Accessibility links

South Africa's 'Born Free' Generation Prepares to Vote

Members of the ruling party youth league sing outside the hospital where the late former South African president, Nelson Mandela, was being treated in Pretoria, South Africa, July 17, 2013.

Members of the ruling party youth league sing outside the hospital where the late former South African president, Nelson Mandela, was being treated in Pretoria, South Africa, July 17, 2013.

South Africa is set to hold national elections on May 7. In a country with more than 25 percent unemployment, the elections have generated a lot of interest among jobless young people - most of whom will be voting for the first time since the country established full democracy in 1994.

The vote comes 20 years after the nation shed the oppressive apartheid regime. It also marks the coming of age for South Africa's so-called "Born Free" generation, born just after 1994. This is their first chance at the national polls, and many say they're eager to participate.

The nation's electoral commission says nearly half of the 25 million registered voters are younger than 40.

Reaching out

Election campaigns have reached out to young voters.

The ruling African National Congress (ANC) has promised to create 6 million jobs if given another mandate to rule. The opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) has made a similar offer, and questioned the ANC's promise and job creation plans. The youth-centered and populist Economic Freedom Fighters (EEF), a new party that is contesting elections for the first time, has promised to nationalize mines and expropriate land without compensation to ensure that unemployed youths own the means of production.

The harsh realities of South Africa's poverty and inequality have long caused young voters to be disinterested in the country's politics. But the high unemployment rate, and an increasing number of high-level corruption scandals, seems to be encouraging more young people to use their vote to change the status quo.

Daniel Phumutso Magidi, 22, says he will not miss this year's vote for anything.

"My vote will make a change because I believe that as young people of South Africa, we are the active generation because we voice our things through the social networks and platforms that allow for the government to hear us," Magidi said. "And they can respond to us apart from burning tires and all that so yah I believe that my vote will have a say."

Ayanda Gumbi, 23, is disappointed with the ruling ANC for what she calls the party's failure to deal with corruption and unemployment. She plans to vote for the EFF, which is led by expelled ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema - who has been convicted of tax fraud and is also under investigation for corruption.

"EFF Malema, I just like the guy he is honest, he is truthful," she said. "People have been voting for [the] ANC for years and years but still there is no change. So I think Malema is the guy to bring change."

Sukiswa Thubeni, 22, is thrilled to be voting for the first time, but says new parties like the EFF cannot be trusted.

"I'm excited because it's something that I have never done before," Thubeni said. "I believe in ANC even though Jacob Zuma has his faults, but I know that ANC one day will make up something."

And other young voters, like Nomvula Ndebele, say they are still undecided.

"You have got Julius Malema telling us you gonna get free education, free houses, because the ANC has not been delivering, but you have got the DA also telling us that you gonna be getting this and this so it's a bit complicated for now," Ndebele said.

Coming change?

Only around 30 percent of eligible new voters are registered this year, according to Prince Mashele, executive director at the Pretoria-based Centre for Politics and Research, but of those, he thinks the majority are likely to vote against the ANC - a sign the party is losing its 20-year dominance.

"The age group between say 23 and 30, I think that group is more likely to go with Malema because most of them have never worked, by the way, in their lives," Mashele said. "They had hope that the ANC will change their economic lot, but the ANC has failed to do so."

Twenty years ago, many of these voters' parents watched as this nation transformed quickly from oppression to freedom. This year, more than a million first-time South African voters will get to experience that freedom - at the polling booth.

Show comments