is this idea that youth are apathetic that don’t care about politics. But I think more and more literature is coming out and more and more evidence is coming out that that is not the case. Young people not prioritising voting does not mean that they don’t prioritise democracy they sometimes feel as though other forms of democratic participation are more valuable to them in meeting them where they are in having their voices heard more than being able to cost a vote now I’m not saying that that is not something without its faults because a democracy rests quite heavily on the vote.

So different evidence has come out to say perhaps it’s not necessarily an instinctual thing that they’re doing of not prioritising the vote because they don’t necessarily care about it but it is because of where they are in their lives, because of economic situations

But young people often feel like… um, how can I vote if I don’t have the economic standing in the first place.

So there’s almost a prioritisation that occurs which is: let me first get an economic step and then I can worry about societal issues when in fact, the two are extremely intrinsically linked.

The third reason is perhaps this idea of a choice overload which is a term that has been. Coined from psychologists which is this idea that is often presented in multiparty systems such as the one that we have in South Africa where if people have got so many options of who to vote for it can become physically overwhelming for the human system to be able to decide one specific thing and so what happens is they would rather just shut down and not vote at all because to them when you have so many options, nothing looks new. Nothing looks clear and the result of it is to either completely not vote at all. Or to vote with what was comfortable before which is how usually how hegemonic parties like the ANC in South Africa have stayed in power. So yeah I think that’s the reason why youth don’t come to vote.

Dimpho:
That’s such an interesting reflection Yanga and I really like the fact that you mention that this is not a problem unique to South Africa. That in fact most countries around the world that live within a democratic system actually have to grapple with these challenges daily.

I think that sometimes we look at our political landscape and we are so frustrated by it that we can begin to think that these challenges are unique to us. But when you look at the role that young people have played in politics particularly in South Africa, they’ve always been able to make a dent in political discourse and to lead political change.

We always make reference to the 1976 uprising where young people protested against the education system. In more recent years we have seen young people leading movements such as the Hashtag “Must Fall” movements with Rhodes Must Fall and then later Fees Must Fall demanding free higher education. So young people are actually quite politically engaged and politically charged. With that context, why do you think that the youth vote is so important?

Yanga:
I think it’s important exactly because of that. Young people have always always been pioneers.

We think about the fact that the civil rights movement in America, a large base of it was young people; the same way that we can look at the people who were anti Vietnam war was young people who were pushing for peace and were pressuring the government in the Us for that to end.

And you know South Africa’s history is in no way unique to that either. It was young people as you have just said who have always been these ground breakers and key catalysts for change in history and most of the time the reason why they have been in that position and in particular for South Africa, whether you look at it from the historical perspective or the more recent events such as Rhodes Must Fall, such as Fees Must Fall, the key thing is that it has always been a situation where it’s young people who are placed at a bottom of a pyramid.

They’ve been put into this pyramid that seems to them while they are at the bottom of it is virtually impossible for them to break out of. And as a result of that they resort then to your more non-traditional ways of um, democratic practices and democratic rights.

They know that it is impactful. It holds people highly accountable. I mean protest culture is one of the reasons why the BLM movement was so highly successful.

In the same way down here in South Africa, why the Fees Must Fall protests were so highly successful in stopping universities from increasing their fees for about five years. We’re kind of back in square one now but that’s a conversation for another day.

But what is crucial now in 2024 and something that is crucial for young people to recognize is unlike the young people of 1976 that had to use the protest to be able to break the barrier that was the only weapon to use to break the barrier and to move out of the pyramid, young people in this new baby South Africa have the ability to not only use those other nontraditional forms of democracy, to be able to break the barrier such as protests, but now is the key moment that the vote holds the power for young people to be able to break these barriers.

Dimpho:
And speaking of using both traditional and nontraditional forms of political expression. What successes do you think political parties have had in engaging with the youth I think particularly ahead of such a critical election?

Yanga:
And well I will say that it is interesting to reflect on the work that the political parties have done since the local government elections from 2021.

I think those elections showed us the prioritisation that political parties have for young people. As we are all aware in 2021, there was the local government elections and about a month or two after the local government elections happened, we were facing the July unrest of 2021 as a result of political dynamics in South Africa. And the unrest of July 2021 at the heart of it right, regardless of whatever conspiracy theories were occurring, at the heart of the individuals who were looting the individuals who were destructing property. But the everyday individuals we saw on Tv saying that they were just coming to get a free keg, or they were coming to get a television, etc, etc, there were a lot of young people who simply just did not have jobs and they had an opportunity to do something that was inherently wrong. But I also understand why it happened. And the first thing that they go ahead and loot is grocery stores. To me that spoke volumes and in my opinion it should have spoken volumes to the different political parties in South Africa that the situation that we have on the status of employment, education and crime, water sanitation, and even our energy problems is so dire that when our people are in a position of looting businesses, they don’t necessarily loot strategically, they loot for the sake of being able to eat something and that says something about where we are standing now.

