NASTASSIA ARENDSE: Apathy has long been thought to be the cause of low voter turnout among young South Africans. New research by the Institute of Security Studies reveals that the real reason why many may not have been at the polls yesterday. Lauren Tracey, researcher at the Institute of Security Studies, joins us. Lauren, take us through the overview of the actual reports, what kind of insights did you gather?
LAUREN TRACEY: The report that we did was basically to try and understand the voting behaviour amongst young South Africans, particularly those between the ages of 18 and 24 years old, who are our first-time voters, and are a very important part of the electorate. So we basically went out to various educational institutions, we went to public high schools, independent high schools, FET colleges and universities, and we spoke to a little over 2000 young people, just trying to find out what the factors are that would either let them go out and vote or deter them from going out and taking part in the local government elections. We found various reasons behind why young people are not going out to vote during an election period, these reasons ranged between their frustrations with regard to the socio-economic challenges that they continue to face, such as unemployment, corruption, particularly as it relates to the political elite, poor education and poor infrastructure and poor service delivery in their communities. So these are some of the interesting findings that came out of our research study.
NASTASSIA ARENDSE: I know that social media, especially Twitter, has been such a tool over the years, where young people voice their concerns. When you looked at the backgrounds of these young participants, was social media a tool that they could use in order to address their issues?
LAUREN TRACEY: Yes, definitely, when we had our discussions young people would often refer to a social media site such as Facebook and Twitter, as platforms that they use to engage either their peers on or just to find out information around what’s happening in the county at the moment, to stir debate with people around issues that concern them or to address challenges that they face within their communities. So these are definitely platforms that young people are using to communicate their frustrations or just to debate on politics in general and whether they will be voting or not.
NASTASSIA ARENDSE: In terms of those who are not urban based, where access to the internet or just technology is a little bit difficult and they’re not necessarily using Twitter at the level, which our urban youth is using, what sort of mechanisms were they participating in in order to address their concerns?
LAUREN TRACEY: When we spoke to youth in rural areas they often said to us that they weren’t necessarily aware of voter education programmes that you would often see on social media or TV advertisements or things around the elections. I think because they didn’t have access to those kinds of platforms, so they often felt alienated in that sense. Unless political parties came out and canvassed in their community or in their area or they by some chance came across it on the radio, sometimes they did mention television, those were the platforms where they would access that type of information, not necessarily social media.
NASTASSIA ARENDSE: You and I are both aware that last year we had #FeesMustFall protests and it went on for quite some time, where young people took to the streets. Do you think in your engagements with young participants that they find that taking to the streets and protesting is perhaps one of the only ways that their voices can be heard?
LAUREN TRACEY: When we spoke to the young people during our research studies they did mention feeling alienated from formal democratic processes and this would often result in them rather taking to the streets and engaging in protest action or a demonstration because they felt that this was the best way that they could get their challenges addressed, that this was something that would get government active almost immediately, as opposed to going and participating at the time of an election and voting, where it would generally take quite a long time for those issues to get addressed. So as you mentioned, the #FeesMustFall, #RhodesMustFall movement we’ve seen how young people are engaging more on these types of platforms to get their voices heard because they don’t believe they can do that in formal democratic processes such as the elections.
NASTASSIA ARENDSE: In terms of the challenges that they go through you mentioned education and unemployment, in your engagements do they provide solutions or workable options that they think, in their opinion, would work for them and if so, what are some of those solutions that they are suggesting?
LAUREN TRACEY: Interestingly not, they stated that they have these concerns, they didn’t necessarily have solutions as to how they were going to be addressed. For example, with regard to unemployment they would often say that government needs to do more, government needs to provide more jobs, so that when we finish our education or when we graduate from high school, FET college or university we will have jobs. In terms of poor education, again it was government is failing us where education is concerned, they need to start bettering the education system. Corruption, they wanted political leaders to be held accountable but they didn’t necessarily, as I stated, have solutions as to how this would be done, how it would come about.
NASTASSIA ARENDSE: Now I can imagine that you are going to be engaging in another survey of this kind, another report of this kind just before we get to the national elections, in terms of the kind of feedback you expect to get, do you think you’ll get a different story or more or less the same story as to why they may not be participating in the national elections in the future?
LAUREN TRACEY: We definitely want to take this study forward and do it for the national elections coming up, so that’s definitely the future goal with regard to this research study. We are seeing that there is a shift in the political landscape, so that will probably be one of the key differences that we see if we do go out and do this research study for the next 2019 national elections. So yes that’s a change that we could see with regard to the research study but with regard to the other concerns that young people mentioned, I’m not too sure how much change in their responses we would see, particular with regard to unemployment, poor infrastructure, poor education, maybe corruption as well. In the lead-up to the 2019 elections that’s still quite a short period to get those concerns or social economic challenges addressed.
NASTASSIA ARENDSE: Lauren, we’ll have to leave it there, thank you so much for your time.
LAUREN TRACEY: Thank you for having me.
NASTASSIA ARENDSE: That was Lauren Tracey, researcher at the Institute of Security Studies.
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