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Young Voters Important in South African Election

Nearly one third of South Africa's 23 million registered voters are younger than 30-years-old and of those, about two million are first time voters. There is much speculation about the impact of these young voters.

The 2009 election is the first in which voters who grew up out of the shadow of apartheid are registered in sufficient numbers that their choices will influence the outcome of the election. The questions have been, will they vote, and if so will they follow their parent's voting patterns.

There seems little doubt they will vote. Unlike the past two general elections, young voters have shown a lot of interest in the election campaign. Phumudzo, a 19-year-old first-time voter and college student, tells VOA the election is a hot topic among his friends and school mates.

"Even my roommate, he says he is going to vote," said Phumudzo. "I am with him now. Ja, they are also interested because a long time they were waiting for this day."

For young people like Phumudzo and his roommate Peace, education and job creation are important.

"Ja, even a job is important because if you get a job it means poverty is going to decrease," he added.

Parties have been hotly competing for young voters, and Jacob Zuma said on the last day of campaigning that he expected most of them to vote for his African National Congress.

"Many South Africans lost their lives fighting for freedom and the right to vote. And our youth must never take this right for granted," said Zuma. "We are confident of taking a huge slice of the youth vote in the country tomorrow."

But young voters appear to be divided about their choices. Phumudzo, who this year came from Limpopo province to study in Johannesburg, says his vote will go for change. His friend Peace says he will be voting for the ANC.

Aubrey Matshiqi of the University of Witwatersrand's Center for Policy Studies, tells VOA there is no doubt generational pressures that are beginning to build in South African politics. He says younger voters are becoming more and more distant from apartheid and cannot be appealed to in terms of the liberation struggle.

"And this generation of South African voters I think will in future starting with this election be making its political choices on considerations other than the role played by the ANC in that liberation struggle," he said.

Matshiqi says that political parties will in future have to pay close attention to the views and aspirations of these voters and tailor their political programs accordingly.