21/03/2017 03:52 SAST | Updated 21/03/2017 03:52 SAST

Parties Must Engage With South Africa's Youth

The zeitgeist of our time demands youth participation in the political discourse and the first steps towards engagement have been taken by SA students.

Nardus Engelbrecht/ Gallo Images/ Getty Images

The talk around the 2019 National Elections have already begun as political parties manoeuvre themselves around key issues and try to position the party as best they can moving forward. You might find yourself asking the question isn't it a little early to be talking about elections that are two years away? Absolutely, it's way too early. This isn't the United States where we begin campaigning 18 months before the election. Well, unfortunately, this is the new world we live in and issues that are affecting us now will be key to a party's campaign strategy.

In December the African National Congress (ANC) will elect a new party president. Whoever they choose will be of consequence to their hopes in the 2019 election. The two front-runners at the moment, Cyril Ramaphosa and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, represent different things to the wider electorate and might not appeal widely amongst the youth. This was a particular problem in the US elections last November as Bernie Sanders appealed to a youthful demographic and Hillary Clinton did not.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) and particularly the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) are able to tap into the youth base of voters a lot easier than their governing rival. They both have leaders aged under 40 who are charismatic and likeable for different reasons and who get their base fired up and ready to work with them. This is a key component that is missing in the succession battle currently taking place within the ANC.

The youth and millennial vote are going to be key for any party's aspirations of achieving governing power. Political parties are going to have to do all they can to entice the youth to come out and vote and it starts by talking to them and giving them a seat at the table now.

Many young people have not voted in the past because they have felt like their voices have not been heard by politicians who are part of an elite establishment. This establishment will have to start listening and engaging with younger voters if they seek to remain relevant. If the Rhodes Must Fall and Fees Must Fall Movements have taught us anything; it is that the youth are now engaging robustly in political processes.

The establishment can no longer fail to listen to the voices of younger generations and must allow for ample space to be provided for an intelligent, insightful and engaging political discussion over issues that are affecting the youth. The zeitgeist of our time demands youth participation in the political discourse and the first steps towards engagement have been taken by students all across South African campuses.

It is now up to political parties to ensure that they bring forth progressive platforms that are youth inclusive. If they fail to do so it could cost them dearly at the polls.