Voter education should be a priority in SA

Dr Sheetal Bhoola is a lecturer and researcher at the University of Zululand, and the director at StellarMaths (Phoenix & Sunningdale). Picture: Supplied

Dr Sheetal Bhoola is a lecturer and researcher at the University of Zululand, and the director at StellarMaths (Phoenix & Sunningdale). Picture: Supplied

Published May 17, 2024



South Africans are days away from the national elections, and many citizens are trying to determine which political party to vote for and why.

Some citizens have opted not to participate in the polls this year, and their decision is based on numerous reasons. Many feel that despite their participation in previous national elections, the governance and the national economy have remained the same.

This has resulted in a continued lack of service deliveries from municipalities across South Africa, inaccessibility to water and electricity, ongoing deviance and corruption within our government sectors, and continual political instability.

Causal conversations with people reveal that many citizens do not have a preferred political party and that they believe that their commitment to the voting process will not be practical or impactful in light of the above.

Yet, the ability to participate in a national voting process and be proactive in selecting your preferred political party and leader is central to being a citizen within a representative democratic State. This is the democracy that our forefathers were jailed and fought for till their deaths, yet, as citizens, we are often not intentionally informed of the strength, value and purpose of a single vote.

Considering that more than 60% of our population is between 18 and 35 years old, voting and its value should be included in the national school curriculum. Youth should be informed of the electoral process, and the importance of registration and voting before they reach the age of 18.

In countries like the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia, voter education is included in compulsory senior-level subjects (Amri et al, 2019). Countries like India and the USA have various specialised programmes that are designed specifically for the implementation of voter education.

International scholars reiterate that a nation's capacity to participate politically is a means to measure the quality and type of democracy a country is. The purpose of voter education is to teach our youth about the value of voting and the importance of citizen accountability.

An education drive within a mainstream curriculum can encourage South Africans to be critical and analytical, and contextualise the role that political parties play within a young democracy. But more importantly, voter education can promote rationality.

In Grade 11 and Grade 12, our youth should be taught the key indicators of good governance. They should be taught to conceptualise and understand what democratic values represent about a just and fair society, equity in all spheres, human rights, municipal service delivery and the country's developmental goals.

The voter education should also include content that teaches our youth about political party discrimination, slandering, intimidation, truth and perceptions of political party campaigns, and integrity.

They should be further informed about how their choices impact them individually and the South African society. Therefore, this process can halt the continued practice of generational political party loyalty, which is prevalent in many families and communities in both urban and rural areas.

The primary purpose of voter education should include the value of voting, and how to peruse and select a functional political party in our representative democracy. Youth should be taught the value of unbiased and objectivity despite traditional family beliefs and support for a particular political party.

The perception that one needs to vote in line with family beliefs develops and supports a society with far too many individuals we can label as voter followers. If this behaviour is encouraged, there will be no regard for the value of a democratic society, and the development of real and purposeful democracy will always be hindered.

This type of education will allow youth to identify how practices and ethics have been modified within political parties since the birth of democracy in 1994. The presumption that political parties would continue to uphold values and developmental goals that were initially the central objectives of parties at the time of their formation needs to be analysed and questioned. This can only be achieved if youth are taught to be critical and rational within a voter education curriculum at Grade 12.

In addition, the voter education curriculum should extend itself to tertiary education curricula irrespective of the type of qualification one chooses to study. At this point, the South African youth can be more attentive to voter education as they enjoy a new period as responsible citizens.

With this approach, there will be less pressure for the government to sporadically engage in voter education programmes once every four years. The natural and sustainable impact of sporadic voter education is constantly questioned as it can be often blurred and misrepresented when presented by a political party as a political campaign.

Therefore, it is essential that voter education is viewed as a life skill and continually taught at schools and tertiary educational institutions. The knowledge and skills to contribute effectively to democracy is making the right choices based on identifying ills, functionality, and dysfunctionality about what South Africa needs to grow and be at its best.

The way forward would be to incorporate voter education as a compulsory segment in the schooling and tertiary educational curricula, irrespective of the qualification degree, certificate or diploma.

Dr Sheetal Bhoola is a lecturer and researcher at the University of Zululand, and the director at StellarMaths (Sunningdale). She has a PhD and two MA degrees in the social sciences. She has been the recipient of awards and scholarships. Visit

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