I will say that there was a proliferation that came out of that of new political parties such as RISE Mzansi, Change Starts Now, and various other nineteen new registered parties that we know are heading towards the 2024 elections that came out of that frustration of there is no way that just happened and we’re just going to sit as a nation and do nothing about it. It also came out particularly in those provinces the importance of coalition governments. And the importance of the ability for coalition governments to be coherent and to work on the same page and when the opportunity presented itself for that to occur, it did not happen and I think it has affected the psyche of all voters in South Africa and how they’re going to make the decision moving forward.

Dimpho:
I think that you’ve brought up so many important things and I’m really thinking that we need to call you back for a second podcast where we just talk about coalitions alone. But while we’ve spoken about young people being very innovative when it comes to political expression whether that’s in the form of protest culture. Um, um, or even using devices such as social media. We still do want to see young people take part in more formal and official civic processes. How do we get young people to participating in the electoral process again?

Yanga:
I think um, social media has played a very significant role in young people’s interest and like that image I painted up on how the bottom of the pyramid and realizing that oh I can also use the vote to break out of this. Um. And I think social media has been playing a pretty significant role in that to a certain extent.

But I also think that young people also have a little bit of an incentive coming from our media platforms and with this I speak about it not necessarily our media platforms on television per se but our media platforms when it comes to newspaper articles.

The way that the media has been presenting its news around the election process is slightly more unique than the previous years or at least in the observation that I’ve made so far the last six months or so um, where usually around this time media campaigns on social media if you go on them are a bit more and like a slandering, you know, horse show betting, gambling situation.

But it’s become more and more this emphasis, for example, there ar over 13 million unregistered young people. What are we going to be doing about that?

The HSRC did a study recently last year in 2023 where they went out to do a field participant study with young people and a lot of young people have increasingly gotten more information and motivation to care about voting from their community leaders more than they have for example influences per se. And I thought that was a very interesting statistic that they got from that pool that they were that they were studying is the value that young people have towards their own community leaders about the importance of the vote and so I think what’s happening right now is that we’re seeing a shift in the culture and how we participate in democracy at South Africa but also like a shift that’s happening with young people on their views and their perspectives on democracy and I think that has been helpful in having young people participate in the electorate. But also above and beyond that the ability for specific political parties to frame their manifestos and their message in a way that is clear and is concise and is understandable for people to to comprehend and that has made the world of a difference.

Dimpho:
I like that you highlight how social media can indeed be used or utilized for positive results and how it has in fact played or had an impact in encouraging young people to at least develop some kind of curiosity about politics and about their role in shaping politics. To what extent do you think social media influences the voting behaviour of young people if at all.

Yanga:
Sure I think that is actually the research question that we have at ESI press for one of the projects that we are doing this year we are in the process of tracking just social media media platforms in general and their ability to cover politics around this election period. But the tone the vibe but also re tracking the the types of videos that are coming out of young people around this period as well. And I think, basing it on again the HSRC study I’m going to see if I can get a link um for the listeners and they can go ahead as well and and and look at it at their time. Um, this was one of the questions that was asked which was asking young people: truly how much do you trust social media and media outlets as a whole for the purposes of voting behaviour. And the results were pretty surprising but also understandable. A lot of young people had said that in as much as they enjoy seeing for example that you know their influencers saying guys go vote, or they see someone that they really look up to on social media saying go vote who’s got a lot of followers etc.

They would rather trust someone that they know personally that is a community leader to tell them to go vote than to trust someone that has a social media personality.

So I think it’s a Catch 22 situation where we’ve had a good campaign right now for voter registration. But I think political parties are going to have really difficult time of trying to utilize social media to try to get people to vote for them per se versus the ever effective traditional way of reaching out to people which is directly going to them connecting with them finding out their situation from where they are where they’re living um and going to do the on the ground work.

Dimpho:
The IEC presented its own study not so long ago during a youth engagement that I had attended and they said that young people actually don’t want to engage with influencers on politics because they know that these influencers are not doing so in good faith and that they they are being paid for this kind of engagement.

Young people just want to know where they can go online to find credible information about the civic process about political processes in South Africa so that they can make like you’re saying an informed choice about who to vote for and who they can put their faith in um, to govern them.

So I’m really happy that you you brought that up but I want us to now shift our focus to the challenges that young people face and we talk about this all the time. The challenges that face young people in this country are vast and they are diverse. Because the nature of the youth population in South Africa is that it’s very diverse and it’s not homogenous. 15 to 35 is a very wide age gap. But considering all of these issues such as in-access to higher education, such as unemployment such as gender-based violence which largely affects young men and women, what policy areas or issues will be crucial for political leaders to address in order to resonate with young voters.?

Yanga:
Yeah, I think it’s interesting that you mentioned that ICE study because um, actually do remember eating that one as well and ah just like a little side note would be ah also maybe a pretty cool topic to explore on the parasocial relationships that influencers play in South Africa and the opinion-formulating culture that comes from that and the ability for it to affect everyday lives.

But um policy areas that parties should be focusing on that are going to resonate with young voters… Here I’m going to refer to the Afrobarometer study that was released last year they do this study every two years where they go out and ask South Africans what issues affect them and um, why and for the last 10 years that Afrobarometer has been doing the study. There are three primary issues that have come up over and over and over again and they are the three core issues that any political party has to face and any democracy in the world really needs to be taking consideration of and that’s employment, that’s education policies and that’s crime.

