With the 2019 elections drawing nearer, political parties will be scrambling to compile and rally behind their election manifestos. More often than not, however, manifestos are inaccessible and when consulted, are unreflective of the views and needs of young people throughout the country. It is because of this that Youth Lab has embarked on the South African Youth Manifesto project.
This project takes the form of a book and is based on research conducted through policy conversations that sought to unearth the social, economic and political issues youth would like to engage on the run up to the 2019 election and beyond. The book serves as an agenda setting tool that gives a neutral voice to youth issues and challenges political parties to develop manifestos that respond to and better engage youth as a voting bloc. The book also advances an argument for youth as political agenda setters in African contexts.
In 2019 young people will make up a substantial potential voting block for the national and provincial elections. Unlike previous pre-election cycles, the 5 years between 2014 and 2019 have thus far seen a surge in youth participation in political life. With the rise of movements like #RhodesMustFall, #FeesMustFall, the growing interest in parliament processes, anti-corruption movements and identity politics, young South Africans can no longer be described as politically apathetic. While many may be disenchanted with political parties, their interest in political participation is undoubtedly growing. Youth are going from the margins toward the center of political life.
Our political party processes in the run up to elections have however not effectively reached out to and taken youth seriously in election cycles. From throwing parties to catchy marketing slogans, political parties have treated youth as a low priority who do not need to be engaged substantively with the issues. Manifestos in 2014 and 2016 elections made very little reference to youth and the impact of their policy proposals on young people’s lives, at best highlighting youth unemployment as an issue. This however will be inadequate in the lead up to 2019, young people expect more from political engagement and have contributions to make beyond issues of jobs.
Given that more than half of South Africans are aged 15 – 35, and many of these young people will be new voters in 2019, there is a need for more intentional youth engagement and civic education that empowers youth before the election. Youth should be able to participate in setting the political agenda for 2019, whether or not they are part of a political party. This book aims to create the environment that does just that.