Mandy Wiener16 November 2023 | 4:20

MANDY WIENER: How to get young people to vote... Representation!

The youngest adult members of our society must be convinced to vote, but how? Representation is the key, writes Mandy Wiener.

MANDY WIENER: How to get young people to vote... Representation!


This weekend, the Independent Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) is holding a registration campaign. Its primary mission is to get citizens, specifically, young South Africans, to register to vote.

It is facing a registration gap of 14 million citizens. Of the 26 million people currently on the registration roll, only 7% are in the age group of 18 to 29. Even those who are registered to vote don’t rock up to cast their ballots.

"We need to increase the voter roll, and the registration gap is 14 million. We estimate there are about 40 million eligible voters. The difference is 14 million. There are about 14 million unregistered citizens who would qualify, and just about 50% of them are under the age of 29. We are prepared to receive all 14 million," said Granville Abrahams, the general manager of electoral matters at the IEC.

Why don’t young people want to vote? Perhaps it is because young people are apathetic. Perhaps it is because they are disillusioned with politicians. According to Stats SA’s latest jobs numbers, over 43% of South Africans aged 15 to 34 are unemployed.

The Murmur Intelligence survey which polled 500 people between the ages of 17 and 24, found that most youth surveyed showed a strong intention to vote however there was an overall disillusionment with the political system. That is the single biggest driver of voter apathy among many.

The IEC says it has also found that young people aren’t influenced by social media influencers and celebrities. The commission also noted that young people don’t trust social media as a platform for receiving information.

This is interesting considering political parties’ apparent enthrallment with roping in celebrities in election campaigns and using social media platforms to try and engage with young voters.

IEC deputy chief executive Masego Sheburi says, "While they may follow and like certain celebrities, they do not necessarily form opinions because of influencers. Therefore, influencers do not shape their thoughts on politics."

So how then do we get young people to vote? Representation is the key. If more young people were standing for public office, younger voters would be more inclined to vote to put them in leadership positions.

An example of this is the Democratic Party’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (aka AOC) who rallied young voters when she first stood for public office at the age of 29. She was a bartender and waiter before being elected as a public representative and used innovative approaches like doing Twitch livestreams instead of traditional and boring campaign rallies.

Our politicians are old, on average. Have a look at the average age of the Cabinet and you will see just how old. According to an IOL report in June this year, the average age of Cabinet is 61 years old. This week, President Cyril Ramaphosa turns 71. The oldest ministers are Pravin Gordhan and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma who are 74 years old. Let it not be lost on you that Dlamini-Zuma is currently serving as the Minister of Youth.

Whilst still apparently full of energy and verve, Bheki Cele is 71 years old. Minister of Justice Ronald Lamola is the younger member of the Cabinet.

The ANC has been vocal about a ‘generational mix’ and has been pushing for younger office bearers. However, it doesn’t have an official policy like the one that states that the NEC should be made up of 50% women. This current NEC is younger than the previous NEC.

The ANC Youth League’s convener Nonceba Mhlauli has said that if the party wants to reclaim the youth vote, then it is time for the old guard to make space for young leaders.

“We are saying that you won’t be able to attract young people among the rank if you do not have leaders who are youthful, who are younger, so we will be pushing for at least 30% of youth representation on the structures of the ANC,” she said.

Collen Malatji, the leader of the ANCYL, was born in 1993 and has been an MP since 2019. He was the youngest MP to join the house.

According to a US survey done by CBS News/YouGov, three-quarters of Americans think there should be a maximum age limit for elected officials. There is concern in the US about the health and age of President Joe Biden who turns 81 next week. The survey found that 77% of those polled believed there should be maximum age limits for elected officials and 45% said the maximum age limit for elected officials should be 70.

In Japan, which has an ageing population, there is somewhat of an opposing view where there is a belief that older people bring experience and wisdom. There is a process underway to hike the retirement age with the government wanting more mature workers to support younger employees by sharing their experience.

As political parties decide who to put on their lists to represent them in public office, they should be mindful that younger candidates may well resonate better with younger people and could help in convincing them to register and to vote in the elections next year.