Because those are the three areas that South Africa has been struggling with um for the last 30 years and it has just been getting worse and worse at each turn. And you can imagine that if we’re speaking about young people being positioned in a way where they are at a bottom of the pyramid you can imagine that the people who are most affected by these three areas not being fulfilled properly are going to be young people and the stats speak for themselves young people are the highest unemployed when it comes to South Africa’s already high unemployment rate. Young people in South Africa um have got a very difficult traction with their education route. They can be 20 little grade ones that can start their grade one, one year and only about 4 of them are going to make it to martriculation and in the four that’s actually going to make it in matric only about 2 of them are actually going to make it into university. The traction for education in South Africa is ridiculously grim.

When it comes to crime. Because young people don’t have employment because young people don’t have the right type of education to take care of the employment issue they resort towards crime and so those 3 things are somewhat interlinked and the crime thing is linked with poverty.

The other two that was on the list with this top five issues that were there, is policy issues related to water and sanitation. While South Africa may not necessarily have an issue with infrastructure related to water and sanitation, the systems are there but the maintenance of the systems is often the issue that results in people not necessarily having good water or sanitation to begin with and then that leads to issues of diseases that leads to issues of hygiene. We had the cholera outbreak just right here in Pretoria a couple of months ago.

These are key areas that our political parties need to consider. Ironically to me it’s quite sad that energy isn’t right at the top and I’m being biased because that is um, my specialty for my own studies but energy came in fifth in the study in terms of the priority issues that young people have.

But for me if your country is losing such a significant amount of money by virtue of them not being able to have energy. It makes sense then when you have high levels of unemployment, when education is not prioritized, when there’s such high levels of crime etc etc because you have businesses that are losing out consistently. And when you don’t have energy there’s no opportunities for young people to go ahead and they start their business because they don’t have the money to do that. It’s a cycle really between these five things.

They’re all interrelated right? And I think political parties need to implement and I think this leads to the next question we’re going to chat about, they need to have very intersectional approaches towards these five issues. And within these five issues ensure that they’re not treating young people as homogenous beings because I think that is also part of the conversation is like you said that age gap of 18 to 35 is ridiculously big. The way that unemployment affects an 18 year old versus the way unemployment affects a 35 year old completely different. We are all unique. And we are all at different stages in our lives and whatever is implemented needs to answer to that.

Dimpho:
And I think that’s the perfect segue way into our final question which dives into these intersectionalities of young people. How do you think the issues of Race Gender Socioeconomic status intersect with or influence. The political engagements of young people and.

Yanga:
This whole thing of trying to treat young people as just these homogenous beings that are completely apathetic about the vote they don’t care about democracy etc, etc. There are so many systemic issues that they face depending on the race that they are depending from whether or not they’re from. A rural area an urban area a metro area depending on the type of gender that they are especially with GBV in South Africa and most importantly, depending on the type of financial situation from which they come. It’s cyclical poverty. And if you’ve grown up in poverty. It is extremely difficult to be able to break those barriers without the opportunity of employment and without the opportunity of education and so I think it goes back to the key policy areas that need to be articulated so well. That young people will be taken care of so much so that that little girl that is in the Eastern Cape village that just got knocked up and her dreams look like they’ve been shattered that that person matters and even that person’s vote is important and the reasons why it’s important.

And I think that is an extremely difficult task to do but that is the landscape in which we have to deal with in in South Africa and I also think when it comes to intersectionality the fun thing about democracy is that it is in and of itself inherently intersectional because at the core of democracy is this idea of choice the principle of choice the ability to decide who you want to represent you and through that articulation of representation already people are interacting with the type of intersectionality that they would like to see whether it is an intersectionality of wanting someone that is successful that it is a woman and that is black because that is who I personally would want to represent me or someone who comes from a very very bad background but has made a turnaround in their life and is now making change and being a good leader for their community today.

This is a fantastic gap for political parties to come in and fill it in and explain exactly how they see that intersectionality. So that young person from the village all the way to the young person who has the ability to have a corporate job that’s secured straight after they’d done with their varsity can be able to relate.

Dimpho:
And Yanga thank you so much for sharing your reflections with me. I think you’ve done such an incredible job. Ah, first and foremost helping us tap into the mind of a young voter based on where young south africans find themselves today but I think also leaving us with a bit of optimism that young people are present. They want to participate. They want their voices to be heard and they want to be presented with viable political options and it’s just up to the political parties and a bit of Civil society to ensure that we make the space big enough for young people to feel like they have a seat at the table too as far as Civic processes. And in particular voting is concerned. Thank you So So much. Um, for joining us.

Yanga:
Thanks Dimpho.

Claude:
Thank you to Yanga and Dimpho. We need to hold our public servants accountable. Through community activism, peaceful protest, and of course the ballet box. Thanks for listening. Please share this episode with anyone who cares about democracy.

The views expressed in this episode belong to their speakers. Limitless Africa and its sponsors do not support any of the candidates or parties discussed in the episode.

Dimpho Legkeu, Yanga Malotana