This year’s local government elections could see many students turning their back on the ANC, or the whole system of voting, opting instead for the ”direct democracy” of protests, a political analyst has said.
“They don’t channel their discontent into voting for an opposition party – they rather take it to the streets and on the campuses,” said Susan Booysen, a Wits professor and author of Dominance and Decline; the ANC in the time of Zuma.
Her comments come after some protesters in the #FeesMustFall movement threatened to boycott the elections, which are due to be held on a date still to be set between May and August this year.
According to the Electoral Commission, current voter registration is 24.98 million out of around 34.1m people of voting age (18 years and older).
As many as 9.1m eligible voters are not currently registered, with over 80% of these under the age of 35.
Booysen said the ANC
is already struggling to get the youth interested in elections, and to vote for them.
She said students have been mostly non-aligned during their protests, rejecting overtures from political parties who tried to get in on the revolt.
The EFF appear to be the only party gathering support according to opinion polls, which spells potential trouble for the ANC.
‘No confidence in the ANC’
The test is whether the threat to boycott translates to mass action.
“Young people are the emerging intellectuals, the future leaders, and if there is a distant motion of no confidence in the ANC, it is a big problem for the ANC.
”The ANC has been getting away with a massive amount of unfulfilled promises, and young students are saying ‘so far, no further’.”
She said it would be a small step for the unemployed and homeless people to join the revolt.
However, opposition parties should not think they will be able to gather up disillusioned ANC voters, she warns.
“They [students] will rather take it to the streets and on to the campuses,” she observed.
“The deinstitutionalisation and deligitimisation of constitutional politics is probably the biggest winner, and that isn’t any good for democracy. I don’t think any opposition party will be a great winner.”
Institute for Security Studies researcher Lauren Tracey said the level of participation at local government elections is usually much lower than national elections.
Researchers think it could be because people do not understand what municipal government does, or that their interactions with councillors and municipalities has not been effective.
“They don’t see them as the go-to people to sort things out,” said Tracey.
However, it would make more sense for people to vote because it is a better way to get their voices heard.
“By abstaining from participating in these processes, it’s not benefiting your cause to try and change things in your local communities.”
But research is also showing that the youth don’t know who to vote for.
“There is a sense of ‘I am not going to vote because my voice is not heard. If I do think of going out and voting, who do I vote for anymore?'”
She said the youth have become disillusioned by people who forget their grassroots – the people who put them in power – when they go into politics.
Tracey said young people don’t have the same loyalties as their parents and believe they have a completely different struggle, such as the fight for economic freedom.
If political parties wanted to catch the attention of the youth, they should develop a younger look, stay more connected, engage with young people – and not only during election time.