Young South Africans Are Sick of the Status Quo

This Election Season, No One Is Fighting for Our Future—Mandela’s Party Included

As South Africans head to the polls this week, first-time voter Georgia Cloete reflects on her generation’s disillusionment with the current political parties. Election posters in the town of Tembisa, located east of Johannesburg. Courtesy of AP Photo/Themba Hadebe.

This year we celebrate the milestone of 30 years as a democratic state and the seventh general election in which all South Africans regardless of race are allowed to vote.

Our history is long, bloody, and racist. South Africa’s apartheid system lasted nearly half a century, from 1948 to the early 1990s. It was a system that suppressed Black South Africans and where the minority white population controlled political decisions, the economy, and society. The majority of the South African population faced systematic discrimination in all facets of life, including housing, land, jobs, and public facility use.

After 1994, and the election of President Nelson Mandela, voting became a form of power for Black South Africans. Elections serve as a reminder that our ancestors fought for our freedom and won.

This election I prepare to vote for the first time with no frontrunner political party championing the radical change my generation wishes to see.

I grew up in Cape Town, the second-largest city in South Africa, located in the southernmost part of the country. It is the second largest urban destination in South Africa, with more than a million international tourists annually. To the world, Cape Town is this picturesque city known for its natural beauty. To me, the mountain is just a backdrop from my yard. From my vantage point, I see disadvantage: young kids not being able to go to school because their parents aren’t able to care for them, becoming what they grew up believing they should be—gangsters. To me, Cape Town is potholes and small shacks that fuel wildfires in summer.

And when I look at South Africa as a whole country, I do not see freedom. I see Black children in poverty and rampant unemployment, especially for young people. I see unpunished gender-based violence and rising economic inequality. I don’t see freedom in a country where the working class isn’t able to afford basic needs because of inflation and rising food prices.

So, are we really free, or have we wasted our hard-won freedom?

In the sixth grade, my school dedicated a whole term to learning about Nelson Mandela. We read about his fight for Black South Africa and how he helped end apartheid, his 1990 release from prison after 27 years, his years as head of the African National Congress (ANC) Party, and his 1994 inauguration as South Africa’s first Black president. After one term he resigned from the ANC, stepped down as president, and transferred leadership to his successor. Even after his death in 2013, his legacy lives on with Mandela Day. That’s a public holiday, celebrated on Mandela’s birthday, July 18, when people do at least 67 minutes of community service—one for each of his 67 years in public life.

This election I prepare to vote for the first time with no frontrunner political party championing the radical change my generation wishes to see.

The ANC has been in power for the last 30 years, with five different leaders. The party once represented unity and freedom for all South Africans and a promise of foundational change. Instead, it delivered elite corruption that sent the country into a steady decline. The ANC has crippled the country’s economy, loadshedding leaves households without electricity for up to six hours a day, and unemployment is at all-time highs. Even with free healthcare and medication, the country is still battling to contain the spread of HIV and tuberculosis.

For older generations, the ANC has always been a beacon of hope. They had a front-row seat to all the bloodshed and inequality of the apartheid system. Their emotional ties to the party are rooted in experiencing freedom after years of being oppressed.

As young people, we have seen the ANC steal the very resources we are supposed to use to build a future. Many young South Africans believe if the ANC wins the 2024 elections the country will burn, and we will be left with nothing but ashes.

When I look beyond the ANC to the other opposition parties, there isn’t much to consider voting for them.

This election, former President Jacob Zuma surprised South Africans when he announced he would helm a new political party, uMkhonto weSizwe Party (MK Party). Zuma was charged with corruption in 2005, when he and a close colleague, businessman Schabir Shaik, took bribes from a French arms company. He stole billions from South African taxpayers and was accused of fraud, corruption, racketeering, money laundering, and rape. He was released after two months of a 15-month term on medical parole.

The Democratic Alliance (DA)—founded in 2000 through the merging of multiple parties—is a centrist, majority-white party, and the second largest. It has been ruling the Western Cape province since 2009. Its leadership is comprised of mostly white politicians. The DA’s main goal is to bring down the ANC they see South Africa as a place they need to “rescue” from the ANC and their corruption. They’ve shown blatant disrespect to the people they want to “rescue” by paying for an advert that shows the burning of the national flag—a flag that represents unity and the “rainbow nation,” a representation of all the cultures and nations in South Africa.

The DA is also openly supporting Israel, a matter that weighs heavily on many South Africans’ hearts and minds, who, like me, think Israel is committing genocide in Gaza. DA leaders have made high-profile trips to Israel, including a 2017 journey when Mmusi Maimane (former DA leader), Geordin Hill-Lewis (now mayor of Cape Town), John Steenhuisen (current DA leader), and Michael Baigram (DA parliament member) met Israeli president Isaac Herzog. The DA also suppresses pro-Palestine speech: In January 2024 law enforcement painted over a mural of the Palestinian flag, including the words “we stand with Palestine,” in the Lavender Hill neighborhood of Cape Town, citing permit issues. Though it has issued a statement in support of a two-state solution in Israel/Palestine, the DA has made no mention of genocide in Gaza, even after South Africa took Israel to the International Court of Justice. Many South Africans see this—genocide, oppressive laws, policies, and practices that segregate Palestinians from Israelis—as a reflection of what our parents, grandparents, and ancestors went through during apartheid and the Boer War. It is also a clear indication that the world is still so unequal, and that human rights only matter to those who have powerful influence.

Other smaller parties like Action SA, BOSA, SNP, ISANCO, UIM, VF PLUS, RISE Mzansi, and IFP also stand with the DA and their policies. They believe that South Africa doesn’t need fundamental change but only improvement. This type of incrementalism is unacceptable to my generation. We see it as just another way of maintaining the status quo.

So, who is fighting for my generation’s future?

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) is the third-largest political party in South Africa. The party was formed in 2013 by former ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema and the former ANC Youth League spokesperson Floyd Shivambu. In 2015, the EFF was one of the biggest supporters against the #feesmustfall movement, which was the largest student protest in South Africa, fighting for free education for students who can’t afford higher education. Its 2024 political manifesto was the best by any political party. With clear goals for job creation, the energy crisis, and bold ideas like establishing a state-owned housing and infrastructure company, it seeks to create about 4 million jobs. The party also wants to open borders, a position many South Africans unfortunately think will create a rise in xenophobia and strain an already unstable economy.

I only have one semester left at the University of the Western Cape. I’ve seen the struggles of my fellow students; I’ve seen the struggles of the people in my neighborhood; I’ve seen the struggles of people who have the same skin color as mine all over South Africa. We all have witnessed how incompetent our leaders are and how ordinary people suffer.

So this is what I face in this election: balancing the fact that so many major parties are only fueling their own agendas with the need to keep some faith in an already-broken government.


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