Communications Directed at Youth Engagement Prove Crucial for South African Democracy

Communications Directed at Youth Engagement Prove Crucial for South African Democracy
2024 general elections. Image source: freepik.com

As South Africa prepares for the 2024 general elections, the nation finds itself at a critical juncture, particularly concerning the engagement of its youth in the electoral process. With Human Rights Day upon us, it’s imperative to reflect on past election cycles and identify strategies to bolster voter participation, especially among the younger demographic. It is an excellent time to investigate how invested the population is in this hardwon right.

In 2023, South Africa boasted a staggering 42.3 million eligible voters for the upcoming elections, with approximately 5 million falling within the crucial 18 to 29 age bracket. However, recent trends reveal a worrying decline in youth engagement, a phenomenon that threatens the vitality of the country’s democracy.

Statistics from the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) and various surveys paint a concerning picture. According to the IEC’s 2021 local government voter participation survey, only 45% of adult citizens believe the youth are interested in elections. Furthermore, self-reported registration rates among 18 to 34-year-olds have plummeted from 69% in 2005 to a mere 57% in 2021.

A recent Human Sciences Research Council report unveiled that a staggering 80% of the youth remain undecided about voting. This isn’t due to apathy but rather stems from disillusionment with current democratic leadership and institutions, fueled by issues such as corruption, unemployment, and load shedding. Gauteng and Kwazulu-Natal emerge as hotspots for this disenchanted demographic.

Concerted efforts are needed to reverse this trend. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok offer unparalleled reach and cost-effectiveness. With 66% of 18 to 35-year-olds sourcing their news from social media daily, leveraging these platforms is crucial. Moreover, political parties must reassess their engagement strategies. Empowering young people through political and civic education, inclusive decision-making, and fostering open dialogue can reignite a sense of responsibility and motivation to participate in shaping the country’s future.

One of the primary reasons cited for youth disengagement is the lack of belief in current democratic leaders and institutions. This sentiment isn’t isolated but reflects a broader disillusionment with the prevailing political landscape. Corruption, unemployment, and load shedding rank among the top contributors to this dissatisfaction.

Gauteng and Kwazulu-Natal, two key provinces with significant youth populations, exhibit the highest numbers of undecided young voters. These regions serve as microcosms of broader national trends and underscore the urgency of addressing youth disillusionment.

However, one significant area for improvement in current approaches to targeting young voters lies in advertising and communication. Traditional methods have proven ineffective in capturing the attention of this demographic, leading to a communication gap between political parties and young voters. To address this, parties should invest in creative and engaging content tailored to the preferences of young audiences. Utilising influencers, meme culture, and interactive storytelling can help bridge the communication divide and make political messaging more relatable and accessible to young voters. Instead of merely broadcasting messages, political parties should actively listen to young people’s concerns and aspirations. Hosting town hall meetings, online forums, and interactive Q&A sessions can create opportunities for meaningful dialogue and feedback exchange. This not only enhances engagement but also cultivates a sense of ownership and inclusion among young voters.

The 2024 elections present a unique opportunity to address the challenges facing youth engagement in South Africa. The declining youth engagement in the electoral process isn’t just a statistical anomaly—it’s a threat to the very fabric of democracy. By prioritising youth inclusion and empowerment, South Africa can pave the way for a more vibrant and inclusive democratic future. Let us reaffirm our commitment to building a future where democracy thrives and the aspirations of all citizens, especially the youth, are realised.

Written by: Serufe