Youth’s participation in politics is important

Innocent Mujeri

On 30 May 1998, South Africa’s first democratically elected President; Nelson Mandela received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Kwa Zulu Natal. On that day, he extensively spoke on youth participation in politics. President Mandela was quoted saying, ‘the future belongs to our youth. As some of us near the end of our political careers, younger people must take over.

They must seek and cherish the most basic condition for peace, namely unity in our diversity, and find lasting ways to that goal’. President Mandela was correct in advocating for youth participation in politics as political systems to be representative; all parts of society must be included. It is a known fact that when young people are disenfranchised or disengaged from political processes, a significant portion of the population has little or no voice or influence in decisions that affect group members’ lives. A key consequence is the undermining of political systems’ representativeness.

For our country’s political system to make a difference in the longer term, it is essential that young people across the country are engaged in formal political processes and have a say in formulating today’s and tomorrow’s politics. The young people must, however, not engage in divisive, destructive and archaic politics but must get into politics while possessed with a spirit of patriotism. Again, inclusive political participation is not only a fundamental political and democratic right but also is crucial to building stable and peaceful societies and developing policies that respond to the specific needs of younger generations. For young people to be adequately represented in political institutions, processes, and decision-making, and in particular in elections, they must know their rights and be given the necessary knowledge and capacity to participate in a meaningful way at all levels. This is the reason I salute the Second Republic as it has opened the political space for the youths to freely participate. President Mnangagwa has infused new blood, the likes of Kirsty Coventry, Tinoda Machakaire, Mangaliso Ndlovu, among many others, into his Cabinet. This shows that he values and respects youths’ participation in politics.

The major reason why youths should be accommodated in political issues is that when there are obstacles to participating in formal, institutionalized political processes, young people can rapidly feel disempowered. Many youths will then tend to believe that their voices are not going to be heard or that they will not be taken seriously even if they are heard. The problem becomes circular as politicians may lose interest in responding to the aspirations of young people if they cannot win their votes. This in turn leads to young people being increasingly excluded from taking part in decision-making, or in debates about key socio-economic and political issues, despite their sensitivity to the demands for social equity and justice, environmental protection and cultural diversity. Thus in a country like Zimbabwe, the inclusion of young people in formal political processes is important from the start because young people’s active political contributions can bring democratic values to life, leading to the development of the country.

The youths are an integral part of any nation and their vibrancy steers growth in many areas of human endeavour. This is why the New Dispensation always works with them in order to grow the country's economy and make lives better for the rest of the citizens. It cannot be doubted that there is so much untapped potential among the youth in the country that requires harnessing, for the benefit of our communities. This is why President Mnangagwa has continued to assure the youths that his Government would believe in them and would join hands with them in moving this country forward. President Mnangagwa has since acknowledged that one of the greatest assets that God has blessed us with as a country is our youth but this resource is not fully realised by others because they lack the passion and the vision to do so.

In order to make the youths achieve their goals and live their dreams to the maximum, President Mnangagwa and his Government has promoted policies such as education for all regardless of their backgrounds, jobs for the youths in order for them to support each other and their families, and lastly but not the least, better conditions of service for all of them. Our youths are capable and willing to participate in many political and economic activities in the country and this is why the Government will work with them by equipping them with necessary skills and opportunities at an early age. As the country goes for elections this year, the youths should know that they are an integral part of the society and they should cast their votes to preserve our cultures, defeat neo colonialism and safeguard the country’s independence.