Born-frees’ lukewarm response to voting follows a global trend

About half of South Africa's eligible voters under the age of 30 had registered to vote by the end of last weekend's voter registration drive.

The Independent Electoral Com­mis­sion (IEC) reported on Tuesday that over 80% of the people who joined the queues were young people, but it described the low percentage of registered voters in this 18-to19 age group as "a challenge".

At least two million 18-to-19 year olds will be eligible to vote for the first time – the so-called "born-free" generation, those born after the first democratic elections in 1994. Twenty-three percent of them have registered along with 54.5% of 20-to-29 year olds.

If you compare these percentages with the registration level of more than 87% for people over the age of 30, it's easy see why there may be cause for concern.

But Keith Khoza, spokesperson for the ANC, dismissed these fears. He said the IEC has a target of registering two million new young voters and has so far registered 1.1-million, and that additional rounds of voter registration are being discussed.

Ebrahim Fakir, a political analyst for the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa, said there is evidence that voter registration and turnout at elections increases as people age. This has been a consistent trend in South Africa over the past three elections and also internationally, he said.

Mmusi Maimane, spokesperson for the Democratic Alliance, said more needs to be done to get young people to register. "The next two elections will be determined by the effect this generation will have on the election results."

He said young people need to understand their democratic rights. "The biggest ammunition you have is to be able to vote out a government you are dissatisfied with."

Fakir dismissed claims that the youth are disengaged as "spurious".

He said young people are engaged – in direct action on the streets, in popular culture, in sport and on social media, for example, but just not in the formal system, probably because it does not provide a channel for their political aspirations.

Fakir said political parties make two mistakes when it comes to young people: they do not connect with the key issues that affect them and they treat them like a constituency.

"Youth is not a constituency; it is a phase of life," he said.

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