South Africa's youth not as apathetic to elections as thought


According to the Institute for Security Studies, voter registration among young people is the lowest of all age demographics in South Africa and with municipal elections just a day away, the institute looked into the reasons why South Africa’s youth appear to be so “apathetic” to the democratic process.

The 2014 national elections also revealed a disconcerting registration low for 18 and 19 year-old voters at just 33 per cent.

According to the institute, apathy was not the reason the youth were not necessarily voting.


“What we discovered in our research study (age 18-24) that this age group is not as apathetic as they would lead us to believe, in fact there is a disillusionment amongst this age group, where they are not satisfied with democracy as it currently is,” said Lauren Tracey, Researcher at the Institute for Security Studies.

She adds: “There is also an impact towards the ruling party who they don’t necessarily see as addressing the challenges that they face in their communities.”

Some of the challenges discovered during the survey is the burden of unemployment, a major factor for young South Africans at the moment said Tracey.

She highlights the 2015 Statistics SA labour force survey, which revealed that young people under the age of 25 made up at least 63 per cent of the unemployed population.

Poor infrastructure, inequality and the contrast between urban and rural areas were also some of the grievances the youth raised in the survey.

Poor and lack of access to education was another major topic, especially in light of the various protests such as the #FeesMustFall movement.

The perception that the ruling party and the politically elite are corrupt is another deterrent to the youth – they used expressive words like liars, manipulative and because they are seen to be ‘eating’ the money.

“They feel very alienated from formal democratic processes, they do not feel like they are being engaged on formal democratic processes, they would rather engage in protest action because this is how their voices get heard and the circumstances they face get seen to immediately,” said Tracey.

The survey was a series of one-on-one interviews and focus group discussions conducted at various educational institutions across all nine provinces in the country and in both urban and rural areas.

School Survey

As information and even political campaigns are, now more than ever, being circulated via social media, youth in rural areas feel excluded as they don’t have the same kind of access as those in urban.

However, Tracey says she believes young voters would take to the polls if they saw change as a response.