By Nonkululeko Kubheka
There has been a notable shift in how South Africans are responding to the call for transforming their voting narrative, raising the question of whether they are ready to transfer power from the current ruling party to another party that has earned their trust.
During the voter registration on 18 and 19 November 2023, the Independent Electoral Commission of South Africa reported a total voter turnout of 2,904,037, with 568,374 being first-time voters. This could mark a turning point in voter behaviour, as the provinces of Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, and the Eastern Cape recorded the highest number of registration turnouts (The Electoral Commission, 2023). The integration of digital platforms may have positively influenced these numbers, as digital migration continues to grow, particularly something relevant to the technological generation that needs to be a part of electoral processes.
The IEC has recorded an increase in the number of voters from 26.3 million to 26.8 million, with 445,089 of these voters falling within the 16-29 age group. The turnout during the voter registration weekend indicates a strengthening participatory democracy, where citizens have realised their power to bring about change by registering to vote. However, this is just the beginning, as the actual voter turnout on election day will be the true measure of the impact of the voter registration turnout.
What could these numbers indicate?
The present economic climate, soaring unemployment rates, and corruption are among the primary reasons why young people are choosing to actively participate in the electoral democracy. While older individuals still make up the majority of registered voters, the involvement of the youth could potentially bring about a change in administrative power. The Daily Maverick Reporters interviewed voters who expressed their hopes for a new political party to address the challenges faced by young people and take their concerns more seriously. These challenges include a lack of service delivery, socio-economic conditions, poor infrastructure, drug abuse, high crime rates, and the ongoing struggles faced by black individuals.
Between 2017 and 2020, Leila Patel and Yolanda Sadie (2023) conducted interviews with approximately 3,400 respondents to understand the factors influencing their voting choices. They analysed statistical theories such as rational choice, clientelistic, sociological, and party identification. A growing lack of trust in our government and its inadequate attention to societal concerns has led many eligible voters to become disillusioned and reluctant to make their voices heard. It is common for politicians to prioritise their own enrichment over their responsibilities to the state.
Some voters fear losing their social grants, leading them to continue voting for the same party that has been in power since the advent of democracy. This highlights how political parties are perceived as the primary agents of change, while the broader role of leadership positions may not be fully understood. The positive turnout during the voter registration weekend indicates that people are finally responding to the call for action in shaping the governance they desire. While many of the current political parties in South Africa have made little progress in the past five years, we must not allow citizens to be manipulated through political gimmicks. We have moved beyond the era of relying on short-term incentives to secure votes.
To be frank, South African politics has relied too heavily on the desperation of the most vulnerable and impoverished members of society, without delivering tangible benefits to those who vote and see no improvement in their livelihoods. Perhaps people have reached a point of frustration where they realise they have the power to drive the transformation they seek. In communities where the shortcomings of the current administration are evident, it is crucial for us to hold citizens accountable for the decisions they make on the ballot papers. Youth-driven organisations like Activate! Changedrivers are continuously advocating for the mobilisation of young people through social media platforms and grassroots activism, emphasising that the power lies in our hands as young individuals before it can be transferred to those in governance.
So, this raises the question: are you ready to actively participate in the transformative process and restore the dignity that South African citizens rightfully deserve?
Statistical electoral data shouldn’t be the only positive indication of voter turnout, as this needs to materialise through their informed choice of who should lead in the 2024 elections. Whether it is frustration or faith that South Africa’s administration can turn a new leaf, change still remains uncertain, but the impact of the youth is finally being collectively set into motion.
*Nonkululeko Kubheka is a professional, academic, and creative writer, passionate about topics relating to leadership in Africa, decoloniality, African spirituality, socioeconomic conditions, and mental health.
**The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.