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By Chulumanco Mahamba

Digital Night Supervisor

2024 Elections: Will South Africa’s youth show up in numbers to vote?

Will South Africa's youth show up to vote in the upcoming general election?

In the lead-up to the general election, a pivotal question remains: will South Africa’s youth turn out to vote, and if not, why?

On 29 May, South Africans will leave their homes with their IDs to cast their votes in the seventh democratic general election.

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However, given how important this year’s elections are, there is a lingering question about how the youth of South Africa will turn out and, if not, why.

As of April 2024, the majority of 6.81 million registered were between the ages of 30 and 39, which accounted for almost 25 percent of the total, according to the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC)’s statistics.

The 18–19-year-olds amounted to 563 075 voters registered, making them the age group with the least number of registrations, at about two percent of the total. The 20 to 29-year-olds amounted to 4.41 million registered, which accounted for almost 16 percent of the total.

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Duped into registering?

During the voter registration period, some young South Africans also found themselves in a situation where they were seemingly tricked into registering.

In February, beauty influencer and YouTuber Kay Yarms, real name Khethokuhle Ngonyama, hilariously duped her followers after she shared that she had a new video up on her channel.

However, when her followers clicked the link to watch the new vlog, they ended up on the IEC’s home page to register to vote.

Elections 2024: Will South Africa's youth show up in numbers to vote?
Picture: Instagram Story Screenshot

One of her followers responded to her Instagram Story and said, “You really tricked us here, but thank you now I’m fully registered thanx to you.”

The follower was not the only one, as the beauty influencer received several other messages from her followers who registered.

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Ngonyama was praised by social media for using her influence to encourage her followers and subscribers, who are mostly youth, to register.

‘Broken promises’

If young people need to be duped into being registered, it then raises the question of why they weren’t registered and why the youth might not want to vote in the elections.

Leysley Ann Van Selm of Khulisa Social Solutions, which has been speaking to young people, said young people are not interested due to the many broken promises from the government.

“We’ve lost the impetus to encourage the youth to vote now because of the damage done and the broken promises, and I don’t think there’s hope inside for young people to be incentivized to go out and vote regardless of who they might be voting for in their own communities,” Van Selm said talking to a broadcaster.

“The disillusionment is so rife. We’ve got a huge job that we still have to do.”

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Voter apathy among the youth has been a cause for concern.

‘Deep discontent’

However, according to a survey study by the Human Science Research Council (HSRC), South Africa’s youth are not apathetic but rather stay away from the polls because there is a deep discontent with democratic and leadership performance and equally harsh views of core political institutions.

The study found that only two percent of the youth survey respondents were satisfied with democracy and three percent with political leaders, while less than five percent expressed confidence in the national government (three percent), provincial government (four percent), and political parties (four percent).

The IEC, however, fared relatively better, but trust was still circumscribed (14 percent).

Why youth don’t vote

The most important reasons why the youth are thinking of not voting in the elections are as follows:

  • Voting makes no difference or is meaningless (lack of efficacy).
  • Perceived corruption among or lack of trust among politicians
  • Poor socio-economic conditions
  • Empty promises
  • Politicians don’t care.
  • After being elected, parties or representatives are all the same
  • Load shedding
  • Because the ANC will win
  • Perceived electoral irregularities

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As the elections draw closer, the Department of Basic Education and the IEC have been trying to teach electoral democracy to young South Africans in public schools nationwide.

During Schools Democracy Week, basic education minister Angie Motshekga reminded pupils from Pace College in Jabulani that it is their responsibility to vote on 29 May.

“It’s the responsibility of every citizen to go vote so that we can put a government in place… You need to go out and vote so that you can choose the representatives you want and they can be accountable,” the minister said.

Youth who intend to vote

There are young people who said they will be voting in the general elections because voting means having a voice in shaping the future of South Africa.

Ntokozo Ndengenzi, 22, from Mthatha, Eastern Cape, said that by voting, she is hoping issues like healthcare, education, unemployment, and social justice are addressed.

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“It’s a way to exercise my civic duties and help build a better and more inclusive society for future generations,” she said.

She added that she intends to vote as it empowers her to hold elected officials accountable for their actions and policies.

21-year-old Lukhona Twalikulu from Johannesburg said voting means having an influence on changing South Africa.

“Yes, I intend to vote in the upcoming elections. I would like to see change in South Africa, and the first step towards that change is to have my vote counted,” she said.