SA youth pessimism soars: Corruption and unemployment fears cloud future prospects

South Africa’s youth are feeling increasingly despondent as they approach the upcoming elections, with just 16% expressing optimism about their country’s future. Rising concerns about government corruption, unemployment, and other challenges have fueled a sense of disillusionment among young voters, posing a significant challenge to the ruling African National Congress. This sentiment reflects a growing disconnect between aspirations and reality, highlighting the urgent need for meaningful change and accountability in South Africa’s political landscape.

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By Antony Sguazzin

South Africa’s youth, a key voting constituency in this month’s elections, are less optimistic about the future of their country than their contemporaries in 15 other African nations, a survey shows. 

Just 16% of more than 1,000 South African 18-to 24-year-olds who were canvassed in February said they felt optimistic or excited about their future, with the negativity of the rest premised on concerns about government corruption, unemployment and the presence of undocumented migrants, the survey released by the Ichikowitz Family Foundation on Tuesday showed.

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The findings highlight the challenge the ruling African National Congress faces in retaining support 30 years after the end of apartheid. A number of opinion polls show the party risks losing its majority for the first time since it won power in 1994 as crime, a stagnating economy and a decline in services such as water and electricity provision drive voters to smaller rivals.

“South African youth have had enough. They’ve had enough of corruption, which they believe is hugely problematic in terms of their ability to start businesses, to have a proper education and to generate the life that they want to see for themselves,” said Ivor Ichikowitz, the foundation’s chairman, in an interview. “Unemployment stems from something and the youth are now starting to make a connection. They’re starting to say, look, I’m not able to get the education I deserve because of corruption, not able to get the job that I deserve because of nepotism.”

Undertaken by PSB Insights on behalf of the foundation, the survey showed young people in Rwanda and Ivory Coast were the most optimistic of respondents. 

The sentiment in South Africa, which was worse than in places that are contending with rebel insurgencies and widespread insecurity such as Nigeria and Chad, has deteriorated since prior surveys were conducted, the foundation said. 

Almost three-quarters of young South Africans said they felt that the country is going in the wrong direction, compared with 63% in 2022 and 50% in 2020, while 85% said they were very concerned about government corruption, up from 64% two years ago. The proportion of those concerned about unemployment jumped to 82%, from 70%, while those worried about water scarcity rose to 69%, from 43%.

Ichikowitz is the founder of Paramount Group Ltd., a South African defense and aerospace business.

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