Monday, March 2, 2009

South African Youth Prepare for Country’s Upcoming Defining Election

The upcoming election in South Africa is nothing less than an all out battle for the future direction of the country, and youth are to play a key role in the outcome. South Africa’s youth, falsely accused of political apathy, have emerged as a powerful new force in the general elections to be held on April 22. According to the Independent Electoral Commission, a total of 6 million youths under the age of 29 are now on the voters’ roll, compared to 4 million in 2004.

The African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) and the Young Communist League (YCL) have been active across the country to mobilize the youth to vote for change in South Africa. They are concerned with the pro-business policies of the last South African president, Thabo Mbeki, which they say seriously deteriorated the conditions of the nation’s poor and working class youth. The top issues among the groups include decent work and sustainable livelihoods, education, health and the fight against crime and poverty.

The first black South African president, Nelson Mandela, recently attended a mass rally in support of current ANC candidate Jacob Zuma. Many believe April’s vote is as important as it was in 1994 when Nelson Mandela was elected and ushered in black majority rule in South Africa.

The ANCYL, YCL and other youth groups see a golden opportunity in the campaign for Jacob Zuma to strengthen grass roots forces within the ANC. Zuma has been a popular figure among young South Africans. They hope that Zuma will advance the country toward a fairer redistribution of wealth, job security and affordable education for young people.

“The YCL will be going far and wide to campaign for the ANC, especially in areas where it is believed that the ANC is an underdog,” said Buti Manamela, president of the YCL in South Africa. “The youth vote will determine the president of the republic, and we will do everything in our power to ensure that Jacob Zuma is president.”

Although predicted to win big in April, the ANC faces tough challenges to the election of Jacob Zuma. A new party called Congress of the People (COPE) split from the ANC largely out of resentment at the way the South African Communist Party and its allied Congress of South African Trade Unions moved to oust then president Thabo Mbeki and install Jacob Zuma as deputy president of the party. COPE is comprised of more conservative politicians who support neoliberal free-market economic policies. COPE is running Reverend Mvume Dandala as their candidate, appealing to a more conservative middle-class base.

Jacob Zuma is likely to face renewed corruption charges even if he assumes the presidency. Zuma is under investigation for a role in an alleged arms racketeering scandal.
The ANC is hoping young people will still come out to the polls in large numbers to support Zuma. “Why do you want to subject him to the hands of the few, the judiciary, the judges and the media? Leave it to the voters – 23 million must decide whether Zuma becomes president or not, not the judges,” said Julius Malema, president of the ANCYL.

Youth activists throughout the country have been engaging in door-to-door campaigning to highlight the greatest concerns of the South African people: jobs, food security and the global economic crisis. South Africa’s major political parties are campaigning ahead of the April 22 national and provincial elections. A dozen people were injured at an election rally for Jacob Zuma in the KwaZulu-Natal province filing into a stadium designed to seat 20,000.

Mari Harris, political analyst at research company Ipsos Markinor, is confident the youth will come out to the polls in unprecedented numbers.
“In general, this election is far more interesting than the 1999 and 2004 elections,” Harris said. “Young people believe that this time their votes may actually count. This year we expect a higher voter turnout.”

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