On Wednesday a small group of ANC supporters rallied behind their party by dancing near the Old Mutual Sports Hall where the Wits voting station was. The singing was so loud that potential voters heard them while standing in line to vote. Photo: Luke Matthews
Roxanne Joseph and Thabile Manala
Bright and early on Wednesday morning, well before the polls had even opened, many students gave up their holiday slumber to join the long, snaking lines to cast their vote at Wits at the Old Mutual Sports Hall, on Education Campus and in their own neighbourhoods.
Despite the reported apathy among the youth, a large number of first-time voters came out to mark their ‘X’ at Wits.
Others trickled in steadily throughout the day and the lines remained long right up until the polls closed at 9pm.
“I like the numbers and am very impressed with the turnout at Wits,” said Mcebo Sisulu, an honours student in mathematical statistics.
He admitted that he was nervous about the elections and the apparent lack of enthusiasm of the youth.
Born-frees stepped up despite apathy
In the days and months leading up to the elections, the media became fascinated by the born-free generation, those who were born after South Africa became a democracy in 1994.
They were expected to not make a difference to the results, as they only made up 2.5% of the 25 million registered voters, according to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC). Only about a third of born-frees had even registered to vote.
Earlier in the week, Wits Vuvuzela spoke to a number of born-frees, many of whom were choosing not to vote due to a general sentiment of apathy.
“I’m not inspired enough to vote,” said Zongezile Qeba, 2nd year Chemical Engineering. He said his generation wanted to “forget about the past”.
“Maybe it’s because the educated, young people are more politicised and more likely to vote.”Prof Daryl Glaser
Despite being well aware of the country’s history, many born-frees have little faith in our politicians and political engagement is not a big priority for many.
But the apathetic young were nowhere to be seen on election day, where thousands of first-time voters showed up to stand in long queues at Wits from the early hours of Wednesday to long after the sun had set.
When asked how her first-time voting was, third-year law student Boitumelo Rammala said, “It was amazing. I’m going to do it every time, over and over again.”
“I was excited, because it was my first time and all,” said fourth-year law student Lethokuhle Ntombela.
Prof Daryl Glaser, head of the politics department, said student turnout at Wits was encouraging, despite registration being disappointing amongst the youth as a whole.
“[The turnout of first-time voters] was encouraging. Maybe it’s because the educated, young people are more politicised and more likely to vote,” Glaser said.
SRC president Shafee Verachia set the example when he was caught by Wits Vuvuzela helping his 86-year-old grandmother to the voting station in Malboro Gardens. A first-time voter himself, Verachia said he was voting for the South Africans who participated in the struggle to liberate the nation.
“Personally, it’s about honouring the generation before me, they made the sacrifices for me to have this right to make this vote today,” he said.
The reactions that Wits Vuvuzela got from some of the voters after casting their votes ranged between nervousness and disbelief.
First-year Bracken Hall was unsure he made the right choice with his vote. “I am not a 100% [sure] but, like, any change is a good change,” Hall said.
“It’s great it’s just that I don’t know if I made the right choice… I can’t believe I did that. I actually did not vote for the ANC”, said Wits alumnus Thulani Dyasi.
Muzi Mbatha said: “ I voted for the EFF … I also think I exercised my right to vote.”
Voting out of obligation
Many of the youth were torn between voting out of obligation to the ANC, with their history in mind, and voting for another party. “It’s not difficult for people to be very conflicted by this. People have a strong connection to the ANC,” said Prof Devan Pillay. “Many are conflicted because of their performance and especially because of the current president, [Jacob] Zuma. We don’t have a credible opposition,” he said.
“It’s the classic abused-wife syndrome. It fits in perfectly with people’s attitudes of the ANC. People always go back and are always hoping for change.”
According to Pillay, university students are, as potential members of the middle class, easily sold on all the gains brought by the ANC, such as being able to go to Wits. “Getting them to think differently is a bit of a crisis.”
Glaser said the turnout at Wits is an indication of a more positive future in political engagement for the youth.
