Youth Political Engagement in South Africa: Beyond Student Protests

"Youth political engagement has again come into focus during ongoing nationwide “fallist” protests led by university students demanding change in South African higher education institutions. In January 2016, the Minister of Higher Education and Training, Dr. Blade Nzimande, met with student representatives to present progress toward eight demands, including addressing financial barriers to higher education, inadequate housing, and exclusionary language policies. However, the following month his office released a statement condemning damage to university property amidst renewed protests. Despite this renewed activism among university students, findings from the 2015 Afrobarometer survey indicate little change in levels of political participation among South African youth (aged 18-35 years) in general. While half of young survey respondents say they attended a community meeting in the previous year, only minorities report engaging in various other forms of civic and protest action, including protest marches. Youth participation in demonstrations is higher than in 2011 but lower than the levels reported in 2000-2006. These results suggest that student activism is atypical of South African youth’s political behaviour in general and that any further youth engagement on issues of transformation in the country is likely to remain concentrated on university campuses."