IEC: Youth voting apathy is a myth

Nearly 60% of the 1,4-million South Africans who registered as voters for the first time during the past weekend were between 18 and 25 years old, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) said on Friday.

“It seems that the whole debate about apathy among the youth must be approached in a different way,” said Dumile Mzaidume, senior manager of the voters’ roll and delimitation, at a news conference in Pretoria.

“It doesn’t look like there’s apathy.”

Chief electoral officer Pansy Tlakula was also impressed with the success in rural areas. About 43% of the new registrations during the weekend’s drive occurred in these areas.

One third of those on the voters’ roll before the weekend lived there, she said.

The data was still being verified, but the IEC expected there would be more than 20-million names on the roll following the campaign on Saturday and Sunday.

At the time of the 1999 national and provincial elections the tally stood at 18,1-million, and at the time of the local polls in 2000 there were 18,4-million, Tlakula said.

More than 3,5-million people visited voting stations on Saturday and Sunday, she said.

About two million of these came to re-register because they had new addresses.

The IEC said earlier that using the 2001 census figures, about 9,5-million eligible voters still had to be registered.

IEC chairperson Brigalia Bam believes it is unfair to compare the weekend’s figures with those of registration drives prior to the 1999 elections.

That was the first time a voters’ roll was created for all the country’s citizens, she said.

“You can never keep the ‘newness’ sustained forever in terms of enthusiasm.

“To be able to mobilise over three million people in two days is considered a record if you compare that with any other part of the world.”

Tlakula said challenges identified over the weekend included the concerns of the Landless People’s Movement whose members protested at some voting stations in support of its “no land, no vote” campaign.

“We need to open up channels of communication with them ... but we’ll only talk to them about issues that affect registration and elections, not necessarily other issues that are outside our mandate.”

This would happen before the next registration weekend at the end of January or early in February, Tlakula said.

Of the weekend’s new registrations, almost 56% were women, compared to just more than 44% men.

Bam said it seemed to be problematic to have a registration weekend overlapping with a big sport event like rugby.

The Springboks played a quarterfinal in the World Cup tournament against the All Blacks on Saturday, and lost.

“I suspect ...
some men actually preferred to watch rugby and then they were too disappointed, and then they decided to go home and drink,” Bam speculated.

Another problem identified was that the IEC’s call centre could not cope with the number of telephonic inquiries, Tlakula said.

Since its opening on October 1 it had received 446 870 calls of which 80% were answered, she said.

Over the weekend, 74 628 calls were answered—74% of all those received. The IEC website received 53 914 inquiries.—Sapa

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