• Kate Bapela
+27 12 622 5579 or +27 82 600 6386
The sense of enthusiasm and bright anticipation was palpable at stations around South Africa recently, as first-time voters rushed to sign up on the last weekend of registration ahead of the local government elections on 18 May.
“We urge young people to turn out in their numbers,” said Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) chairperson Brigalia Bam. “They are the leaders of tomorrow… they must take up the opportunity of this important tradition of voting and embracing democracy.”
The last date for registration was 6 March and many young people decided on that day they wanted to play a more active role in the country’s young democracy.
“I think it’s important for us youth to participate in choosing our leaders,” said Bonakele Mkhwane from Springs, east of Johannesburg. “We are the ones who are always complaining and asking for change and better opportunity. In order to ensure we see that change, we need to cast our vote and choose the leaders in our communities who we believe will bring change to us.”
According to the IEC, about 40% of the people who visited registration stations around the country were first-time voters and 80% were under the age of 30.
Sivuyile Xaba from Kagiso township in western Johannesburg said although she is now 19 years old and legally entitled to vote, she was against the idea at first. “I just didn’t think my vote would matter – I will just be one in a million voters. What difference is my vote going to make?”
Xaba said her friends and her parents were the ones who encouraged her to change her mind at the last minute and go to the community hall and register to vote.
“My parents told me about how much it has taken for this country to become a democratic state where we are all allowed to have a voice, by voting. My friends also reminded me of the years spent fighting for this right and the lives lost for the freedom of this country and the freedom to vote.”
On 6 March at a voter registration station in Dobsonville, Soweto, a group of teenagers got into a heated conversation about why it’s irresponsible not to vote.
“When we just complain and complain and then sit and do nothing, we might as well pack for Perth like the many South Africans who chose to leave rather than fight for change,” said Carmel Johannes with her ID book in hand.
“I couldn’t agree more,” said Ngopotse Ramushu. “Imagine if Mr Nelson Mandela, Steve Biko or Chris Hani had not stayed and fought for what they believed in – what if they’d decided to pack up and leave? We would not have the country we enjoy now.
“The challenges were tougher and way more dangerous then, and they stood up and fought for change. We can do the same today – we can vote out corrupt leaders, and vote in leaders who share our vision of an honest country with honest leaders.”
Johannes said it’s wrong to think that voting is only for the older generation. “We are the ones who will inherit this country one day – we should be part of building and fixing it now. We can’t just go through life waiting for our parents to fix this country for us – we need to take responsibility for our own future.”
Nozinhle Zungu, who was one of the last people to run into the Dobsonville centre and register, was visibly excited. “I turned 18 yesterday and I couldn’t wait to come and register. I’ve been waiting for the chance to vote since I started doing history in primary school. It’s great to participate in my country and community’s political voyage.”