Written by Sonke Mzana and Sheilan Clarke

Following the last voters registration weekend on 26 and 27 January 2019, 700 000 new voters turned up to register to vote. 81% of those new voters were under the age of 30 years old. This is encouraging considering how for years there seemed be this sense of apathy among young people towards politics. With this culture of youth apathy in mind, the IEC embarked on launching with a youth-focused brand called X-Sê.

It is exciting and encouraging to see an increase in youth voter registration but we can only hope they actually turn out to vote in the elections. So if you’re still not sure whether to vote or not or do not see the point of it, think about all the countries in the world who do not have the right to vote — countries such as Syria, Congo and Cuba. In these countries, citizens have been denied the right to vote and express their views, and they can not choose their own government and their future. We are therefore very fortunate to live in a country based on democracy, where everyone is free to perform this right. The freedom to choose your own government is one that symbolises democracy. It is a freedom that should be valued, not rejected.

Remember, we live in different times with different challenges affecting large parts of the population. By not voting, you give a great deal of responsibility to other people who may not hold your same interests at heart. They also will be involved in laws that can create and guide mankind for many years to come.You also give your right to other people to make decisions affecting service delivery.

In a recent Daily Maverick opinion piece, author Suntosh Pillay perfectly explained the consequences of not voting.

“While 86% of eligible voters turned out to vote in 1994, only 57% of eligible voters did so in 2014. The catastrophic effect of Jacob Zuma’s first term as president resulted in 43% of South Africans not voting in the last election – which means, hypothetically, if they all came together as a united voting bloc, the entire 2014 election could have been swung – because the ANC only managed to convince 35% of eligible voters in South Africa to vote for them.”

The last few months in South African politics have been turbulent. With more people losing confidence in not just the governing party but opposition parties as well. And with a greater demand for socio-economic stability, the electorate may have reason to feel the way they feel. However, a healthy democracy can be determined by the two-way communication between leaders and those being represented. Yes, voting in an election is not the only way in which to practice this two-way communication but it is where leaders that will represent you are elected.

The new X-Sê campaign may have enticed those under 30 to register to vote. With its youthful language, modern twist and cinematography, younger people may now finally feel included in this all important decision-making process. Maybe this was the missing key: have young people feel included. Elections messaging by the IEC is the first and commendable step towards getting young people to realise not only the value of the vote but the power it holds. This is our future and we get to shape what it looks like. Voting in an elections — particularly one so hotly contested as this year’s — is a powerful way to shape our future. So let us go out in our numbers and determine the future we want and need to see by voting in this year’s elections. 

My Vote Counts NPC is a non-profit company founded to improve the accountability, transparency and inclusiveness of elections and politics in the Republic of South Africa. We work to ensure that the political and electoral systems are open, fair and accountable to the public and that they remain relevant in the changing South African socio-political context.