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South Africa’s Youth Are Concerned About Democracy, Sexism, Corruption, Jobs, Basic Services, Illegal Poaching

South Africa’s Youth Are Concerned About Democracy, Sexism, Corruption, Jobs, Basic Services, Illegal Poaching

  • 6 min read

As South Africa celebrates Youth Day, the results from a sweeping pan-African survey reveal that South Africa’s youth have rising concerns about the future of the country and weakening trust in the power of democracy, while unemployment and corruption are considered the top issues facing the nation.

In comparison with the rest of the continent, South Africa’s youth are less optimistic about the future, with 50% feeling negative about the future of the country. Half of respondents believe their community is going in the right direction while only 30% believe Africa as a continent is on the right track, revealing lower levels of ‘Afro-Optimism’ as found elsewhere in Africa. Young people were more optimistic about their personal futures with 73% believing that their standards of living will improve over the next two years.

The African Youth Survey 2020 – a project of South Africa’s Ichikowitz Family Foundation – revealed that young South Africans are nearly evenly split on whether they prefer a democratic system to a stable, single-party system, and split about whether their constitutional democracy represents Western democracies (47%) or traditional African strongman regimes (49%) where citizens have little opportunity to hold politicians accountable for their actions. Only a small percentage (12%) reported having an interest in seeking elected office in future and similarly, interest in participating in political demonstrations (16%) waned.

While unemployment (23%) and corruption (14%) were considered the top two issues facing the nation, less than half (47%) of young people in South Africa intend to start a business in the next 5 years, making South Africans the least entrepreneurial among the countries surveyed.

Looking ahead to the next five years, youth specified that creating new, well-paying jobs (31%) and increasing access to basic services (30%) are top policy issues that must be addressed.

Chairman of the Ichikowitz Family Foundation, Ivor Ichikowitz, stated that, “While today we celebrate Youth Day, we must recognise and reflect upon the fact that our young peoples’ faith in democracy is being tested like never before. This country’s first generation born into freedom, many growing up with high-hopes in the power of the democratic process, have for years seen their priorities ignored and are thus disillusioned.”

“The youth’s key concerns of unemployment and corruption, together with disappointing levels of entrepreneurship, is a wake up call for government and the private sector to expedite efforts to generate more job opportunities. As the country is struggling to revive the economy during the COVID-19 crisis, the task ahead is very daunting and will require decisive leadership from all sectors of our society. We have much work to do if we are to stand a very real chance of making the dream of the African Century a reality for our people.”

Leading Africa On Inclusivity And Green Issues, Despite High Xenophobia

From the outside looking in, 84% of respondents from the 13 other nations polled believed South Africa’s influence on the rest of the continent is positive. The country’s progressive tendencies are shown by the fact that 64% agree South Africa needs to do more to protect LGBTQ people. This contrasts with the 69% across the entire survey who do not believe that the LGBTQ community needs more protection.

On a series of other key social issues, South African youth responded as follow:

  • 91%  agree that sexual harassment is a problem
  • 88% agree that more needs to be done to protect the right of ethnic minorities
  • 70% agree that South Africa belongs to all who live in it
  • 91% agree that everyone has the right to freedom of conscience, religion, thought and belief
  • 47% agree that South Africa is a non-racial and non-sexist society
  • 56% agree that in South Africa everyone is equal before the law
  • 71% agree that religious institutions are too powerful
  • 67% agree that the school system is preparing children for the future

While 49% claimed their identity primarily stems from their South African identity, 21% identify first with their race, revealing that racial issues are still present for nearly a quarter of young South Africans.

In a surprising finding, the Survey revealed uneasy feelings in respondents’ views towards land expropriation without compensation. An overwhelming majority of 81% feel that such a scheme will worsen the lives of those living in South Africa.

On environmental issues, 73% of South African’s surveyed reported concern about the illegal poaching of animals. South Africa also came in as the second country most in favour of ecological preservation (69%) as opposed to using land for farming, suggesting that South African youth are less concerned about arable land being fundamental to their future, a notion emboldened by the finding that over nine in ten (92%) believe that technology will change the fortunes of Africa.

However, with refugees and immigration serving as one of the largest issues in Africa today, South African respondents harboured the most anti-refugee sentiment on the continent, with over half (59%) of those polled suggesting that refugees have a negative impact on South Africa and should be sent home. No other country came near to reaching over 50%, with this type of attitude only registering as high as 39% in Nigeria and 32% in Congo Brazzaville.

A majority (52%) answered that the continent should come together to address common challenges. Indeed, 79% of respondents agreed with the statement that “the 21st Century would be the ‘African Century.’”

While 68% reported being familiar or having some familiarity with the values of human and citizen rights protected in the Constitution, over 30% of respondents expressed having no or little familiarity.

Ichikowitz added: “As the COVID-19 pandemic has grasped our society, we bear witness to an unsurprising South African resiliency and determination to together weather its storm. With accountable leadership, proper investment in job creation and by providing the opportunity for our entrepreneurial prowess to flourish on the home front, we can embolden the ambitions of our young people from all walks of life, and motivate our next generation to be the future flag bearers for a democracy presently under challenge.”

The inaugural African Youth Survey 2020 was conducted by global research and polling firm, PSB Research in an effort to develop the foundations for a better global understanding of this important demographic. 4,200 young African men and women aged 18-24 were polled in 14 Sub-Saharan African nations; Congo-Brazzaville, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Mali, Malawi, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Togo, Zambia and Zimbabwe.