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‘It is your democracy, own it’

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Picture: ANC – A packed crowd of ANC supporters, many of them youth, turned out to hear President Cyril Ramaphosa deliver the ANC Manifesto ahead of the 2024 elections at the Moses Mabhida Stadium. The multi-purpose Moses Mabhida Stadium successfully hosted the ANC manifesto launch and EFF manifesto launch in February, 2024. South Africa heads for the May 29 national and provincial elections with the highest number of young voters on the voters’ roll, the IEC chairperson says.

By Mosotho Moepya

As we commemorate 30 years of electoral democracy, we cannot overlook the profound contributions made by successive generations of South African youth. The heroes of the struggle against apartheid were not only found in the pages of history but among the young men and women who stood up, took arms, and fast-tracked the journey to liberation in 1976.

The 2024 generation now faces a unique challenge – to continue building the future and democracy for which others have fought.

Picture: Khaya Ngwenya / Independent Newspapers / February 10, 2024 – Left to Right: Deputy President Floyd Shivambu, President Julius Malema, and Secretory General Marshall Dlamini during the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) Elections Manifesto Launch at Moses Mabhida stadium in Durban.

Our democracy is not merely a system of governance; it is a dynamic and living entity that thrives on the engagement and contribution of every generation. Today, however, I wish to emphasise the undeniable significance of our youth in sustaining the vibrancy and resilience of our democratic fabric.

Firstly, our youth represent the torch-bearers of change, innovation, and progress. Their fresh perspectives, boundless energy, and inherent idealism are catalysts for the evolution of our society. In the realm of politics and governance, their voices must not only be heard but actively sought and embraced.

As the custodians of the electoral process, it is our responsibility, as the Electoral Commission of South Africa, to create an environment that encourages and facilitates the meaningful participation of our youth. This involves dismantling barriers that may hinder their engagement, whether they be socio-economic, educational, or systemic. A truly inclusive democracy is one where every eligible citizen, regardless of age, feels empowered to exercise their right to vote and contribute to the shaping of our collective destiny.

Moreover, we must recognise, as we do, that the decisions made today will profoundly impact the lives of our youth tomorrow. Policies enacted, social issues addressed, and the vision we collectively pursue are all intricately linked to the active involvement of our younger generation.

By fostering an environment where they are not only participants but leaders in the political discourse, we are investing in a future that is reflective of their aspirations and values. To achieve this, educational initiatives and awareness campaigns targeting our youth have been prioritised by the Commission.

A well-informed electorate is an empowered one. By equipping our young citizens with the knowledge and understanding of the democratic process, we instil in them a sense of responsibility and ownership in shaping the South Africa they desire.

The strength of our democracy lies in its ability to adapt, evolve, and inclusively represent the diverse voices within our nation. The active participation of our youth is not a choice but a necessity for the continued growth and prosperity of our democratic experiment. Let us work collectively to inspire, engage, and empower the youth of South Africa, ensuring that their contribution is not only acknowledged but actively sought in every facet of our democratic journey.

Our message to the South African youth in straightforward: To be the architects of your future, you must first register to and go and vote. Without these essential steps, your voice remains unheard, and your power to effect change is dormant. The Electoral Commission stands as your partner in this journey, extending a hand to guide you through the process because we believe in your ability to shape the South Africa of your dreams.

The digital revolution has provided us with the tools to make this process easier than ever before. In the palm of your hands, you have the power to build the future you desire, to check your readiness to vote, and to ensure that your voice is heard in shaping the destiny of our nation.

Our institution has done amazing work to improve the presence of young people on our voters’ roll. Successive research has reflected concerning trends of electoral abstention among the youth. Today, I am proud to report that, together with the student community across our nation, we have begun to reverse this trend. We are heading into the May 29, 2024 elections with the highest number of young people on our voters’ roll.

A detailed analysis reveals that Gauteng remains the most populous province, with 6.5 million registered voters. Young individuals aged 16-29 make up a significant portion, accounting for 42.4 percent of the 27.8 million voters. Notably, the trend of having more females on the voter’s roll persists, with women representing 55.2 percent of eligible voters.

Let us start now, today, and build our tomorrow. In the wise words of Nelson Mandela, our struggle icon and the first democratically elected president of South Africa: “It is in your hands.”

Mosotho Moepya is Chairperson of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC)