Voting can be daunting and intimidating for those doing it for the first time, however, it is considered the most democratic tool of power vested by governments to their citizens.

The most surprising information concerning voting is the lack of participation from young South Africans which is attributed to the absence of adequate knowledge that can enable them to feel that their vote matters in the election process.

A research conducted by the Institute of Security Studies states that the importance of voter and civic education cannot be overstated. Furthermore, these initiatives can be used to create a better understanding for young voters on their rights and responsibilities to better view the country’s election process and political system.

Amidst the efforts and processes put in place by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) which include the distribution of voter education through social media platforms to ensure young and first-time voters are eligible and registered, statistics of their participation in the election process is still in decline.

The research also notes that political maturity through education is a vital part when emphasising the importance of voting to young people, specifically between the ages of 18 and 19.

This age group has been observed as uncertain who to vote for or whether to participate at all in the voting process due to a lack of insight and experience about politics.

Some interesting data and statistics from Statistics South Africa concerning youth participation can be observed:

  • Of the 26.2 million registered voters for the upcoming 2021 Local government election, the age group between 18- 29 make up 4 599 467 (17.54%)
  • When looking at youth participation in previous elections like the 1999 elections, the youth turnout was between 43% and 44.5% and for the 2004 elections, just over 9 million of those aged 18-35 representing a total 44% of registered voters in that year.
  • When comparing registered voters between the ages of 18- 34 during the 2009 elections, the figures showed a total of 9 820 251 young people registered for the elections. The Election Day turnout between the ages of 18 – 19 was 490 875 of the 669 421 registered voters and the age group between 20 – 29 was 3 568 875 out of the 5 995 055 registered voters.

Academics observed major events in the country that led to the youth turning out in number to cast their vote during the 2009 elections. Moreover, the turnout was influenced by Barack Obama’s ascendance to the White House which indirectly helped political parties accelerate campaigns at the time.

Following those major turnouts was a disengagement of young people from the electoral process unlike the class of 1976 era, who were most politically active and conscious from an early age.

Reports state that the decline was due to a lack of involvement in political and social issues affecting the country, but rather focus on the new digital age of gadgets such as video and the internet.

However South African young people share a different sentiment to the above notion, they attribute the decline due to a lack of opportunities afforded to them. With unemployment on the rise in South Africa, many young people were demotivated to vote as they strongly believe their government has neglected them and their dreams.

Political scholars have since termed this youth apathy as premature conclusions because they have lost interest in political processes and their participation has since shifted.

VIDEO: What it means for youth to be a first-time voter in South Africa

-Reporting by Ziyanda Yono 

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