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'Born Frees'- Youth Attitudes Towards Democracy Examined @ JMS

Date Released: Tue, 14 August 2012 15:23 +0200

In his lecture titled 'Born Frees: Youth Attitudes Towards Democracy,' Prof Robert Mattes observed that “South Africa’s embrace of democracy can be labelled as lukewarm at best,” and as a result voter turnout numbers dropped by 30% in the decade since our first democratic elections. "Turnout at elections fell from 86% in 1994 to 56% by 2004," he said.

The number increased somewhat in 2009 when Cope challenged the ANC, meaning that the ANC had to work harder and more people turned out to vote, but voters still didn't reach 60% of the voting population.

According to his research, Mattes found that only a third of South Africans actually support democracy. "Our country has a lower voter turnout than the United States, which is known to have slack citizen responses to elections. In South Africa, participation between elections is especially low," Mattes observed.

He said that in his research he discovered that very few people contacted their members of parliament or local councillors compared to other countries. And even though this apathy to government is particularly prevalent in today's younger citizens, this phenomenon exists across all generations of South African society.

Mattes identified five distinct political generations, each associated with an era characterised internally by continuity in social, economic and political trends. The pre-apartheid generation reached their politically formative years (defined by Mattes as the age of 16) before the historic victory of the National Party in the 1948 election.

The next group, the early apartheid generation, comprised people who turned 16 between 1948 and 1960, meaning that they have no working memory of life before the rise of the National Party.

The third, the grand apartheid generation, consisted of citizens who turned 16 between 1961 and 1975. The 'struggle generation' consists of people who turned 16 between 1976 and 1996.

Then beginning in 1997, young people who turned 16, 17 and 18 and entered the political arena with little if any first-hand experience of the trauma that came before are now known as the born frees. "Although born free, this generation faces the same - if not greater - levels of unemployment, poverty and inequality as their parents," Mattes said.

He believes that official race segregation has been replaced by informal class segregation. And while a small minority of the black youth have escaped to previously white schools and universities, the majority toil away in increasingly dysfunctional schools with poorly trained teachers who struggle to cope with the new curriculum and who all too frequently simply fail to come to work.

This youngest generation also confront other limits to their life chances in the form of escalating violent crime and HIV infection, he said. Is it any wonder then, that the post-apartheid generation are less committed to democracy than their parents or grandparents?

In a context such as this, JMS continues to press for viable media models where media and democracy not only coexist as functions of each other, but contribute to the wellbeing of both! 

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