Why young South Africans are refusing to vote

Those under 35 make up over 60 per cent of the population: how they vote, and if they register, matters. But many are refusing to vote. Why?

‘All this country ever does is break our hearts’ goes a line from a poem called The House We Builtby South African poet and writer Lebohang ‘Nova’ Masango.

It’s a statement that resonates with thousands of young South Africans.

It’s election year and political leaders and their entourage can be found campaigning in different provinces across the country promising happy endings to voters. But just how many will buy into what most people would call ’empty promises’? 

Rookie videographer from Johannesburg, Thabiso Molatlhwa says he will not be voting because of how things are looking right now in the country and because he has no faith in any of the campaigning parties to bring positive change.

‘When you feed someone too much ego, it begins to blind them. That is what happened to the ANC. Right now they couldn’t be bothered by what we think of them, either way they’re in charge, because that’s just how the system is.

‘To be fair, there have been a few changes in a few places around the country,’ he concedes. ‘But the bait should be passed on to another party, however, who can be trusted with the bait right now?’

Thabiso reckons that finding employment in this country is very, very difficult and starting a new business is even more frustrating. Although there are youth development programmes, they are inaccessible, especially to those living in townships and rural areas.


Thabiso Molatlhwa

Dual South Africa and Zimbabwe citizen, Shingai Darangwa, feels the same way.

‘We also need to make sure that there is more access to opportunities for young people from impoverished backgrounds. The apartheid legacy is still running strong. Radical change is needed for us to see the high unemployment rate (especially among youth) turn around.

‘I want to see young people take a stand against corruption and inadequate leadership, like they did with the #FeesMustFall campaign. I can see young people infiltrating the African National Congress in the coming years and doing things right. I also think that the gradual decline of support towards the ANC will force them to make some serious changes in the next coming years.’


Shingai Darangwa. Image by Kgothatso Manale

Rhodes University alumni Banyana Mshungu had a lot say about the state of SA politics. Her former university, which is based in the Eastern Cape which has also had its fair share of political altercations and protests over the years. Think #RUreferencelist.

Although Banyana did not vote for any party in 2016, she remains hopeful that things will change for the better.

‘Like many other young South Africans I have qualms about the ruling party. While I take full cognisance of the role the party has played in this dispensation. There are many issues that need to be addressed within the party and the work that they do.

‘Our constitution is a beautiful thing. But it means nothing if people (the government) don’t practically and thoroughly apply it.’

More so, she wants to see more accountability other than people accordingly doing what they are mandated to do, and the law would be the instrument that can ensure that this happens.


Banyana Mshungu. Image by Keitumetse Kekane

The thought of politics fills Thami Mkhize with revulsion. Though he has voted before, he says he will not be partaking this time around, or ever again. 

‘I just saw how the government sort of intentionally abuses their power at some things. They buy votes without putting in real work and they misuse their power and forget about the people who actually voted for them.’

Thami Mkhize

Kamaria Blakisson has never registered to vote or voted before, and that is because she’s never believed in any political party, and still does not. She feels that the ruling party only feel obliged to bring about change during elections to lure voters.

‘The ANC gave non-white South Africans the opportunity to vote, and vote for them. We were declared a free and democratic society through the assistance of the ANC. But as long as the ruling party uses this to make voters feel guilty and therefore obligated to continually vote ANC, South Africa cannot be constituted as a democratic nation.’

She thinks that radical change and sacrifices for the people aren’t important for parties, it’s all about votes.

‘Politics, with all its drama, has been made to seem out of reach to the average citizen. We as individuals should take that power and accountability back into our own hands to see change.’


Kamaria Blakisson. Image by Siya-Mkhasibe

This article was originally published on TrueAfrica ahead of the 2016 elections.