Is there youth voter apathy as 2024 elections approach in SA?

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2024 marks exactly 30 years of democracy in South Africa.

This year is significant for the youth of South Africa, for some it will be their first time to vote. A youth is categorized as anyone between the ages of 15-35. Voter apathy can be characterized as lack of interest and appetite to participate in the democratic process of casting a vote to choose a certain candidate or political party to represent ideals, aspirations, values, and/or a vision the voter is aligned to.

This article sheds light on qualitative and quantitative aspects of voter apathy in the context of South Africa during the 2024 election year.

First, a quantitative perspective is that in the dawn of 30 years of democracy in South Africa, the Electoral Commission (IEC) of South Africa has noted significant changes. For example, IEC CEO Sy Mamabolo said that “in the recent voter registration of 2024, young people between the age of 20 and 29 led the pack during the voter registration weekend, making up to 77 % of new registrations.”

This is a relatively significant number in comparison to previous years. Simply put, this is a clear scientific indication and empirical evidence that youth in the context of South Africa is growing interest in the political affairs of the nation.

However, there are also concerns of low voter turnout and voter apathy because of among other things, lack of education, mistrust, poor service delivery, frustration due to South Africa’s myriads of complex challenges. These challenges could also be a motivator for youth to resort to voting to bring about desired change.

Other challenges include, but not limited to, record high unemployment, persistent load shedding, extreme poverty, high level of corruption, lack of representation of youth in echelons of power, our nation being the most unequal society in the world and increasing cost of living to mention but a few.

There are nuances about youth voter apathy, in addition, some youth do not vote as a form of protest action and some due to general lack of education about politics.

To some youth, it is not yet clear what tangible things a vote translates to.  Despite all these reasons, the youth have underlying reasons why they vote or do not vote.

Now, more than ever before, political parties have a responsibility to educate voters about the importance of firstly, registering to vote, secondly, the importance of voting and lastly the importance of why they should be voted for.

Furthermore, the Department of Higher Education and Training must be highly commended for taking steps to introduce a civic engagement curriculum that will teach youth about the fundamental significance of exercising their democratic right, which is to vote. This will in turn over the years increase youth and general population voter participation.

In sum, participating in the democratic process of voting is exercising one’s democratic right and it is also an act of active and responsible citizenship.

Come the election day on 29th of May 2024, all people of South Africa regardless of race, religion, gender, sex, age, location, educational qualifications, income level, and so on and so forth, must go out to cast their vote. This is unfortunately a responsibility that cannot be shifted nor suspended. All of us, must vote. Voting is a way to bring about fundamental change. Your vote is your voice.

Mafule Moswane writes in his personal capacity. He is an alumnus of University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg (SA), and Kansas State University (USA).