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Give Unemployed Youths Electoral Jobs: South African Catholic Justice and Peace Commission

Logo of the Southern Africa Catholic Bishops Conference (SACBC). Credit: SACBC

The Justice and Peace Commission (JPC) of South Africa’s Catholic Archdiocese of Johannesburg is proposing the engagement of unemployed young people in the country to oversee future elections in the country by giving them various positions in the electoral process.

Peter Mpuang from the Johannesburg JPC office of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) was one of Church officials that observed South African municipal elections that were held on Monday, November 1.

Mr. Mpuang told Radio Veritas that people who take up positions in the country’s electoral processes are already in employment while unemployed graduates who genuinely need the jobs are left out.

“We know we have our issues and problems of unemployment of young people in general, and especially the graduates and so forth, we’ve got them in abundance,” Mr. Mpuang said.

“Young people especially who are unemployed should be utilized and properly trained to work in the electoral stations,” the JPC official further said, and added, “People who come to the station are already employed. They come to work with divided attention and are unable to focus completely on the electoral process.”

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The youth who lack experience can be trained on their roles in the recruitment process, he recommended.  

“The government must stop using people who are already in employment. We understand these people have experience but it is also possible to give young people a chance, train them, recruit them and make sure that they will be available to participate in this election,” Mr. Mpuang said.

He maintained that the employment situation among the youth in South Africa is dire, adding, “There are thousands of them out there. But they can be recruited and trained to gain something from these electoral jobs.”

The 2021 South African municipal elections were held to elect councils for all districts, metropolitan and local municipalities in each of the country’s nine Provinces.

Held every five years, this is the sixth municipal election in South Africa since the end of apartheid in the country in 1994. The previous municipal elections were held in 2016.

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Mr. Mpuang reported a low turnout at the voting stations within various voting districts in Johannesburg. The low turnout, he said, was especially seen at the start of the voting on October 30.

He said that there was little enthusiasm in some voting stations and that members of various political parties could be seen busy outside the stations, picking people from street to street and trying to convince them to go and vote.

He also highlighted poor training among election officials, with some staff in the process lacking confidence in their work on election day.

“It appeared as though staff at Edenvale High School, which served as a voting station, were only trained on one day in preparation for the actual voting day. This was obviously not adequate and efficient training as far as we are concerned,” the JPC official told Radio Veritas in South Africa.

He added, in reference to other polling stations in Johannesburg, “Some of the presiding officers did not show confidence in their work, especially those who had been placed at suburban voting stations.”

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The Church electoral observer however recounted not witnessing any sort of intimidation from the political parties. He said, “There was no chanting, there were no songs, there was nothing. Politicians and their supporters were just sitting peacefully, observing the process.”

Mr. Mpuang’s recommendation to South Africa’s electoral commission is to always prepare enough ahead of elections to avoid inconveniences.

He found it regrettable that the country’s election, which was to be held in July, had been pushed to November, giving the organizers a short time to prepare.

“Elections, in my experience, are planned two years in advance. So, there wasn't enough time because of the uncertainty that was caused by the pandemic,” Mr. Mpuang said.

He said that owing to internet challenges and the use of inefficient tools in certain voting stations, election results in those stations may be unreliable.

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“We need to make sure that we’ve got stable connectivity and stable and reliable machines. At some station, the presiding officer had to continually restart and reboot the system because it was not working well,” he said.

The JPC official expressed his appreciation for the involvement of young Catholics in South Africa in the country’s elections.

“I am immensely impressed with the enthusiasm of our youth, especially those in the Justice and Peace Commission because they are exciting involvement in community matters,” he said, and maintained the need to give the Church more space to participate in community matters.