With national elections early next year–2014–it is time to turn our attention to the voice of the future: youth. The youth voter registration rate in Western Cape has recently been very low. According to a Cape Times report, only 4% of “born-frees” age 18-19 were registered for the national elections. Africa Unite hopes to increase youth voter participation in order to see the nation’s youth contributing their voice to government service delivery in an effective and productive manner.
On Friday 20 July, Afica Unite conducted a public dialogue on voter awareness and human rights in conjunction with the IEC (Independent Electoral Commission). Present were over 50 youths from different communities around Cape Town including Philippi, Samora Machel, Atlantis, Manenberg, Hiedeveld, and Gugulethu. Africa Unite peer educators and an IEC representative facilitated the dialogue. The group discussed issues of political rights, identity documents, and the lack of enthusiasm from the youth with regards to voter registration.
Some of the reasons the youth gave for their lack of interest when it came to registering were the basic lack of information and sentiments regarding poor service delivery from the government in their different communities. The youth argued that the incompetence of those who held public office and abuse of public funds resulted in them losing interest in the political process. As such, some of them felt that voting was a waste of time.
Africa Unite shared ideas with the youth on why it is important for youth to register to vote. Without registration, the voting process is not possible. The Africa Unite team also explained why it is important to them to exercise the right to vote, noting political rights which are given to citizens. Political rights include their right to vote, right to form a political party, and right to stand for public office.
The political right to vote gives an individual the power to add his or her voice to the government. A vote can express the desire for change, and it is the elemental unit of a democracy. There was lively discussion amongst attendees on the meaning and ideals of democracy. However, it was noted that without using your vote, you leave the government in the hands of others. Africa Unite peer educators stressed that it is not only the youths’ right to vote but an important medium to have their voices heard.
Joleen March from the IEC informed attendees of the technicalities of the voting process. The registration age is 16 and the voting age is 18. When a voter moves, he must re-register at that address. A birth certificate is not a valid document for registration; a bar-coded or temporary ID is necessary. She said that there was a high number of youths who were not yet registered, and it is important for them to do so.
A crucial issue discovered at the dialogue was that many youth lack the proper IDs needed to register to vote. Even if a youth wished to vote, this often gets in the way of exercising their political right. In order to truly improve youth voter participation, there ought be a concerted effort to ensure that the youth have IDs at age 16.
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Africa Unite believes that this workshop was a helpful tool in increasing youth awareness of the importance of voting. Attendees expressed a desire to extend this sort of dialogue into other communities, targeting many young people. Africa Unite wishes to fill this need by providing additional youth voting dialogues in diverse areas in and around Cape Town. This is a worthy campaign which will ultimately lead to a more powerful youth voice in politics and the improvement of service delivery in their communities. Africa Unite hopes to work more toward this goal in the near future. So far, Africa Unite is organizing another youth voting dialogue in partnership with the IEC in Worcester.