SA’s youth politically, economically disengaged

Staff Writer | May 19, 2019
Joblessness and political apathy among young people signal their declining engagement.

Young South Africans are becoming less engaged in the country’s political and socio-economic landscape.  

Their voluntary disengagement is evident in the lower numbers of young people registering for the 2019 election. The number of people aged 18 to 19 years registering to vote in elections has dropped by 47% since 2014.

In addition, young people are increasingly and involuntarily excluded from participation in the economy due to limited opportunities in the labour market, and structural challenges in the economy favouring high-skills sectors to which many are excluded because of their insufficient education qualifications.

In 2001, 18% of people aged 15-24 years were economically active. Since then, the proportion of people in this cohort has declined to 12.5%, in 2017, and 11.6% in 2018. This decline is also evident in the 25-34 years age group, with the proportion of people who are economically active declining from 34.0% in 2001 to 32.8% in 2018. Inversely, the number of discouraged work seekers increased by 66.0% between 2001 and 2018.  

This is symptomatic of an economy that is unable to generate jobs sufficient to absorbing millions of unemployed youths – despite perennial government undertakings to grow jobs. Former president Jacob Zuma once promised the creation of six million jobs in 5 years. Yet, unemployment based on the expanded definition for people aged 15-24 years currently stands at 69% (1Q 2019). 

Analysts suggest there is a correlation between high youth unemployment and low voter registration among young South Africans, indicating that the country’s potential to be an economic powerhouse and a healthy democracy remains untapped.    


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