South Africa is a young country, with most of the population under 30. Many of these youth live in rural areas – often seemingly forgotten by the state until it’s time to vote.
There are hundreds of young people on farms in South Africa who have their needs ignored by politicians and decision makers. According to Statistics South Africa (Stats SA), 759 127 households with an aggregate population of 2 732 605 people lived on farms in 2011. There are 987 467 potential voters living in farms and aged between 20 and 39.
The young are a historically important voter base for South Africa, with as many as 78 percent under the age of 30, according to the Independent Electoral Commission. Young voters in rural areas can be a great constituency, but only if their demands are also heard.
The first thing to note is that there are still more people who are enticed to register. Another round of registrations is scheduled to take place from 9-10 April 2016. This is around the time when manifestos will be launched and promises made. How far will these promises be communicated with the potential voter behind the mountains? How will politicians convince youth on farms to vote for them when they have the primary education but no skills-set and are jobless?
These youths have an interesting profile: 52 percent of youth on farms have obtained educational levels ranging from Grade 9 to Grade 12. The majority of them are
unemployed, according to the StatsSA 2011 Census 2011.
The first major issue is joblessness. Although many of youth on farms are capable of holding contracts or being employed on farms, there are no jobs available. Mechanisation and technology have led to the laying off of many unskilled workers. Although this has led to many economic improvements, mechanisation and technology require certain skills training. This leads to the second issue.
There is a real need and want to be offered better skills training and study opportunities. These youth need to be better informed about bursaries, grants and courses that help them to get jobs or to start a small business. The government has compiled a programme document that ranges from education to health. Among such programmes are rural development, youth and women. Young farm-bound South Africans are interested in any information on these opportunities. Wouldn’t a political group be willing to listen?
One programme that has many opportunities is the National Rural Youth Service Corps programme. How do you apply and what to include in the application are questions that people do not know the answers to. The least they need is to obtain application forms.
Land reform programmes target potential farmers but women and young men on farms do not have the means to meet requirements. If given proper advice they can qualify for these programmes. The National Youth Development Agency has designed easy-to-follow procedures on its website. All these programmes are available online; not all people on farms have data to access it on their phones.
This issue of access is a major point that the Rural Legal Trust (RLT) aims to address. The RLT promotes access to rural justice by building agency for youth, women and workers on farms and providing them legal support in their endeavours to apply their rights.
We are developing and supporting 150 people from farm representatives from Mpumalanga, North West, Northern Cape, Free State and Gauteng. The majority of them are young women and young men.
Out of 150 farm representatives, Motlatsi, Thabang, Tefo and Mokhethi from Wesselsbron, Bothaville, Viljoenskroon and Zeerust respectively have broken the barriers of lack of information and knowledge to an extent that they are currently ward councillors. They have proven the RLT programme fruitful by disseminating further information to their fellow farm communities. They share whatever information at their disposal with workers on farms, youth and the unemployed who reside on farms.
Our work is only going to rectify so much of this issue. There is a need for politicians to step in. Campaigners know they cannot promise on site development in farms unless it is done or will be done by the state. Some farm workers would like to know about sectorial determination, safety, relationship building and health matters at work. They want to hear a campaigner who knows related challenges to the implementation of the determination but who honestly addresses or promises to address their challenges.
An honest campaigner on farms will tell farm communities about available livelihoods opportunities, placements and skills training meant for them. The campaigner should bring this readily available information to persons on farms and assist them to apply or to obtain needed information. The result will be support. Their parties will be voted for in the coming local government elections. Voters stay loyal to the person who assist them to address their needs. Ask Motlatsi, Thabang, Tefo and Mokhethi from Wesselsbron, Bothaville, Viljoenskroon and Zeerust how they were voted for by farm communities in the past local government elections.
You can do more than 78 percent only if you include potential voters from farms. Be wary though that the level of education, the lack of skills and the joblessness of these communities will impact how you are perceived.
Two million people is a figure not to be ignored. How much off-road canvassing have you done to increase your votes in the next local government elections? These young farm workers are our future but we need to give them opportunities now.
Buti Chakache is the executive director of the Rural Legal Trust. This article first appeared in The New Age newspaper.