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Young people's vote matter in looming elections


Who can forget Zulaikha Patel, one of the symbols of activism by young people in modern-day South Africa. At age 13 back in 2016, she led a silent protest alongside her school mates at the Pretoria Girls High School.

Taking the fight against the school's policy used to police black hair, not only did the young girls make a bold statement - they got the Gauteng government to sit up.

This moment was very important as it signalled the tipping point needed to start a serious re-look into the policies that still kept South Africa locked back in apartheid days.

Fast-forward to 2019, it was not surprising to see Zulaikha's image used in a very clever awareness campaign by Brand South Africa, the agency entrusted with marketing our country.

Akin to the commendable work done by the IEC in attracting and wooing young people to register to vote on May 8 - the campaign was intended to encourage the youth to play their part meaningfully in our young democracy.

Young people are a key cog in SA. Their voice is of critical importance. The past few months have been very interesting to watch, just looking at how various political parties also did their bit to attract and win this vote. It is an influential vote with the potential to have a significant bearing in the results of next week's elections.

Unfortunately, in a country with over 57-million people and the majority of these dominated by young people - the news of a 47% drop of registered voters among the 18-19 year-olds is disheartening.

Most importantly, it will be very disappointing to see only 54% of young people in the age group of 20-29 years old casting their vote, as compared to a slightly better percentage from the 2014 general elections, which stood at 64% in the same age category.

Interestingly, this is the same category largely affected by unemployment. The vote from this age group would surely ensure there is progress made in this regard.

Young people should scrutinise political parties and what they promise. It is in this regard that the manifestos of these parties be questioned by our youth so that we ensure a deserving party takes charge of governance of our country.

Yes, 25 years into our democracy, a lot could have been achieved, especially challenges affecting the youth. Elections remain a perfect opportunity for voters to utilise to effect change and the possibilities it brings.

Any elected government is bound to be kept in check to deliver for its people - both young and old.

The activism of the #FeesMustFall is a case in point. The voice of the youth has never been suppressed. So, it will be disappointing if young people, in their own accord of choosing not to vote, are to take this rather self-defeating path.

Zulaikha and some of her school mates may not be of voting age yet, but surely their bravery is testament to how urgent young people want change and how much they recognise their agency in being catalysts of the very change. Young South Africans have a real opportunity to play their part in directing South Africa towards the future they want.

With a few days remaining before we take to the polls, they must just do more - persuade their peers, cousins and siblings to visit the IEC offices and register so they can vote on May 8.

The youth vote is important, we look to them as future leaders of our beautiful nation.

- Tshenkeng is the founder and managing director of Decode, a reputation management company

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