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South Africa's Youth and Political Participation, 1994-2014

Year: 2014
Working paper number: 338
Author: Mattes, Robert
Unit: DARU
South Africans hold – often simultaneously – contradictory beliefs about young people and politics. On one hand, driven largely by a romanticized memory of Soweto and the street battles of the 1980s, many people see the youth as the primary catalyst of activism and political change. On the other hand, driven by continuing media depictions of youth unemployment, township protests and the antics of the ANC Youth League, a wide range of commentators routinely experience "moral panics" about the apparent "crisis" of the youth and their corrosive effect on the country's political culture. In this report, we review a wide range of longitudinal survey data spanning the first two decades of democracy and find that there are indeed a series of real problems with South Africa's political culture, particularly in the area of citizenship. At the same time, these data clearly show that these problems are largely not peculiar to young people. Across a range of different indicators, we find consistently that there are no, or relatively minor, age profiles to most dimensions of South African political culture.
Publication file: WP 338.pdf