The challenges facing South Africa’s youth are daunting. Youth unemployment has reached an all-time high of over 64% this year. High indebtedness plagues tertiary level students, teenage pregnancy continues to rise and desperate youth increasingly turn to drugs and alcohol in their frustration.

However, a new crop of young people are stepping up, putting themselves forward as prospective councillors in the upcoming local elections. Their hope is to change the future of their communities.

Tshiamo Makunye may receive a belated birthday present following the 1st of November elections. The youngest candidate running in the 2021 local government elections turns 18 just days after the poll. Makunye is contesting to be a ward councillor in Randfontein on Gauteng’s West Rand for the three-year-old African Transformation Movement (ATM). But he says his dream to represent his community concerns his family.

“It’s becoming difficult for my family because they say I must focus on school and I am doing so but at the other time I want to be in politics so that I can prioritise education and make education fashionable because nowadays when you look there are still issues of students in varsities outstanding fees. For me being in politics and understanding  education is to make sure that students are represented well and are given bursaries etc.”

Makunye has definite plans on his immediate priorities should he win the councillorship of his ward.

“Is to make sure that Randfontein Taxi Ranks are clean so to be healthwise I will start with cleaning up Randfontein and also building recreation facilities and sporting grounds for youngsters because what I have noticed that the facilities are old and have not been renovated so this leads to high school learners at the early age of 18 to start smoking heavy drugs grooving etc. This is bad, they need something so that they can be motivated and keep themselves busy.”

Kwena Moloto is another young person running in the November 1 elections. Should he succeed, he will serve in the Tshwane council for a second time, having first become a DA PR councillor in the city in 2016 at the age of 23. While he says he comes from a staunch ANC family, he joined the opposition party while at the University of Pretoria after witnessing the dire conditions fellow students lived under. He says he has escalated these issues to the local level.

“In my short time as a councillor, I have fought for issues of transport in Tshwane which has the highest student population in the country. I have fought for issues of accommodation getting the city to hand back buildings to universities, to institutions of higher learning. Young people have fresh ideas and every time a young person such as myself comes into this space we see change being effected.”

Boitumelo Thage is the feisty 25 old candidate running for the ANC in ward 98 in Tshwane. She is concerned with the high youth unemployment rate, crime in her community and substance abuse amongst her peers.

“I would like to address issues within my ward such as youth unemployment, drug and alcohol abuse and safety and security where housebreaking is concerned. I strongly believe in addressing unemployment through skills development programmes and empowerment programmes for unemployed youth as well as people living in informal settlements so that they are able to better their own lives. I believe it is important that we provide youth who are on drugs and who are addicted to alcohol to provide them with rehabilitation and employment programmes as well.”

The youth’s interest in these elections appears to be on the up, with the IEC reporting that young persons in the age category 16 to 29 accounted for 91% or over 400 000 of the new registrations during the September registration weekend. In the 2019 national elections, 46% of the nine million South Africans who chose to stay away from the polls were the youth. Moloto has encouraged greater participation for increased impact.

“There is often this idea that young people are not interested in politics but it is not true. I think young people are relevant within the current political space but I think the importance is for more young people such as myself to get involved in these spaces because the more of us there are the louder our voices are, the more of us that come to the polls and show that we do care and our voices do matter the harder it is for people not to hear us.”

LGE 2021 | Efforts to get young people to vote: Tebogo Suping: