OPINION | Battle of the ballot – The power lies with the youth, but they not using it

In 1994, I desperately wanted to join the long queues, snaking down the roads for kilometres, as about 20 million people of all races were, for the first time, allowed to make their mark for change in South Africa.

There was one hitch, though. My 18th birthday was only in August. The election was in April. I could not add my voice to those voting for democracy.

In 1999, at the next general election, nothing was going to stop me from using my right and privilege to vote, one that many people had fought and died for.

But it seems, as we head closer to celebrating 30 years of democracy next year, not everyone feels voter participation is crucial, or as the country buckles under several socioeconomic crises such as load shedding and high unemployment, they have made the decision not to take part in the 2024 elections.

This is reflected in our voter turnout figures, which dropped from 86.6% in 1994 to 66.1% of registered voters, turning up in the last national election in 2019.

If the recent local government elections figures are anything to go by, there is huge cause for concern for 2024. The 2021 voter turnout was only 45.86%. If this trend continues, there will be fewer people actively involved in shaping democracy in South Africa.

The most worrying factor lies with the youth, who appear to be actively retreating from the process. A recent report commissioned by the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung on voter turnout in the 2021 local government elections, shows less than 20% of the population aged between 18-35 registered to vote.

In this week’s Friday Briefing, which happens to fall on Youth Day, we decided to take a closer look at the power of the youth vote, and examine why the 18-34 age group cohort is showing signs of declining voter turnout, even though it is the most influential.

By Vanessa Banton – News24 Opinions editor

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