Debate on Voting Responsibilities by South Africans

Sep 1, 2023 | Speeches

By Hon. Mntomuhle B Khawula – Inkatha Freedom Party

KwaZulu-Natal Legislature Sitting
Thursday 31 August 2023 – Pietermaritzburg

This House notes:

That there are 14 million unregistered young South Africans, as per the Independent Electoral Commission;

That the largest and most influential voting cohort in South Africa are the youth who are not willing to vote, perhaps because they feel deprived and unrepresented; and

That young people need to be encouraged to register.

This House therefore resolves;

To call upon political parties and the Departments of Education, Co-Operative Governance and Traditional Affairs, as well as Sport and Recreation, to collaborate with the Legislature and the IEC on voter education outreach programmes which target the youth.

Hon. Speaker,
Hon. Members,

The IFP appreciates participation in a debate on this very important matter on voting responsibilities by South Africans. We thank the Hon. Shinga for the motion. From the studies and surveys that have been presented to the IFP on this subject, the IFP acknowledges that there is indeed heightened reluctance from a variety of sectors of our citizens to register to vote, especially the youth. There is also a reluctance from a variety of registered citizens, to a certain degree, to actually go out to vote on voting day.

Some of the studies and surveys conducted by institutions like the IEC, the Afro Barometer, the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, and others, point out to the following issues:

Voter turnout in an election is regarded as a crucial indicator of the vitality and health of a democracy. High turnout is a sign of the enthusiastic and politically involved electorate, while low turnout is associated with voter apathy and even mistrust of the political process. The steady decline in voter participation in South Africa’s democratic politics, indeed, raises concerns. The voter turnout in South Africa’s elections since 1994 is recorded as:

  • 87% in 1994
  • 89% in 1999
  • 48% in 2000
  • 77% in 2004
  • 48% in 2006
  • 77% in 2009
  • 58% in 2011
  • 73% in 2014
  • 58% in 2016
  • 66% in 2019
  • 46% in 2021

An interesting trend, which is consistent, is that the electorate’s turnout is much higher in all national and provincial elections (though not satisfactory) when compared to local elections.

In order to vote in South Africa, the requirements amongst others, are that: one must be 18 years and above, must be a South African citizen, must be in possession of a bar-coded identity document and must appear in the Voters’ Roll as registered to vote. Surveys have found that more than 95% of people eligible to vote do possess identity documents.

Of those who are in the voting age, for those who are 18-34 years, 94% of them do possess IDs. But according to the 2021 voter participation survey, only 67% of citizens aged 18 and above were registered as voters, with 32% not registered. The reports state that the 2021 survey figure represented the lowest registration level ever recorded in South Africa. The registration levels recorded for local government elections were: 82% in 2005, 80% in 2010, 79% in 2015.

Population estimates in 2019 recorded that young people aged 18-34 in South Africa constituted 17.8 million. However, the proportion of the 18-19 cohort age that was registered as voters fell from 30% in 2005, to only 15% in 2021. There were also declines in 20-24 and 25-34 age cohorts. Overall, the 18-34 age cohort voter registration declined from 69% in 2005, to 57% in 2021. Despite their numerical dominance in population figures, young people’s voter registration levels are disproportionally low.

Therefore, the concern raised in the motion is justified.

From a provincial perspective, the largest registered voter populations are Gauteng at 24% of the country, KwaZulu-Natal at 21% and Western Cape at 12%. However, as a proportion of the province’s eligible registered voter age population, KwaZulu-Natal stands at 79%.

Consideration of the 2019 elections reveal a noticeable pattern of voter turnout from a political perspective. The least politically competitive provinces have suffered the greatest voter withdrawal, while provinces with higher levels of electoral contestation have greater participation among registered citizens.

Between 2004 and 2019, Gauteng suffered a 4.6% in voter registration decline. In the same period KwaZulu-Natal suffered a 6.2% voter registration decline. In the same period, Limpopo suffered a whopping 18.4% voter registration decline and Eastern Cape also a whopping 20.1% voter registration decline. The voter turnout decline in KwaZulu-Natal between 2014 and 2019 was at 10.2%.

