‘The promises are empty’: South Africans vote, but the nation’s young people abstain in droves

“The promises are empty: South Africans vote, but the nation’s young people abstain in droves,” writes Max Bearak in The Washington Post. He cites our South African Citizens Survey (SACS) insights on how only 22% of South Africans believe the country is headed in the right direction with 79% stating that corruption is on the rise.

 South Africans voted on Wednesday, almost exactly 25 years after a long liberation struggle filled with immense sacrifice ended apartheid and ushered in a democratic era for all its citizens.

President Cyril Ramaphosa, widely expected to be reelected, cast his ballot in Soweto, the cradle of the struggle, where leaders such as Nelson Mandela and his wife, Winnie, once lived. Ramaphosa’s main challenger did the same.

But across the township, home to more than 1 million inhabitants, vast numbers of young people stayed home Wednesday, seeing no point in voting. Echoing an increasing number of young people worldwide, they said that democracy isn’t working — and that they weren’t going to vote now, or ever.

“The political parties all have one thing in common: They make lots of promises, and they break all of them,” said Lucky Gumede, 23, who lives in Kliptown, a sliver of shacks and homes wedged between a railway track and a swamp in Soweto. “So why vote when I can just chillax with my friends?”

The number of young South Africans registered to vote has dropped to its lowest level in at least 20 years, according to the Independent Electoral Commission. More than half of South Africans ages 15 to 24 are unemployed, like Gumede, which puts the country third from last in the world for youth employment, according to the World Bank.

Lucky Gumede and his neighbor Phindile Nkosi walk through Kliptown. Gumede decided not to vote, while Nkosi voted for the African National Congress. (Gulshan Khan for The Washington Post)

So Gumede hung out with his friends while a mostly older crowd trudged down a dirt path to vote in the morning cold.

“If you give me a job, then I’ll vote, even for you,” Toto Nophala, 25, one of Gumede’s friends, told a reporter.

Picture: An elderly woman makes her way to the voting station in the Kliptown neighborhood of Soweto on the morning of South Africa’s elections. (Gulshan Khan for The Washington Post)