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On Wednesday, the 8th of May, South Africans will take to the polls to participate in their sixth national elections since the dawn of the country’s independence some 25 years ago.
Voter apathy for the elections by the youth demographic has been worryingly high, however, widespread at the 18 to 24-year increment. One could contend, according to a recently-released study commissioned by the Ichikowitz Family Foundation, that such disillusionment from South Africa’s influential youth could even put the democratic processes that helped shape the ‘Rainbow Nation’ in jeopardy.
I recently had the opportunity to chat with Ivor Ichikowitz, a South African multi-millionaire industrialist and founder of the Ichikowitz Family Foundation, on the matter; on the state of the nation upon the backdrop of his Family Foundation’s disclosure of the study, its findings markedly shedding light on the central principles, attitudes, and ultimately, concerns of South Africa’s youth. Ichikowitz is the founder of the Paramount Group, a large South African defense contractor.
With political leadership in flux, Ichikowitz believes the ‘Democratic Experiment’ of South Africa and its future stability is being challenged like never before by the voices of those that throughout history have guided South Africa’s socioeconomic trajectory; its young people.
What were the motivations behind holding this Survey in South Africa?
Like many South Africans, I’m an eternal optimist – And I have always believed that the future of our country lies within the optimism and energy of our young people.
The Ichikowitz Family Foundation serves to provide a platform for their voices and has a long track record of doing so, while in the process promoting democratic values within and beyond South Africa – From the launch of our #IAMConstitution campaign, a national movement encouraging all South Africans to read and live the Constitution and what it affords them, frankly; what their rights are as citizens, to the holding of this scientific study.
Our findings indicate, for example, that an astonishing 21%, just days before our national elections, weren’t certain who they would vote for. Only half of the young South Africans polled participated in our last elections, with just 16% acknowledging that they would participate in political demonstrations in future.
When asked which word best described feelings on South Africa’s future, 42% identified ‘concerned’.
Our young people are not simply the leaders of tomorrow; they are the leaders of today. These findings as to their attitudes are indicative of deeper problems in South Africa, where trust in the political parties that serve our youth has reached alarming lows.
This data should be deemed a motivator; a ‘call to action’ to leadership in future. We were pleased to release these findings, which are the first in a series of Surveys designed to gather the information necessary to facilitate a better global understanding of South African youth and the continent’s youth at large.
Why in your view are South African youths so disillusioned as to their choices for leadership; by the democratic processes of South Africa at large?
Many of our institutions under this current system are on the brink of peril; South African unemployment is nearing 30%; our constitution is being challenged, and those challenges are salting deep cultural wounds of segregation, only compounded by our flagging national economy.
Across the spectrum, a real sample of our country today, our polling data tells us that young South Africans don’t have a political home, a place where their voices can be heard and responded to. They are therefore unsure of the decisions they should make to help reshape our country.
If left unabated, if left without a voice, in short, these people have the potential to make their voices heard in a different way, if not the democratic way.
We have tragically witnessed instances of xenophobia take place across South Africa; what do you think is the cause of this and how best can the country course-correct?
We have seen frustrated South Africans drawing lines in the sand. However, much like we’ve seen before in this country, we are drawing lines which may indeed harm, rather than help us; lines which not only divide us by political party, but by creed, gender, religion, race and most recently, ‘citizenship’.
The new scourge of nationalism that has thrived in so many other parts of the world now seems to have infected the South African polity, further emboldening the xenophobic violence we’ve witnessed in our country as of late. From Durban to Johannesburg, attacks against so-called African ‘foreigners’ from Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi, to even Nigeria and Ghana have been widespread, with victims having been accused of stealing jobs and running illegal businesses. Unaddressed, this prejudice threatens to undo the pluralistic democratic system that former President Mandela and other heroes fought so tirelessly to achieve.
South Africans must reflect on the past and the struggle to achieve true independence; this did not end with President Mandela’s election; it in fact, began. Contrary to expectations, incidences of xenophobia increased after 1994 – Between 2000 and 2008, at least 67 people perished in verifiably xenophobic attacks.
We must remind ourselves that our historic struggle is a collective one, a struggle that continues to evolve. For South Africa to become truly great, we must follow the example of Nelson Mandela, confront the transgressions of the not so distant past and keep to the path toward a more secure, inclusive and prosperous future for our country, and the continent.
Though the road ahead is not without its obstacles. In order to achieve this, job creation in South Africa will be paramount. This will require that we invest in ourselves, adapting the tools made available by the Fourth Industrial Revolution. We must nurture our domestic ecosystem for innovation, prioritizing technical education and guiding our youth to modern opportunities.
And it’s imperative that these actions are supported by a system that adheres to best practices of political and corporate citizenship.
How do you envision the Ichikowitz Foundation playing a greater role, in the face of both xenophobic violence and also, the findings of your survey?
South Africa’s future success ultimately hinges today upon an appropriate respect for our differences. In the spirit of social cohesion, we must consider the struggle for the resolution of past differences an irrefutable prologue to our present, as well as our future.
My Family Foundation is proud to play its role in making certain the historic lessons of past decades resonate for future generations, through artistic expression, constitutional education and diverse empowerment initiatives, bringing once more to the surface lessons that we ensure are readily available for years to come.
Indeed the release of these findings falls in step with the central objective of the Ichikowitz Family Foundation and heeding their reflections should not be an option for future leadership.
We must listen to each other and listen to the concerns of our young people. We might speak in different tongues, subscribe to different belief systems and adhere to different social traditions, but the only race that we belong to is the human race, and the only continent that we belong to is the continent of Africa.
Our self-reflection will beget self-determination. The elections present us with an opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to the same principles that President Mandela championed only twenty-five years ago.
It is incumbent upon us to recognize that while our present challenges are daunting, they are nothing that we haven’t already conquered.
May 8, 2019 at 01:40AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs