The Electoral Commission of SA (IEC) reports that the total number of people registered to vote in the country is 26 217 703. This is lower than the 2016 registration of 26 333 353.
The IEC announced on Monday that it was pleased with this weekend’s voter registration numbers, despite many disagreeing with this sentiment. The commission said that more than 1.7 million voters had registered over the weekend, and 25% of those were new.
According to the mid-year Stats SA estimations, South Africa has around 40 million people who are over 18 and eligible to vote. So, 65% of eligible voters are registered to vote. In 2016, it was about 75%.
The decline in the number of eligible voters is what is of concern to Paul Berkowitz, director of The Third Republic, a nonprofit organisation working for political change and grassroots democracy in South Africa.
Political analyst Levy Ndou echoed Berkowitz’s sentiment.
Ndou said that people were not seeing change: “People do not see the value of voting. Communities only see politicians when it is time for elections. There are frameworks for politicians to use to engage with communities, but politicians always find reasons not to do so.”
Ndou said the lack of political education in the country is a big factor in the lack of interest, enthusiasm or concern.
“Political parties are not taking responsibility for offering political education. Parties have a responsibility to create consciousness among people at the branch level. Parties need to educate people about the responsibilities they have as citizens. Parties should be at the forefront of community issues, not just when it’s election [time],” Ndou said.
The unfortunate part of people staying away from the voting stations, Ndou said, is that it enables the status quo:
Berkowitz agreed: “The higher voter turnout in the 2016 elections saw big changes to the results. We saw coalition governments like Tshwane, Johannesburg and Nelson Mandela Bay. Community-based activism and organisations can play a bigger role in getting people to participate in local government elections.”
Berkowitz said that, although it is now easier than before for these organisations and independent candidates to contest for elections, a lot of them will not be ready for the upcoming elections.
Ndou said another reason we see fewer people participating in local government elections is that South Africans are not static: “They are always moving, mostly looking for better opportunities. They do not get the chance to get to acclimatise to the areas they are moving to. They do not get the chance to get to know about the political climate in that area. Usually, registering to vote or voting in those areas is the last thing on their minds.”