So, yeah, this last weekend was the Independent Electoral Commission voter registration weekend and, by all accounts, it went pretty well. There were sporadic clashes and issues but there were definitely isoloated and far from the norm.
What were the outcomes? According to an IEC press release, more than 2 million South Africans were “assisted” at the country’s 20 000-odd registration centres. More important is that over 1 million people registered to vote for the first time. This absolutely delights me. I think people should be registered to vote, even those who don’t want to vote. If you’re registered, the IEC knows exactly how many people COULD HAVE voted, so even an abstention because of disillusionment counts towards the figures and actually shows the level of disillusionment. If you aren’t registered, then how do the powers that be actually know just how disillusioned you are? See what I’m saying…
But forgive me, I’ve gone off-track. Back to the IEC results:
The end result was a smooth and efficient registration process in which 2 512 219 were assisted at the country’s 22 263 registration stations. Of these 1 088 015 — or 43.3% — were new voters registering for the first time. Their commitment to democracy has helped boost overall registration levels to almost 77% of eligible voters from 73.6% before the weekend. A further 1.17 million people (or 46.6%) used the opportunity to change their existing registration to a different voting station and about 10.1% (253 098) re-registered at their existing voting station.
But here, for me, is the cool part:
Most encouragingly, over 80% of all new registrations were young people, helping to boost registration levels of those in the 20 – 29 age group from 49.1% before the weekend to 54.5% today. While the number of registered voters aged 18 – 19 almost tripled from 167 535 prior to the weekend to 434 370 today, the registration percentage of 22.6% remains the lowest for all age groups and presents an on-going challenge for all South Africans to encourage a new generation of voters to participate as we celebrate our 20th anniversary of democracy.
Okay, so the good news: of the those who registered for the first time were young. The “Born Frees”. More than half of South Africans aged between 20 and 29 are registered. It’s still too low, but it’s higher than it was at least.
Now the bad news: less than one in five 18 and 19 year olds are registered to vote. This scares me. Young South Africans need to get involved in the future of their country — and voting is a huge step in that involvement. (Before I get bashed, I know voting isn’t the ONLY way to get involved and care. But it’s a big part of it.) The most pivotal moment in our country’s fight against the apartheid regime was, in my opinion, the Soweto uprising of 1976. It was driven by young South Africans who wanted to see change. Have we, less than 40 years later, lost that desire to see things get better? I worry a little bit…
Anyway, I think it’s time to climb off my little soapbox. But maybe you have some thoughts on this? Drop me a comment.