by Puleng Matsaneng
For many people in South Africa the word “democracy” elicits very mixed emotions. For many people who voted for the first democratic government in 1994, it was an experience of pure joy. For some of the people it was filled with pain – perhaps it was painful to acknowledge that everyone was now equal under the same laws and no one would be discriminated against anymore. The picture that comes to mind is one of the Israelites and the Egyptians. Those in power hoping to hold on to control over the powerless!
The people that welcomed the new democracy were able to embrace it fully and were filled with hope. We somehow felt stable during those early years of democracy. There was a sense that we knew what we were doing. Everything we did or desired was filled with optimism.
We found ourselves visiting the polls every 5 years to cast our votes in the ballot box. It felt perfectly normal. Now it is a part of life in South Africa. When people said they weren’t voting, we would pull out our history books to show them the value of visiting the ballot box and marking an “X” next to your chosen party.
However, I have discovered that this storyline is no longer working for the youth. It is the storyline for those of us who experienced Apartheid and for us it has meaning. Yet even those who were around then, are feeling angered and disillusioned by this story.
So where have we gone wrong? What do we say to the youth, who don’t identify with this adult storyline? Should we continue to share this story with them? Six million or perhaps more young people haven’t registered with the Independent Electoral Commission to vote in the upcoming elections scheduled for 8 May. These are the people who will be around and who we trust to care for South Africa’s well-being in the future.
They share valuable thoughts though about why they haven’t registered. They see the current system as not collaborating with them. There are unfulfilled promises about finding jobs. They ask, “Are we then in need of them because we want their favour?” “Who wants to be treated like that? Nobody.” Even the National Youth Development Agency, which supposedly was set up to help the youth establish small businesses, is unable to meet the demand or needs of young people.
I believe that South Africa has one of the best constitutions in the world. The constitution is inclusive, it doesn’t hold any emotional connotations. Maybe as leaders and adults in our communities we need to be honest and respond to the cry of young people. How can we collaborate with the youth in a better way?
St Ignatius, in his Spiritual Exercises sees the link between God and people as a relationship. If we build relationships with young people we will be able to collaborate and journey with them in ways that are appropriate and not self-fulfilling. This will help us to become better people.
What is my commitment now? I commit to have conversations that would help young people to make better decisions; to see the value of registering so that they are able to vote.
Do you want to commit to this too? Please say “Yes!” Encourage those who have not registered to register and make their mark. It’s not too late! Register at your local Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) office.