Analysts maintain that when evaluating voter and registration performances, it is important to consider, amongst other things, some attitudinal measures that evaluate mass views on the moral and material health of the nation. An important consideration questioning whether people would choose to remain citizens of South Africa shows that South Africans are still very patriotic. 67% replied positively, whilst only 18% said no.
But when it comes to the performance of important institutions of the country, it shows that people are not happy. These expressions of sentiment have a strong likelihood to contribute to decisions of non-participation in voter registration and voting itself.

Of the direction into which the country is moving, 76% felt the country was moving in the wrong direction and 18% felt the country is moving in the right direction. On the satisfaction with the general economic situation of the country, 65% are dissatisfied, while 14% expressed satisfaction.

This comes as no surprise when looking at the unemployment statistics showing that in Quarter 4 of 2022, KwaZulu-Natal recorded an unemployment rate of 31.4%, with the youth aged 18-34 in KZN recording 59.3% unemployment. In Quarter 1 of 2023, KZN recorded unemployment overall of 30.9%, with the youth aged15-34 at 60% unemployment. Quarter 2 of 2023 KZN recorded unemployment overall of 31% with the youth aged 15-34 remaining at 60% unemployment.

Percentage of trust in national government between 1999 and 2021 has also deteriorated badly. Trust in national government was at a high of 60% in 1999, and has dropped badly to 31% in 2021. A proportion of the public who are satisfied or dissatisfied with political leaders also showed 59% dissatisfied and only 23% satisfied in 2021.

Percentage of satisfaction and dissatisfaction with the way democracy is working in South Africa also dropped badly between 2003 and 2021. While in 2004, 65% believed democracy was working smoothly in SA, in 2021 only 25% indicated satisfaction and 56% recorded dissatisfaction.

So, coming back to voter registration and voting figures, by 2019 less than half of all eligible South Africans did cast their vote. Moreover, voter turnout has dropped no less than 37% points in that 25 years between 1994’s first democratic election and the 2019 election. Also, as stated, according to Statistics South Africa’s 2018 population estimates, of the 11.8 million young people aged 18-29 at the 2019 elections, only 5.6 million of them registered to vote.

The survey also reveals that those of VAP who reflected non-registration, these disinterested non-voters were most likely young, Black South Africans, urbanites, with a working income.

No wonder ever since this Legislature’s ID and voter registration drive kick-started two months ago, the focus has been directed to this sector in mostly “what used to be” ANC strongholds.

Age appears to be the most important demographic explanation for the decline in voter participation in South Africa. Non-voters are predominantly young people. Some views raised to curb these challenges have suggested automatic voter registration for voting when one takes an ID, whilst maintaining voluntary voting.

On the issue of partisanship and party loyalty, partisanship provides voters with a psychological anchor into the political world. Party identification binds people to a preferred party and mobilises them to cast a vote. Party loyalties have dominated the decisions to vote across most of South Africa’s democratic elections.

However, in recent years, party loyalties have weakened in South Africa.

Just yesterday, a former Secretary General of the ruling party launched another political party. There is also growing evidence to suggest that South Africans do shift their votes across parties. The majority of non-partisans are young adults, they live in urban areas, are in most populated provinces like KZN.

Young South Africans are in all probability less likely to vote if they are not attached because they are harder to mobilise. Young people are less likely to have developed enduring attachments to political parties and are not guided to the polls by strong party loyalties. Young South Africans are less interested in formal politics and hold a weaker sense of civic duty towards conventional forms of participation, compared to older generations. Therefore, as generational replacement occurs and younger voters enter the electorate in bigger proportions, turnout levels will continue to drop significantly because young people are harder to mobilise.

Hence, the IFP agrees that an honest collaboration of efforts is necessary in order to face this challenge.

That’s “the way the cookie crumbles”, James Hadley Chase.

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