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Youth Consultation on the 2nd Annual High Level Dialogue on Governance and Democracy in Africa: Trends, Challenges and Prospects
Theme: Enhancing Constitutionalism and Rule of Law in Africa
Written by: Gcobani Qambela Bokamoso Leadership Forum email@example.com Website: http://www.bokamosoafrica.org Contact number: +27766095973
Baxolise Siseko Dlali Executive Director: Masifunde Together (Lead Organisation) UNFPA Youth Advisor | RSA Parliament Ambassador firstname.lastname@example.org (www.fluxsa.co.za/masifunde-gallery.htm) Contact number: +27829788588
1. Introduction: “[Democracy] is the treatment of In 2014, South Africa will be celebrating 20 years since all people equally irrespective of the formal end of apartheid segregationist rule where how they may differ” – 18 year only the white minority enjoyed political freedom and the old male, South Africa. rest of the black population was for the most part nd oppressed. The youth consultation on the 2 annual High Level Dialogue on Governance and Democracy in Africa: Trends, Challenges and Prospects could therefore not have come at a more poignant time as the country starts to look back on the past 20 years to celebrate the achievements and gains made, but also to start thinking critically about ways to solve some of the most pressing challenges in the country which includes corruption, gender based violence and economic and racial inequality. In this short position paper we report on qualitative interviews with young South Africans from across different racial groups, genders and geographical locations. In undertaking the research, we were guided by a number of questions aiming to unpack the extent to which democracy has been consolidated for everyone to enjoy in South Africa: How has democracy faired in South Africa over the last five years? Do young people take active part in the democratic processes in South Africa? Is the rule of law adhered to in South Africa or are the laws modified possibly to suit the government? Do young people believe that elections in South Africa are free and fair and that elected leaders represent the wishes of the people? Are there constitutional impediments that limit the participation of young South Africans in the electoral and democratic processes in South Africa? The interviews were conducted in November, 2013 in a number of different places in South Africa encapsulating rural, peri-urban and urban settings. Many of the participants interviewed were not English first language speakers, in such cases they were interviewed in their home language (e.g. isiXhosa) with their responses being translated to English. In the cases where there was no direct translation, the closest version in English is provided.
Figure 1 Young South Africans completing youth consultation questionnaire during the youth consultation in November 2013, South Africa. Pic: Baxolise Siseko Dlali
1.1. How has democracy faired in South Africa in the last five years? Many young people spoke about democracy in terms of the South African history context of apartheid. They recognised that they now have political freedoms and lots of opportunities that many (black) people could not enjoy during apartheid. These include freedom of movement without having to produce an Identity Document (ID), so in this sense many were happy and grateful and felt they have democracy now as compared to the horrible past of South Africa. Many praised the fact that they now have access to things they would not have otherwise had 19/20 years ago such as (free) education, freedom of movement and freedom of speech which were highly restricted before. Despite these positive appraisals, some young people still expressed discontent and unhappiness with South African democracy in the past few years. A 21 year old man for instance complained that there are schools that are in a deplorable condition, clinics were still inaccessible for most people and yet there was no one accounting for why this is so. Some complained about poor service delivery and lack of accountability from leaders. Many expressed wonder in what ‘freedom’ means when so many people are still unhappy in South Africa as demonstrated by the many protests which take place all over the country throughout the year. One 19 year old said: “Democracy means nothing to me, some people see “Because we are the children of today, we democracy as something important but look it is not. There have rights that cannot be easily be abused is a lot of unemployment and whites still abuse blacks, and by anyone” – 23 year old young woman, also there’s [a lot of] poverty.”
There was thus clearly a mixed reaction to this question, on the one hand with many young people recognising that there are many areas where the South African democracy serves them well such as in the provision of services, housing and other needs, yet at the same time they recognised that the government is still not rendering services at a fast enough rate for many of these services have still not reached many people.
Figure 2: A young man completing the questionnaire during the youth consultation in South Africa, November 2013. Pic: Baxolise Siseko Dlali.
