VOTER REGISTRATION WEEKEND
Luring young voters with the carrot, not the stick: Ground Work Collective launches X_Change voter registration platform
As South Africans head into voter registration weekend, the question on many minds is how to get the youth interested in voting. While 26 million voting-age South Africans are already on the voters’ roll, the age group of 18 to 29 only makes up 7% of that number. To address the low rate of youth registration, civil society organisation Ground Work Collective aims to incentivise and mobilise the youth with its ‘first-of-its-kind’ Voter Registration Portal.
In Braamfontein Johannesburg, an area that serves as a watering hole for many of Joburg’s youth, civil society organisation Ground Work Collective (GWC) launched its new #X_Change Voter Registration Platform on Thursday.
The Independent Electoral Commission of South Africa moving full steam ahead with its voter registration drive this weekend. There is a desperate push to get more young South Africans registered to vote, and questions have arisen about how to get more of the youth interested in marking their X.
During the #X_Change Voter Registration Platform launch, former Democratic Alliance youth leader turned GWC founder and CEO Mbali Ntuli said, “We have one of the most participatory democracies in the world, and yet, as South Africans since 1994, we really haven’t used it. We’ve gotten into the situation where we believe that every five years, we’ll go out, register and maybe vote, but that’s the end of what we do when it comes to democracy. This is something we really need to reset”.
The #X_Change registration portal is more than just a way for young voters to get their names on the voters’ roll, it also serves as a civic education platform. Once registered, young would-be voters can interact with “informative, digestible and fun civic education materials”, which GWC believes will empower them to be active and civic-minded citizens who know how to hold elected officials accountable and make their government work for them.
Ntuli said, “Through the #X_Change campaign, we will be taking newly registered voters on an exciting journey where you are not only just registered to vote in the upcoming elections, but you are also equipped with essential civic education that will be the catalyst for active civic participation. This journey will also have the potential of seeing you, a newly registered person, taking your civic participation one step further by becoming a trained GWC independent election observer and helping to protect your democracy at the upcoming 2024 General Elections.”
Read more in Daily Maverick: Voter registration weekend — eight good reasons to register to vote
Incentives instead of threats
The key to getting young people involved in the democratic process, according to GWC, is to entice the youth with incentives and not threats of a failed state or the return of apartheid-like many political parties are currently doing. This is what makes the X_Change registration portal different.
Upon registering and confirmation of registration from the IEC, young would-be voters will receive KFC meal vouchers. As the campaign moves forward, more prizes will be awarded for civic engagement, including sunglasses and concert tickets.
“As we go on with the campaign and introduce it nationwide, we will be able to introduce more prizes. We are the first civil society organisation running and have agreed with the IEC, and everyone’s information is secured. This method also gives people a return on their investment. Nobody wants to do anything for free,” Ntuli said.
Getting the youth to the polls
Getting young people interested in registering and voting is no small feat. There have been discussions about how are apathetic and generally disinterested in participating in the formal democratic process. Some youths have argued that they either don’t know who to vote for or don’t feel represented by the politicians in parliament.
During a panel discussion at the launch, political analyst and Rivonia Circle CEO Tessa Dooms acknowledged that there is a need for more youth representation in the upper rungs of Parliament. As it stands, the youngest minister in Cabinet is the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Roland Lamola, who is 39. Doom says this needs to change: “There are 40 million of us who are under the age of 40 in this country. Which means we should be running this country. I am tired of looking at the people who represent us, that look like grandpas, don’t have the experiences of young people, trying to talk for young people and the future they’re never going to live to see.”
Tessa added that the youth are not just voting products but leaders in every part of society, except in the Union Buildings and Parliament. “So when I vote in 2024, the party that is going to put the most young people into Parliament is going to get my vote,” Dooms said.
Dooms also said that the question of what gets young people to vote and over the line is the quality of our politicians and parties.
“We are going to have to raise the standard of those people by pushing back and demanding more from them. The reason we have children who underperform is that we expect so little from them. It is the same issue with our political parties; we expect very little from them,” Dooms said.
The Rivonia Circle CEO added that the onus falls on civil society, communities and the media to demand more from political parties.
In a bid to address this issue, Dooms revealed that she started hosting voter caucus picnics in parks in Johannesburg aimed at engaging citizens of all ages who are confused about who to vote for in the elections and discussing the options on the table.
“This is the kind of voter mobilisation we need. Voter education will get you to register. Voter mobilisation will motivate you. I think that mobilisation will also come from being able to say the process of choosing a government is not one that is about the government, it is about us. It is about our power. That needs to be the big conversation over the next few months,” Dooms said.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Civil Society gears up for SA’s 2023 elections: Vote, Participate, Activate
Celebrities as ambassadors of awareness
GWC also has partnered with media personalities and South African Celebrities Nandi Madida, Moshe Ndiki, Mablerh and Alphi as #X_Change Ambassadors for its campaign. The partnership comes after the IEC said research indicated that young people aren’t influenced by social media influencers and celebrities at a voter registration readiness press briefing on Tuesday.
IEC deputy chief executive Masego Sheburi said, “While they may follow and like certain celebrities, they do not necessarily form opinions because of influencers. Therefore, influencers do not shape their thoughts on politics”.
When probed about this by Daily Maverick, Ntuli definitely responded, “We don’t expect celebrities to give policy ideas on the macroeconomics of the country. You’re not going to go to somebody who is not an expert in that. But what I think [partnering with celebrities] does do is that it helps create awareness to reach audiences that otherwise wouldn’t be reached.
Ntuli went on to recognise that IEC is probably under immense pressure but has missed the fact that the current cohort of young people differs from the ones that came before in that they won’t be reached through the news or magazines.
“They speak, listen, watch and get a sense of awareness from people that they actually follow. We were very smart to realise quickly as much as the work we do is important, Moshe will reach people that GWC never could. All he has to say is here’s what I think is important, guys, let’s have a conversation about it. That’s enough awareness already. Between the X_Change Ambassadors, they reach an audience of 10 million. that’s more than the IEC has in its reach on any of their social media platforms.”
Khaya FM radio personality MaBlerh added, “I am something to somebody. I am somebody somebody looks up to. If they can see me saying, you know what, I’m going to be with you on that day. I’m going to stand in that queue with you, and the sun is going to burn the both of us. Somebody is listening, and they might come out too.”
While civil society, political parties and the IEC itself are pulling out all the stops to get the youth registered, the proof of their endeavours will be in the proverbial pudding after the results from this weekend’s voter registration weekend drop. DM