ROAD TO 2024 ELECTIONS
‘We want to make politics cool again’ — Ground Work targets young people in voter registration drive
Ground Work Collective put a new spin on the traditional voter registration weekend, blasting music and handing out prizes to lure young people to the polls during its voter registration and civic education campaign at Maponya Mall in Soweto.
While the Electoral Commission (IEC) and various political parties were hard at work during the final voter registration weekend, galvanising young South Africans to register to vote in the upcoming general elections, civil society also played its part. Setting up camp at Maponya Mall in the heart of Soweto, the civil society organisation Ground Work Collective (GWC) held a voter registration drive.
Boasting vibrant music, opportunities to win prizes and celebrity appearances in a bid to appeal to young would-be voters, the x_Change voter registration and civic education campaign aimed to shake up the traditional voter registration weekend held by the IEC.
GWC CEO Mbali Ntuli said the unique approach to voter registration was the result of a year’s worth of research into why young people were not registering to vote.
In recent years, voter registration, especially among young people has dwindled. In the 2019 general election, of the 1.8 million 18- to 19-year-olds eligible to vote, 90% failed to register. According to the latest voter registration statistics from the IEC, 474,874 people in this age group have registered to vote. Similarly, in that election, only 54% of the 20-29 cohort were registered.
“We found out very clearly that it was not necessarily an apathetic choice but that the electoral system was not really interesting; it was very abstract, no one has really explained it, and they were put off by politicians fighting. We wanted to make democracy and politics look cool again,” Ntuli told Daily Maverick.
Read more in Daily Maverick: SA youth not apathetic but no longer believe elections are best path to change
“We have to hook [young people] somehow. They don’t want to come to a random table with people sitting outside. It’s not exciting to them.
“Once the whole registration process is appealing to them, then they’re open to listening to the rest of the stuff that we give them, which is the curriculum teaching them how the government should work and why it’s important to register to vote,” Ntuli said.
Celebrity influence to attract youth
Media personality and x_Change ambassador Moshe Ndiki was among the celebrities at the Maponya Mall event.
“The more we [celebrities] speak about voting, the more our followers, fans and people who consume our content on a daily basis are exposed to the idea. I believe that we have a responsibility as celebrities to use this influence in a positive way … to impact the youth, especially about voting,” Ndiki told Daily Maverick.
He said he’d seen positive results from his engagement with young fans around the elections and the importance of voting.
“The lovely thing about the work that we are doing with the x_Change campaign is that it’s not boring, and it’s not just about telling young people to vote. We are making it fun and engaging.
“A lot of young people don’t know what a municipal manager is or how to report potholes or corruption. It’s very important that these kinds of activations are done, especially in areas like Soweto, where there are so many youth who are facing problems like unemployment and where we can start conversations about how voting can change that reality,” Ndiki said.
Young people want change
Mpuni Sono (22) said she had no intention of registering to vote when she visited the mall on Sunday.
“I changed my mind as soon as I got here. One of the ladies at the campaign came up to me and was really good at convincing me about why I must vote. So I decided to register,” Sono said.
Cawe, a 19-year-old Soweto resident, said GWC’s approach to voter registration spoke directly to young people.
“Usually, as the youth, we are not encouraged to go to the IEC because it caters more to grown-up people. The energy and the vibe here are more attractive to me,” Cawe said.
Both Sono and Cawe said they were eager to vote.
“We need change, especially for our youth. A lot of us need jobs, and our peers are turning to drugs because they are just sitting at home. So now it’s time for us to change,” Sono said
“I’m voting for change,” Cawe echoed. “No one is benefiting from the current government. People go to school to get their degrees, but they don’t get jobs. We pay taxes, but there are potholes everywhere, and we see no change.”
While the IEC’s official voter registration weekend has ended, GWC will continue to hold similar events throughout February at institutions of higher learning, shopping malls and community centres across Gauteng to reach more young people.
Online registration on the IEC’s website and the x_Change voter registration portal will remain open until President Cyril Ramaphosa proclaims and gazettes the official election date, which Ramaphosa said would be done “soon”. DM