South Africa initiated its first significant voter registration drive on Saturday, aiming to combat widespread disinterest in the lead-up to next year’s national elections.
Polling stations across the country welcomed potential voters to register or verify their details during a two-day initiative designed to encourage participation in elections that have seen declining turnout over the years.
“I’m optimistic that these elections will bring change to South Africa. If things continue to decline, there’s no reason for me to stay here; I’ll have to move overseas,” remarked Oliver Curlewis, an 18-year-old student registering to vote for the first time in an affluent Johannesburg suburb.
Service deficiencies, prolonged energy shortages, and economic instability have left many South Africans disillusioned with their government.
Voter turnout has decreased every five years since the joyous queues of South Africans in the inaugural democratic elections in 1994. In the 2019 elections, merely 49 percent of eligible voters showed up to vote.
Young voters, in particular, have been notably absent. In 2019, only 15 percent of eligible 18 to 19-year-olds and 30 percent of 20 to 29-year-olds participated.
“Calling out to the 14 million unregistered youth—time to step up!” urged the electoral commission on social media, targeting young people to register and encourage their friends to do the same.
However, not everyone responded to the call. At one school registration center, chairs set up for queues remained unoccupied, with political representatives lounging at party stalls outside.
While online registration was an option, only about 30 people had visited the station, which serves a ward of over 2,000 residents, a few hours before closing.
“I’m questioning if it’s truly worthwhile,” pondered Noluthando Tshazibane, 20, who was out shopping with a friend nearby.
The ruling African National Congress (ANC), previously led by Nelson Mandela, has seen its once-impressive standing marred by corruption and mismanagement allegations. Despite being in power since the end of apartheid, polls suggest a potential decline in votes below 50 percent in 2024.
Yet, disenchantment with the ANC hasn’t necessarily translated into support for the opposition.
Passing another polling station in Johannesburg’s city center, a 26-year-old medical student expressed uncertainty about registering. “I don’t know who to vote for,” she stated, frustrated with the dominance of “old people” in South African politics and the lack of appealing parties.
The electoral commission confirmed that elections will occur between May and August next year.
“Engage in community outreach and campaign vigorously to demonstrate that the ANC remains the only party capable of governing this country,” President Cyril Ramaphosa urged party activists while visiting a polling station in Soweto in the morning.