A recent study by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) has pointed to worrying political apathy among the country’s youth, with 29% of those polled in the 16-to-24 age group indicating they were uninterested in politics.
The study, however, cautioned that South Africa’s youth was not alone in this regard, citing comments by University of the Witwatersrand vice-chancellor Adam Habib during the 2014 national and provincial elections: “Apathy … is a global trend. South Africa’s youth is no different than American, British, European or Indian youth. It would be unfair to call them apolitical as a whole.”
The council’s observations came despite recent youth public action, such as the recent #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall student protests, which indicated that young people were “very concerned” about public issues.
“Nevertheless, although these protest actions are testimony that youth do engage with politics and public issues that affect them, it is worrying that the protest actions are often turning violent and do not translate into the power of the vote. These protest actions highlight lack of formal engagements with the state by the youth, including participation in politics,” the study reads.
The research, conducted by HSRC researchers Yul Derek Davids, Tyanai Masiya, Jare Struwig, Steven Gordon and Benjamin Roberts, further revealed that youth who said that they had voted in the 2014 National Election were much more likely to say that they comprehended politics than those who said that they had not voted in the last national election.
Half of the 16-24 age group did not vote in the last election.
Moreover, those in the 16-24 age group were much more likely to believe that voting made no difference and were less likely to share the belief that voting was the duty of all citizens.
“It was also interesting to find that different educational attainment categories among the youth did report distinct differences in their self-reported level of political understanding. Roughly a quarter of those individuals with Grade 9 and below said that they frequently found politics difficult to understand.This compares favourably with young matriculates – only 13% of those with a matric said politics were frequently too difficult to understand. It would appear that highly-educated young South Africans were less likely to find politics too difficult to understand when compared to those who are less educated,” the authors noted.
Meanwhile, results indicated that would appear that young South Africans were just as likely to trust local government, the Independent Electoral Commission, political parties and politicians as those who are older.
“There are multiple factors that impact on youth level of political interest and knowledge. Their appreciation of politics, voting experience, level of education, trust in political institution and leadership as well as their specific age group all influence their level of political interest and understanding,” the authors concluded.