LEAH KNOTT: I get why youth in Joburg don’t vote

OPINION

Wednesday’s June 16th commemorations and celebrations were a stark reminder that the youth of our country have the power to bring about great change. But where previously violent protests were the only answer to changing a repressive government, today, the only answer to changing a corrupt and useless government is to vote.

In 2019, more than half of eligible voters aged 18 to 29 (six million), didn’t register. In Johannesburg, this group currently accounts for only 305,725 out of 2,209,930 (13%) registered voters, despite making up the largest population group.

I understand why most youth stay away from the polls because I was one of them. I was 26 when I registered and voted for the first time, something I put down to a lack of understanding of how our voting system works.

When asked why they didn’t vote, most people said they thought their votes didn’t count. But in a proportional representation system, your vote absolutely counts. At a municipal level, you directly vote for your ward councillor, and then your vote also gets counted toward the proportional representative councillor.

In 2016, it was 104,044 voters that gave the Democratic Alliance (DA) 144 votes, to the African National Congress’s (ANC) 125 in council to assume government. This was a clear example that every vote does count, and can change government for the better.

I do realise that it’s not just a lack of understanding of the voting system which affects registration and turning out to vote. Unemployment and disillusionment with leaders are a far greater deterrent. If you have been unemployed for too long with few prospects for change, I know you aren’t going to believe in change through a different government.

The best way of ensuring enough economic opportunities for all residents is to make sure that your city is run along principles of non-corruption, efficiency, and commitment to quality service delivery. This will lead to increased investment through high levels of business and investor confidence. We see this in the Western Cape, which boasts some of the highest levels of investment, and lowest levels of unemployment.

Leaders who are constantly in the headlines for corruption yet get voted back in are another signal that the voting system seems to be broken, which destroys any motivation to participate. Again, no DA leader still in the party today is guilty of stealing public funds – if anything our mayors and premiers set the gold standard for the entire country.

To the youth of Johannesburg I want to say: please register and vote. If I can’t convince you to vote DA because of our proven track record of running honest, efficient governments, then consider the damage of not voting: Johannesburg and our country’s economy will continue to crumble, and you’ll be in my shoes soon trying to convince the youth to vote.

Change of government will only come through voting, and every vote counts!

Leah Knott is a Democratic Alliance caucus leader for the City of Joburg. You can follow her on Twitter on @LeahK28.

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