1.2. Do young people take active part in the democratic processes in South Africa? Young South Africans recognised that there were some avenues for young people to participate in democratic processes in various ways. One young man, a 20 year old, said that he was participating in democracy by teaching young learners about democracy along with the responsibilities and duties that come with it. Some young people said that even in rural areas there are organisations which are sent by the government to assist young people to be able to take a more active role in democratic processes. Another 19 year old said that there were many young people nowadays entering the political arena and thus showing that while they may be young, they are also capable and dedicated to the betterment of this country. Some other young people saw participating in democratic processes as a responsibility to get an education. For now the government provides education, so there is also a responsibility on young people to rise up and attend school (even though they still noted the inequality between ‘black’ schools and ‘white’ schools). Others however felt that there were very little avenues for young people to be able to participate in democratic processes in South Africa for the processes were seen as corrupt “Democracy is what makes me feel free in and that often one had to bribe the officials to South Africa, because after democracy we have things done or to be able to participate they have many opportunities” – 18 year old, alluded. Others complained that young people South Africa. could not take active part in democratic processes in South Africa because they do not get information about these processes. One 19 year old complained that they sometimes participated in community meetings, but were not consistent in attending because they go to school and do not always know what is happening in their community. What emerged from this section is that there is no very clear direct way in which young people participate actively in the democratic processes in South Africa. It appeared young people th devised their own ways to participate, although there were state sanctioned events like the June 16 Youth Day commemorations. There appears to be a need for more explicit and clear ways to inform young people of the various ways in which they can participate in the democratic processes. 1.3. Is the rule of law adhered to in South Africa or are the laws modified possibly to suit the government? Many young people said ‘no’, the rule of law was not adhered to in South Africa, and that this was not only in government but in society generally too. They said that people do not obey the law and that this is clearly evidenced by the high crime rate in the country because people are repeatedly breaking the laws. They stated that unemployment was a huge issue that was driving up the crime rate and resulting in people breaking the rule of law. Some young people felt that the rule of law in South Africa was abused and modified to suit the needs of those at the national level of government and not to help people at the ground level. Corruption was a theme kept coming up again and again and how the law -the respondents stated- was often twisted to meet the needs of the wealthy and politically connected. 1.4. Do young people believe that elections in South Africa are free and fair and that elected leaders represent the wishes of the people? Some young people said ‘yes’, they do believe that elections in South Africa are free and fair and that the elected leaders represent the best wishes of the people. Some mentioned the example of national youth representatives that they had in their local areas and who represented their interests at the national level. Other young people however expressed that they did not believe that elected leaders represent the best wishes of the people because as one informant said: “when they are campaigning
for election they will say that they will meet the needs of the people but when h/she has been elected they will turn their backs on the people.” Other young people complained that in South Africa the elections are not free because South Africans do not choose their own president, but rather vote for a political party and so the choice made by the political party might not necessarily represent the choices of the voter. There was also a sentiment that many young people do not have faith in the potential of the elections to bring any substantive change(s) to their lives so there was nothing motivating them to register to vote. 1.5. Are there constitutional impediments that limit the participation of young South Africans in the electoral and democratic processes in South Africa? Most informants saw no constitutional impediments that would limit the participation of young South Africans in the electoral and democratic processes of South Africa because as one said: “ democratic elections [which take place in South Africa] afford everyone the chance to vote and make his or her choice for the governing party.” Most young people mentioned administrative issues like young people who are unable to get ID documents and are thus consequently excluded from participating in electoral and democratic processes in South Africa. There were a number of reasons for this which included the inaccessibility of the department of home affairs in rural areas and hence some young people (especially those without money) choose to go on without having ID’s.
Figure 3: A school in South Africa where some of the youth consultations took place in November 2013. Pic: Baxolise Siseko Dlali.
2. Concluding remarks/recommendations: All the young South African informants interviewed for this short report indicated a strong awareness of South Africa’s history and what it means to live in South Africa nearly two decades after the first democratic elections were held in South Africa. Many of the informants were therefore incredibly grateful for many of the opportunities that they had access to today because of political freedom /
inkululeko. However many were unhappy with many issues related to what they perceive to be an abuse of the rule of law, constitutionalism and South Africa’s democracy. Many thus expressed a lack of motivation to participate in a number of democratic processes like voting because they did not believe that their contributions would be heard or that they would make a (significant) difference except to benefit those in power. There was also a strong sense of fear of criticising the government when it has already done so much for many of the young people interviewed. One 19 year old remarked that “ there is no leader who is one hundred percent faithful... as long as your grand-mother/father gets their monthly grant from the government you just say ‘thank you’ because your stomach is full because of these people ” he said. There were other young people who expressed a longing to have a new leader to experience how different things would be, but they had a sense that they could not do anything to change the current leadership in South Africa. There was a lot of concern amongst the young people interviewed that the South African government was not doing enough to curb unemployment. Many felt that this lack of focus on unemployment was jeopardising South Africa’s democracy because it was inadvertently forcing young people into a life of crime. There was also a lot of concern about corruption in the government, society and the private sector with people and leaders using public money for personal use whilst other people suffered. Many young people did not seem to appear to know which avenues were available to them to make a change in society without relying on the government. There was also a strong sense that yes, there might be corruption and abuse of the rule of law, but many did not seem to think they could do anything about it. The research further showed that race was still a huge factor in most young people’s eyes in how they viewed the South African democracy. A lot of the (black) young people measured their progress vis-a- vis what white people have. Many thus often asked how they can use their vote as a means to ensure that they too can advance in their personal lives. Ultimately however the overall tone was very positive about South Africa from the young people who felt that despite all the problems, challenges and possibilities presented by South Africa, many felt that they could see a positive future ahead for themselves if the problems of corruption and lack of accountability can be solved from the South African leaders. In conclusion we must caution that the study was very qualitative and involved a very small sample of young South Africans. This means that the views presented here are by no means an accurate measure of the views of all young South Africans. However we would like to believe that the emerging themes from the research include themes that many young South Africans would be able to relate to.
“I am not yet registered but I will register as soon as possible and I am planning to vote because I believe in democracy and I benefit a lot as I am a student and get free education because of democracy” – 18 Year old, South Africa. 6
Figure 4 Pic: Baxolise Siseko Dlali
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