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They've been touted as the wild card in next year’s elections, but the “born-frees” are not coming to the party.
Figures provided by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) show just 12 percent of people aged 18 and 19 are registered to vote, and even among 20-29-year-olds, registration stands at only 65 percent.
This compares to 99 percent registration levels for 60-69-year-olds.
The predicted shift in voting patterns will take years to materialise at this rate - if it is even true that the youth will be inclined to vote differently from their parents.
According to the IEC, eligible voters under 20 make up 2.96 percent of the population but only 0.8 percent of registered voters.
The 60-69-year-olds, meanwhile, accounting for 4.06 percent of the total population, swell the ranks of registered voters at 9.09 percent.
For a party like Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), which is openly gunning for the youth vote, this is painful mathematics.
Part of the reason for so few under-20s being registered is that this is their first election, hence their first opportunity to sign up for participatory democracy.
As the IEC explained when it appeared in Parliament this week to brief MPs on its election readiness, voter-registration drives out of the election season have low yields compared to the popular registration weekends it runs when polls are imminent.
And it plans to run campaigns specifically targeting the youth, among them a “democracy week” to be held in schools across the country in October and a focus on social media in awareness drives.
But voter apathy can also be a symptom of disillusionment and the belief that elections are futile.
In South Africa, with its devastating levels of youth unemployment and miserable prospects for school leavers, it’s not hard to imagine why the youth might feel they have little stake in the future.
It remains to be seen whether, when it comes to voting, they feel any of the political parties, the EFF included, is speaking their language.
A belief in the futility of elections can also arise when faith in the poll itself is low - as is the case in Zimbabwe.
On the face of it, elections in South Africa and Zimbabwe are polls apart.
For one thing, the voters roll here is available for public scrutiny as soon as an election is called, it is checked monthly against the population register to weed out “ghost” (dead) voters, and voters can verify their registration details by SMS or online.
In Zimbabwe, the electronic voters roll was unavailable right up until election day and there were widespread reports of people being turned away at polling stations because their details had been lost, or never captured.
Our military and police officials steer clear of making threatening public pronouncements on their political preferences.
There are strict regulations on coverage by the public broadcaster during the election period.
Yet opposition parties are not entirely satisfied.
At a meeting in Cape Town this week, they raised concerns ranging from media bias to the neutrality of presiding officers at voting stations.
And, as reports of people being bused in to vote in wards in KwaZulu-Natal where they were not resident and of food parcels being handed out by the Department of Social Development in Tlokwe in North West during recent by-elections suggest, some parts of the playing field are more level than others.
Money, unsurprisingly, is the biggest gripe of the smaller parties, who want the formula for public funding changed from 10 percent equitable and 90 percent proportional - which delivers the lion’s share to the ANC - to 50:50.
But public funding makes up just a small proportion of the war chests of the bigger parties, with whom it is in the interests of businesspeople to cultivate the warmest possible relations.
If the youth have trouble taking democracy seriously, it is possibly time for political parties to shed their own cynical ways.
As IEC commissioner Raenette Taljaard put it: “I think we also need to start asking deeper questions about why so few of our young people are registered, and asking and trying to understand how we actually deal with creating an inter-generational sense of ownership over the institutions of democracy, above and beyond only the right to vote.
“And that is a collective endeavour that doesn’t only involve and impact the IEC.” - Saturday Star