Voter education is needed to encourage young people to vote
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By Thamsanqa Masingi
Why would young people vote for a system they do not understand and where they believe their vote does not make a difference? These are the questions we are asking at Activate Change Drivers, when creating a programme to provide civic education to young people.
As South Africa gears up for the upcoming Local Government Elections on November 1, we are fielding 213 election observers from our network of 4 500 youth, as part of our programmes to encourage young people to vote.
It’s a great initiative to get as many young people as possible to participate in a process that is ensuring it safeguards our elections and our democracy.
IEC materials are being used to train the young Activators, as they are called, as election observers.
I am, however, concerned about the short time left to encourage the youth to vote and educate them on the processes of voting.
We have produced a series of infographics, which we have distributed among our youth network which they will take straight to their respective communities to push information out as quickly as possible.
We also asked each member of our youth network to help five others register to vote.
But time has been short. We have to be honest about the reality of low voter turn-out this year, especially among the youth.
The problem is not young people, it is the lack of faith in the institutions that are meant to govern; the lack of civic education; and an understanding that each and every vote does matter.
Many young people do not know how to participate in local government processes so that they can advocate for change in their communities after the elections.
People don’t want to vote as they don’t feel there is enough of a reason. This is what we are trying to change by advocating for civic education in schools and other structures, with the help of other youth NGO partners.
There are a lot of 18-year-olds who walk out of high school not understanding what local government is or the three spheres of the government.
So how would they know that their vote is important?
We need to educate young people on the importance of voting and how the government works – from a local municipal level to Parliament.
Most importantly, we have to look at how we present democracy and why it is important for people to participate in the civic process.
We have a whole five-year electoral cycle in which work has to be done by the government structures – with input from communities.
It is not just about who gets elected on Election Day. Once those officials are elected, they have to work for us. We are the ones who have to keep them accountable.
Elections are not just about voting, but about what we do after voting. Politicians get away with things because of a lack of oversight. If you want to create the change you need to understand how local government is supposed to work for your community so that you can make an informed choice as to who to vote for – or even stand as an independent councillor.
We can’t leave everything up to the political parties. There must be participation from communities, and all of us need to be involved in this process, as active citizens, so that we know what is happening and can lobby to change things we don’t like, and for things we need.
*Masingi is the head of civic education, Activate Change Drivers.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.