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Using poetry, visual art, songs, raps and sketches submitted to #Slam4urLife, a social media competition encouraging young people in South Africa to respond creatively to the COVID-19 pandemic, this article outlines young urban people’s responses to the COVID-19 pandemic in South Africa through four narratives: shock, loss, survival and activism. Resting on practices of engaged scholarship, it draws on knowledge bases and collaborations in and beyond the academy to contribute grounded research on arts-based social media competitions as an effective method for encouraging and amplifying the youth voice. It does this by creating digital public spaces in which young people can practise civic engagement in contexts where this cannot be done in physical public spaces. In doing so, the article contributes to the literature on community-based research and youth in African cities from the perspective of South Africa. It also argues the importance of art-based social media competitions in creating digital public spaces in which the youth voice can be encouraged, legitimised and amplified in so far as these kinds of digital spaces allow for a kind of civic engagement not always seen by young people in the physical public spaces of African cities.
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