27 April 2019, Cape Town
25 years since South Africa held its first democratic elections, young people met in Cape Town to assess the involvement and the lack thereof of young people in the democratic process. Africa Unite’s Youth Democracy Discussion took place on the 27th of April 2019 in spirit of the public holiday, Freedom Day. The purpose of the event was to engage young people on their views about youth apathy in the democratic process, assess youth participation in society, and draft recommendations.
The Youth Democracy Discussion attracted young people from diverse backgrounds. Young people who are foreign students, human rights peer educators, teachers, academics and general youth from various demographics were among those who were involved. A representative from the South African Youth Council and Government Communications and Information Systems were among those who attended this occasion.
The Youth began by assessing the role or the participation of young people in the world and in the African continent. They began by looking at what defines a young person according to those who were present. They concluded that anyone younger than the age of 40 years is young person. It was concluded that this is the group we are talking about irrespective of gender, nationality, ethnicity, religion, or creed.
A representative of the South African Youth Council said in assessing young people we understand that they are not found in large numbers participating in the political sphere. Those who led us into the downfall of colonization were young people when they began the work. This makes it interesting for our generation now that these are the people who are in power and have grown to become senior citizens.
There are many other factors young people mention as the cause of youth apathy in democracy and other systems of governance. This includes education, culture & traditions as well as the lack of progressive networks. Young people said that culture plays a critical role in this issue. This is because the way most youth have been conditioned, they were taught that, if an older person speaks, you do not argue you must simply do what they tell you. This has made young people become less involved in decision making, as they do not want to find themselves back chatting older people. These cultural norms have even transcended into other spheres of society.
Young people say that they are not listened to, and therefor they are not interested in being part or joining something that will not amount to any change. They participate for instance in elections, but corruption, crime and lack of employment persist. Furthermore, young people like things that are interesting, and they then choose to go and have fun instead. This is because there is a practice of discouraging youth’s voices, where young people are told, and they must not ask questions.
They further added that young people also must not ask for too much if they are not involved in issues that are in their streets. They believe no one can take them seriously because that is where participation of young people must begin. Young people are also not very good role models, because if they are found within progressive structures or networks and are role models to the next person, there will be no reason not to allow their voices.
One of the participants also said if we can get young people to engage in their respective communities and country generally, then they would be able to open clubs in their communities such as reading clubs. It is in these clubs that we must encourage young people to participate in the democratic process. We must also go to where young people are found to engage them. This includes the places where they go to participate in their backward activities like popular areas of drug use – young people need to be engaged on these issues.
There are also bread and butter issues that cause youth apathy towards active citizenry and other community involvement. Young people often may want to attend these community meetings and be active members of society, but there is no food at home. Meetings do not amount to food or resources that young people and their families need. There are also psychological factors such as the ability to maintain active involvement while they live in bad conditions.
Young people raised the question of how do we unlearn the conditioning or education that led to young people apathy, when such issues persist today. For instance, there is a call for a more feminist society, however we still have churches and other institutions that say the place of a woman is in the kitchen. There is also the misconception that young people are immature and therefore they must be led and spoken for by older generation. The other issue is that the tools in place to encourage youth participation are not relevant for young people, they are not presented as social, relaxed and interesting so that they could appeal to the youth.
There are many other issues young people raised including the Eurocentric nature of governing systems and the corruption that has caused our continent and many of its leaders to be rotten. There is the imperial project that we need to be looking at. It is the cause of the underdevelopment of our continent, because our land is the richest in the world and yet we are the poorest people.
Young people said we ought to have more of these conversations where we are able to sit and discuss these issues in a more in-depth manner, so that we may find relevant solutions and measures that would ensure that young people are involved in all sectors of our society. These conversations need to be regular while remaining casual in conduct yet serious in discussion content.
- Young people must fully participate in activities happening around them and, in their streets, including attending street and community meetings
- Young people must be role models to the next person for them to be taken seriously and listened to by society.
- Young people must be allowed access and opportunity to participate in parliament and legislative processes and that must be promoted for youth to be aware
- Similar conversations must take place more often and they can be casual so that we can be able to asses ourselves and focus on the challenges and solutions for Africa.
- We must find value in ourselves, respect ourselves and see ourselves as assets so that we do not look elsewhere for a savior because we must be the change we want.
- Young people must oversee and take charge of the change, if we believe there is not enough of this, we must find a way.
- We must find another time to look at what are the biggest problems facing our communities and then focus on that one problem at a time.
- We must as a group of young people do something together.
- The government must send a group of young people abroad in big numbers to gain more insights and perspectives on education, entrepreneurship, development and come back and apply them here, at home.
- Young people must love active citizenry, they must open book clubs, youth clubs and everyone must part of a youth club and must be engaging in open discussions in the clubs.
- We must hold such conversation regularly, not in offices but also causally
- We must start to share opportunities as young people, if we see an opportunity we must share it with those we know may need it
- We must be concerned as young people about the old age of our parliament
- Young people must be involved in elections, youth must
- Young people must go to school
- If we are to end the high levels of unemployment we must put forward programs for education and entrepreneurship
- We must choose to be part of the solutions
One of the concluding remarks was that Africa Unite would email everyone who was present, and they would reply to that email to indicate their interest in similar discussions. South African Youth Council encouraged the youth to act small but think globally by first attending to the issues in their streets and communities.