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SA youth ‘not apathetic’ but irked by poor delivery, coalitions, independent candidates — report

SA youth ‘not apathetic’ but irked by poor delivery, coalitions, independent candidates — report
Illustrative image: (Photos: Shelley Christians | Felix Dlangamandla | Rawpixel)

Here’s why SA’s youth are reluctant to vote in the upcoming 2024 provincial and national elections, as the IEC declares the final voter registration weekend. 

South African youth are not apathetic as it is often suggested, they are engaged in political processes but would rather not vote because of a deep discontent with government performance, political parties, and the functioning of the democratic system.

This is particularly prevalent in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal where more than 80% of the youth distrust the national government and more than 75% of the youth distrust political parties.  

This is according to a recent survey by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) commissioned ahead of the 2024 national elections — which are being touted as a watershed moment in the country’s history.

The survey is the largest of its kind to be conducted in South Africa to date of people aged 18-35 and was released as the Electoral Commission of SA announced the next and final voter registration weekend.

Youth vote, voter registration weekend

It focused on the widespread challenge of declining voter turnout in elections — particularly on the youth who are either uncertain or intend not to vote in the upcoming 2024 elections.    

Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘Your democracy, own it’ — IEC launches campaign for next year’s poll     

Reflecting on the insights from the study, HSRC researcher Samela Mtyingizane said: “There are two silver linings here. The first is that there is a persistent belief in the importance of voting amongst many youths in our country… Close to 60% of our sample said ‘I do believe in voting but I will not vote anyway.

“And a sizable minority believe it is the duty of us to vote so the youth want to vote but they are dissatisfied by various reasons when it comes to democracy and our government,” she said. 


A document detailing the the diverse attitudes of young South Africans who plan to abstain, or are uncertain about voting, in NPE 2024 (Image: Supplied)


Read more in Daily Maverick: Young, gifted and black – but will I vote in 2024?

This is against the backdrop of the 2021 local government elections — where the ballot paper was marked by the lowest voter turnout in post-apartheid South African history. Only 12 million people (less than half of those registered to vote) cast their vote, compared to 16 million in 2016.

Despite the importance of elections as an instrument of democracy, voter turnout has been on the decline globally since the 1990s and, in recent times, democracy in Africa has slipped backwards.  

The five top reasons for planned abstention/ uncertainty about voting in 2024 according to the study include: 

  • Voting makes no difference;
  • Perceived corruption/lack of trust in politicians;
  • Poor socio-economic conditions;
  • Empty promises; and
  • Politicians don’t care.


One of the most critical questions the participants were asked to respond to was: In your opinion, what could the IEC  do to encourage you to vote in next year’s election?  

The answers were, however, not within the mandate of the IEC as they were mostly centred on change in their material conditions. 

 “From their perspective, convincing them to turn out would require responding to their material needs; decent work, quality services, and capable and ethical leadership. This is beyond the Electoral Commission’s mandate and speaks to the accountability of the political system,” Mtyingizane said.  

Political parties and coalitions 

The findings of the survey point to a greater need for voter education and the daunting task of political parties to persuade young voters to head to the polls in 2024.  26 million voting-age South Africans are already on the voters’ roll, however, the age group of 18 to 29 only makes up 7% of that number. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: GWC launches X_Change voter registration platform 

47% of the youth indicated their struggle in finding a political party that represents their needs, 39% did not struggle, and 14% experienced some difficulty in choosing a party. 



Meanwhile, on coalition governments which are likely to shape the outcome of the elections, 60% of the participants said that party coalitions made them less likely to want to vote. Only 12% responded positively.  

Independent candidates, who contest elections for the first time in the history of South Africa, are not inspiring confidence among the youth. 42% said the ability to vote for independent candidates in elections makes them less likely to want to vote while 23% were positive towards independent candidates. 

Final voter registration weekend 

The IEC has declared its second and final voter registration weekend, scheduled for Saturday 3 February and Sunday 4 February 2024 to allow new voters to register and existing voters to check and if necessary update their registration details. 

During this period, all the country’s 23,296 voting stations will open from 08h00 to 17h00. 

The final registration will ensure that no South African citizen is left behind, particularly those abroad and those incarcerated. 

Those living abroad will have an opportunity to register at South Africa’s 120 high commissions, embassies and consulates on 26, 27 and 28 January 2024. 

The date for the provincial and national elections has not yet been proclaimed, but it will fall between May and mid-August 2024.

“The Commission takes pleasure in announcing a new and additional voter registration modality for South Africans living abroad. For the first time, South Africans abroad may now register as voters using the online self-registration portal.” 

“In addition, voter registration will also be conducted in correctional centres around the country to allow inmates to exercise their right to vote. Working with the Department of Correctional Services, the Commission will undertake the registration of inmates in the correctional centres between 30 January and 1 February 2024. Family members of those who are incarcerated in correctional facilities are requested to deliver the identity documents of inmates to them ahead of this registration drive.” DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • John P says:

    This seems to boil down to “we want a better life but are prepared to do nothing about it”. Sounds like apathy to me.

  • Robert Lewis says:

    If political parties want the youth to vote, those who are running metros, and have influence in service delivery, should be doing their utmost to show voters what they are able to achieve should they get into power.
    Words and promises no loner cut it, it’s action that counts.

  • Geoff Coles says:

    They have choices and not participating, at all, suggests no downside

  • Lil Mars says:

    Shows how badly educated the youth are. The lack of logic defies belief.

  • C Moola says:

    Perhaps if there was a more concerted drive to draw in young people as election officials staffing voting stations, this would be a way to spark greater interest.

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