South Africa’s low voter turnout is no laughing matter: 5 crucial takeaways

Voter turnout at elections is a check on the health of a democracy and non-violent participation in it. In South Africa, we have the chance to reverse a declining trend.

Voter turnout at elections is a check on the health of a democracy and non-violent participation in it. Here are five noteworthy observations from our country’s voting trends since our first democratic election in 1994:


  1. Voter turnout continues to decline

There has been a steady decline in voter turnout since the 1994 national election with the 2021 Local General Election (LGE) continuing this trend. The 1994 election saw a voter turnout of 86,87%, whereas the last National and Provincial Election – in 2019 – saw 66,1% of registered voters turn up at the ballot box. The most recent LGE in 2021 produced a meager 45,86% voter turnout. 

The numbers don’t lie. There is a clear and worrying decline in our national voter turnout.


  1. Our youth is not voting


As in, our youth is really not voting! Perhaps this should be our nation’s biggest concern in respect of the public’s participation in elections. People aged between 18-20 have the lowest voter turnout of all the age groups in the country. A report commissioned by the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung on voter turnout in the 2021 LGE, shows that less than 20% of the population aged between 18-35 registered to vote. The continuation of this trend will only lead to smaller and smaller voter turnouts in the future which will inevitably mean fewer people will be actively engaged in shaping our democracy. This is why we at FAN actively run the #FreedomToLead campaign which engages our youth in trying to save our democracy.


  1. There is a correlation between the country’s poor state and low election participation

Coincidence? I think not! State capture, loadshedding, corruption, riots, looting, and junk status – not the words synonymous with a country doing well. These events and more of our recent past have coincided consistently with the drop in election participation.


  1. These low voter numbers indicate a clear loss of faith…


…in our democracy, political parties, and the provision of proper service delivery. People will not vote if the dominant idea in their minds is “nothing will change” or “what good is my vote?” The numbers show the ever-growing need to restore our confidence in the democratic process. As such, I refer you to my earlier piece – Five Reasons Why Voting Matters


  1. The 2024 national election has taken on an added importance

Exactly three decades on from 1994 and the next opportunity we have to reverse the trend of declining voter turnout is around the corner. The best time to increase voter participation is the very next time we get the chance to vote. As a result of the trend of declining voter turnout, the more important it has become for us, as South Africans, to vote in 2024.


Our Constitution envisions a participatory democracy. One such important form of democratic participation in the functioning of the country is realized through voting or, the right to vote rather – arguably the most democratic right of them all. We implore all South Africans to recapture the spirit of 1994 to exercise their #FreedomToLead and buck this trend of not voting.



Cover image source available here.