home
the team
newsletters
about
cape town
stnews
downloads
links
 
   

This article is taken from the December 2002 Phatlalatsa newsletter

 

Youth and voter registration in South Africa

Youth and voter registration in South Africa imageThe Independent Electoral Commission approached S&T to help understand what was limiting voter registration among youth, and design appropriate strategies for improving the situation. Jowie Mulaudzi describes the project.Declining numbers

Voter turnout for the 1994 general elections in South Africa was recorded at 85%; subsequent elections have failed to get beyond 70%, and figures for youth are far lower. This may be a world-wide trend - but it is also a worrying one.

In the last election, the IEC had to embark on emergency campaigns to encourage people in their later teens and early twenties to register. Importantly, the IEC is now taking a more planned and long-term approach. S&T was commissioned to help deepen the IEC understanding of factors related to low voter registration and turnout amongst youth, and develop appropriate strategies to deal with the problem.

Within their broader process, the IEC commissioned S&T to run focussed discussion groups with young (16 - 21years old) black people in the previously disadvantaged areas of Mdantsane and Noncampa in the eastern Cape, Seshego and Mahwelereng in Limpopo, and KwaMashu in KwaZulu-Natal.

Challenges

Acquiring an identity document

The hurdles facing voter registration start before the voters roll: no one can register on the roll without a bar-coded identity document. Young people in rural areas are least likely to have IDs. Unemployment and poverty leave little disposable income for people to travel to towns; and anyway they face limited service facilities for acquiring their ID.

Youth participants also cited the poor service they receive at the hands of Home Affairs personnel, which makes acquiring IDs more unpleasant than its value. Examples included lost applications requiring re-application fees, being told to come back on particular dates only to be given yet another date for collection, making the whole process time-consuming and costly. A common complaint related to Home Affairs' requirement that young people have to bring the ID documents of both their parents when applying; or providing records from primary school. In both cases circumstances effectively barred some young people from applying such as being raised by relatives or a single parent and lack of proper record keeping by schools.

Government delivery

Young people were also put off by what they regard as government's failure to deliver, especially in rural areas. We recruited youth who did not belong to any political party or structure. As a result their level of engagement with politics and development was minimal. This reflected points made in the literature that civic and political engagement at an early age improves local involvement and sustaining engagement through to later years.

Knowledge of the electoral process

We found a high level of confusion about the management of the voters roll that impacted on those who are still at school but expect to move out of their parental home when they complete secondary education. Some participants believe it is futile to register in their home area, because by the time an election occurs they will have moved to other areas in search of better opportunities. They do not understand the transferability of registration, which the IEC should address in its communication campaigns.

Intervening

On its own, the IEC can do very little to address the challenges facing young people regarding voter registration. However, through selected partnerships with other players, a lot more can be achieved. The following are examples of areas for effective partnerships:

  • To improve the service quality (real and perceived) of the Department of Home Affairs. A partnership with Home Affairs should also consider sustainable mechanisms (i.e. not only during election time) for taking their services to the people, via mobile ID application and voter registration offices which could enable young people and others to apply for IDs and register at the same place.
  • The Department of Education is important for school-based application and registration programmes.
  • Working with Government Communication and Information Systems (GCIS) can facilitate concerted strategies to deal with the concerns of youth and encourage them to register. They could come together at the Multi-Purpose Community Centres, for example, which are provided by GCIS to ensure that disadvantaged communities are provided with one-stop service points.
  • Working with youth structures including National and Provincial Youth Commissions, the Umsobomvu Youth Fund and youth NGOs. Effectively partnering these and other structures working with youth will enable the IEC to address the problem of low voter participation amongst youth both in the short and long term. Short-term issues relate to improving youth registration figures for the forthcoming elections; long-term measure include the design and implementation of effective youth civic engagement programmes that provide young people with practical experience of developmental issues shown to increase political participation. "Letsema" and the (long-awaited) national youth service are national programmes that lend themselves to such partnerships.
 

[top] [to ] [Previous page]
     
home
the team
newsletters
about
contact
stnews
downloads
links