We are raising a group of young people who choose to remain blind, uninformed and apathetic because they are taught to believe that they have no power to change the situation they see around them. Learners don’t ask questions about politics, don’t have an interest in history and don’t inform themselves about current affairs – all because they believe that they are incapable of making a difference. Those who do have an interest – and make an effort to be informed – are often influenced by mainstream media, parents and teachers to only care for left-liberal ideas.
Collette Schulz-Herzenberg in her article Unpacking the ‘Youth’ Vote notes that population growth in recent years has created a rapid expansion of the number of young people in South Africa with 11.8 million eligible voters between 18-29 years. This group now comprises 35% of the voting age population. However, on Election Day only 6.3 million people (out of this 11.8 million) were registered to vote. This, of course, means that only 59% of all eligible young voters were able to vote in the 2016 elections. It is also shocking to note that in the youngest group of voters (between 18 and 19 years) only 28% of voters registered. These numbers raise concerns about the under-representation of the youth in elections, as the 18-29 age group already compromises almost a quarter (24%) of all registered voters.
This might be evidence that young people don’t know how much power they actually have – by simply registering to vote (and making their cross on Election Day), they already have a huge impact. Schulz-Herzenberg also points out that if every individual in the 18-29 cohort registered and voted in the 2014 elections, their combined vote would’ve comprised almost half (45%) of all registered voters. This, in comparison with their current representation of a quarter of all registered voters, shows the enormous impact the South African youth could have on the outcome of an election.
Yet many university students don’t go to the trouble to register to vote in municipal and national elections, because they believe that their vote won’t make a difference. They feel politics does not have a real influence in their lives. A survey published on Youth Day in 2016 shows that 24% of respondents did not want to vote or definitely do not vote. This survey was conducted by global market research company Ipsos and showed that more than six out of ten younger people between the ages of 15 and 17 said they are not interested in politics and elections.
This raises the question as to why so many young South Africans are disinterested and apathetic towards politics. Many students choose not to take part in demonstrations on campus for fear that their potential future employer will somehow hire a private investigator that will spot them on footage in a crowd of hundreds. And, in light of this evidence, label them as a revolutionary and a troublemaker. They will not be called for an interview regardless of their CV and qualifications, because it’s just too great a risk to employ someone who believes, and stands up for, their constitutional rights.
And this culture of keeping quiet and evading the spotlight in order to ensure a safe future for themselves is cultivated in our youth from a very young age. As children, we are taught not to argue. The facts to which we should conform are stated in the classroom: Our democracy is the best system without a question, government is the solution to all problems and cultural identity is the enemy. It is at this stage where innovative and comprehensive political ideas ought to be stimulated, yet conservative and libertarian beliefs and opinions are often smothered completely in young minds.
There is no platform in primary schools for healthy debates about real issues that matter. Having legitimate constructive conversations about current affairs from a young age will unlock potential in leaders, thinkers and politicians who have an authentic passion for finding solutions for problems in our society. We need to raise a generation of classical liberal thinkers who are not afraid to stand up and say that they have heterodox views; a generation who respects and encourages a broader view of the political spectrum. It is essential that we strive towards a classic liberal society in which different perspectives are recognised and considered.
The future of this beautiful country sits in classrooms every day and we need to empower them, invest in them and – above all else – we need to give them hope. Ipsos’ survey revealed that less than three in ten (28%) of South African adults believe that the country is going in the right direction. And it seems that this bleak outlook is shared by the youth, with only 26% of 15-17-year-olds and 30% of 18-24-year-olds believing the country is going in the right direction. Adults have a real influence on the mindset of the youth and it is imperative that this impact is used in a constructive way.
The reality is that a generation of conservatives have been robbed of their potential to think of powerful solutions for the issues they see around them every day, because they have largely been raised and taught by adults who dampen their spirits by reducing the word ‘conservative’ to an obscenity. The concept of conservatism: ‘to look after one’s own’, to cherish traditional values and ideas and to hold private ownership in high esteem is essentially not such a profane idea after all. Yet many learners will never truly know what conservatism, libertarianism and classical liberalism actually entail – other than that they are wrong and should be rejected.
The youth has been taught to be hopeless rather than hopeful; to make them the victim rather than the hero; to demand rather than to work. This is why we see that only one or two pupils out of a class of 300 in some of the country’s top schools show an interest in politics and dream of being a political leader who will make a difference. Too many strong young leaders never reach their full potential because they have no hope.
And this hopelessness follows a lot of young people for the rest of their lives. Many young leaders graduate with their 7 distinctions and become doctors, lawyers and engineers who leave their people behind to live and work in countries where they will earn more money, and where they believe there will be a better future for their families. They believe that the situation in South Africa is irreversible and that any attempt to make a difference is useless. We need their ingenuity and talent in our own country. It is imperative that we show these young leaders that there is a desperate need for people like them to lead this nation that has so much potential, but has sadly lost perspective. This is the only way we will truly prosper.
It is crucial to teach the youth that the future of this country will not be built on individuals seeking a higher income, but on a society that strives towards higher morals. We need to inspire youngsters to dream big dreams about South Africa and provide them with the tools they need to realise those dreams rather than to cultivate negativity in young minds. Because in a classroom today, the next president of South Africa needs to be inspired to take action.
Bio: Annemarie is an honours student in Journalism at the North West University. She is also the Arts, Entertainment and Lifestyle Editor at the NWU campus newspaper Wapad. She served on the executive committee of the SRC portfolio Media and Communication from 2014 to 2016. Her work has been published on websites like Maroela Media as well as numerous blogs. Annemarie completed her BA Communication degree in 2016.