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Youth – potentially kingmakers in the next election

By Carol Butcher –

The recent municipal elections had millions of South Africans glued to their television screens. While the shift in electoral support in Johannesburg, Tshwane, and Nelson Mandela Bay was spellbinding, perhaps even more intriguing is the fact that eight million South Africans, who were eligible to vote, did not cast their vote.

Placed in context, eight million people would fill the FNB stadium 84.4 times. Expressed differently, the combined population of Johannesburg, Tshwane and Port Elizabeth is around 8.6 million.

I struck up conversations with three women a few days before the election.  Two were caregivers and the third was a cashier at a retail outlet. Two of the women fell into the youth category – the first was in her early twenties, the second in her early thirties. The third lady was in her early forties.

The cashier, who was the youngest in the group, glanced at the newspaper headlines – the article was about corruption. She rung up the newspaper, pointed at the article and said: “I’m not voting in the election.” I suspect her decision was not based solely on perceptions around corruption but was also motivated by a lack of opportunity. She was a young person with a great deal of potential, a go-getter.

The caregiver in her early thirties told me that she was not voting on two separate occasions: “Government won’t give me a permanent job so I won’t vote.”  Her ambition is to become a nursing sister. She has applied unsuccessfully to get onto a training programme offered by one of the private hospital groups.  She cannot afford to study through a private nursing college. Although she is not the sole breadwinner, her family cannot survive on her husband’s salary.  She is bitter because she seems unable to achieve her dream.

The third lady is a mother of four. Her children are aged between 4 and 26. She is a single parent, the sole breadwinner, and works one day a week. She has been trying to find full-time employment since the beginning of the year. Her son studied mechanical engineering at a TVET college. He recently wrote his final exam. He desperately needs employment to complete the practical component of his mechanical engineering qualification. The family desperately needs a second income. “Can you please help me find him a job?” she implored.

Two of the ladies were among the eight million South Africans, who registered their dissatisfaction with the current status quo by not voting. The third lady voted. The only reason I know this is she had a tell-tale marking on the fingernail of her left thumb. I do not know who she voted for. However, I do know she voted in Mogale City, which saw ANC support dip to below 50% for the first time.

Now that the dust has settled, the ANC, the DA, the EFF, and the various coalitions that have been created, need to focus on delivering on their election promises, but can they deliver on their election promises of jobs? Realistically, the challenge is too big for government to tackle on its own.

If government undertook to provide employment for 10% of the 3, 4 million NEETs (Not in education, employment or training) and 10% of the 600 000 unemployed TVET and university graduates, it could create employment or opportunities for 400 000 young South Africans.

If 800 000 companies each created an opportunity for one young South African, a further 800 000 young people could be employed. If each of the estimated 85 000 NGOs in the country, undertook to do the same, opportunities created for an additional 85 000 young South Africans. Collectively, these initiatives could create employment for, or increase the employability of 1 285 000 young South Africans.

Will the ANC, the DA, the EFF, and the various coalitions get the buy-in from government departments, business, and NGOs to create employment and much-needed opportunities for the youth?  Perhaps, one of the first questions we need to ask is: “What incentives need to be put in place to ensure that job creation and the creation of opportunities for the youth becomes a compelling value proposition for all stakeholders?”

The youth are potentially kingmakers in the next election. Creating employment and other opportunities would provide the youth with a compelling reason to vote; this could tilt the balance of power in closely contested constituencies in the national elections in 2019.  


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Carol has nineteen years’ experience as a professional writer, editor and case study writer. Her writing experience includes a stint as the resident Case Study Writer at the Wits Business School.

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