Young to snub Mbeki in poll

Posted in Other | 11-Apr-04 | Author: Andrew Meldrum| Source: The Guardian (UK)

Ten years after South Africa turned its back on apartheid with its first fully democratic elections, the country returns to the polls this week for elections that are certain to sweep President Thabo Mbeki and the African National Congress back into power.
But Mbeki's expected victory masks a problem that is troubling many of the country's leaders - large numbers of South Africa's youths have turned away from politics altogether.

Days before the third non-racial elections on Wednesday, it is clear that millions of young South Africans are rejecting the dedication to political struggle that marked their parents' generation and are opting not to vote.

'I'm not going to vote,' said Beauty Mogwe, 26. 'I grew up hungry and I'm still hungry. I grew up in apartheid and life is still the same."

At her home in the crowded Hammanskraal township outside Pretoria, she added: 'They say it is democracy, but we still don't have work. We are still poor.'

Beauty is a part-time house servant while her husband works at a casino. 'He's had that job for seven years, but has not moved up. But whites come in and in a few years start earning big salaries,' said Beauty angrily. 'My friends feel the same. Things haven't changed for us. So why should we vote?'

Fifty-three per cent of South Africans in the 18-25 age group have registered to vote, relatively high participation by British standards. But the youth lag behind the overall registration rate of 75 per cent of the 27 million eligible to vote from the total population of 44 million. Registration is lowest among the 18-19 age group.

The campaign has not excited the young. The ANC is assured of victory; the only question is whether it will attain the two-thirds parliamentary majority needed to alter the constitution. The campaign has been largely free of ethnic violence, unlike the first majority rule elections in 1994 when an estimated 20,000 people died in clashes in KwaZulu-Natal province.

Specialising in hip-hop, rap and kwaito music, YFM radio station targets the youth market and reaches 1.8 million listeners in the greater Johannesburg/Pretoria area. The station's young disc jockeys know their audience.

'A lot of youths are alienated from politics,' said Unathi Nkayi, 25. 'They have not benefited from education and economic opportunities. Looking at the past 10 years, they feel the government has not delivered on its promises. Even though they are not voting, their voices must be heard.'

Most of the young who intend to vote are believed to support the ANC. But in a recent poll, only 40 per cent of South Africans in the 18-25 age group said they believe Mbeki is doing a good job.

The young's complaints of are real. More than half the population live on less than $1 a day. Youth unemployment is higher than the national average of 40 per cent. Although the ANC has built 1.6 million houses, supplied water to 9 million people and built 56,000 classrooms, millions have yet to benefit.

Affluent white youths are also disengaged, unwilling to become embroiled in the political battles that loomed over their parents' generation. Walton Pantland, 29, is unimpressed with South Africa's politicians, except for the blazingly outspoken Patricia de Lille of the Independent Democrats, who had a very public HIV test and challenged all other candidates to do the same.

'Nice to have Patricia keeping those rats on their toes,' wrote the cheerfully cynical Pantland in Business Day , 'but hardly worth a trip to the polling station.'