“Each generation brings a certain set of strengths to politics. The young bring energy and idealism,” said Glaser.
“They have the longest horizon in the future to look forward to. They should start thinking about how they want to shape it.”
FREE, NOT TO VOTE: Many ‘born-free’ South Africans are staying away from the polls in this year’s national general elections. PHOTO: File.
Although it’s only been 20 years since South Africa achieved democracy, an entire generation, known as the “born-frees” is already showing signs of political fatigue with nearly one million of them choosing not to vote.
Tomorrow, and on just one day, South Africans will take to the polls and cast their vote in this year’s national general elections but the ‘babies’ of a free South Africa are not clamouring to the polls as was anticipated.
In staying away from the polling booths, the children of democracy, who are supposed to be proud to make their mark for the first time, are effectively failing the nation. But their reasons for standing on the sidelines on such a momentous day are varied.
“I’m not voting because … I believe that regardless of who I vote for the ANC (African National Congress) will win … I feel as though it’s between the ANC and the DA (Democratic Alliance), and I don’t really mind who wins between the two,” said Dominic Dandajena, a BCom student from the University of Pretoria.
Sadly, South Africa is no longer a democratic country
A common excuse was the high levels of corruption among politicans. “They [politicians] are extremely corrupt. Especially the ruling party politicians, but nothing is being done about it,” said Mpho Mile, a student from the International Hotel School.
“Our country’s politicians are not exemplary. Most of them do not possess the qualities of a good leader and this leads to them leading the nation astray often,” says Lesego Pitsi, a performing arts student from the State Theatre, in Pretoria..
Others feel political engagement is very far down their list of priorities even though it takes just a couple of hours to cast one’s vote.
“This [degree] is important to me right now, so I am more focused on this than I am on politics,” said Gemma Cooke-Tonnesen, a BCom Accounting student at Wits.
“However, I believe I still need to take an interest in politics.” Despite this sentiment, she is not registered to vote tomorrow.
While born-frees are well aware of South Africa’s history, they would prefer to “forget about the past,” according to Zongezile Qeba, a second year chemical engineering student from Wits. This has manifested itself in the form of apathy and for many, the decision not to vote.
“Sadly, South Africa is no longer a democratic country, but rather a crazy country that continuously tosses to and fro.”
Qeba is choosing not to vote because he, like many of his generation, are not “inspired enough”.
Born-frees are special
Even though she won’t be voting, Mile believes being a ‘born-free’ means she is already privileged: “Being a born-free, I have numerous amounts of opportunities. That doesn’t mean everything will be handed to me without no effort. There are opportunities that we are given the resources to attain,” she said.
“The born-free generation represent an era of redemption, a generation that is free from all forces of apartheid,” said Pitsi.
While the small percentage of registered born-frees is worrying, these elections will have an impact on them whether or not they choose to vote. The government and leaders elected into power will ultimately set the agenda for the youth, even those who care little about politics.
Getting a degree and finding employment after school will always be a priority for young people but if there’s one thing these elections have taught the nation, it’s that an entire generation of South Africans have already moved on from the past and need issues of the present and future to be taken very seriously, very quickly.
REGISTERED: Drama students Kelly Heckstein and Ashleigh Kelly talk politics during lunch hour at the Wits Theatre. Photo: Caro Malherbe
South Africans have until 5pm tonight to register to vote for the 2014 national general elections. It is still unclear though whether the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) will see the number of registered voters they were aiming for.
Wits Vuvuzela was on main campus today asking students if they had registered to vote for the upcoming elections.
Are you registered?
Ashleigh Kelly is a BA Drama student who strongly believes that it is important to vote but said she identified with people who opted not to vote.
“Not wanting to vote comes from the fact that we don’t know who to vote for. Democratic parties haven’t, especially with the born-frees, given us enough reason to trust their party,” she said.
Sitting next to her on the brick wall outside the Wits Theatre, Kelly Heckstein, a BA Performance and Visual Arts student, said she is registered to vote and plans on voting.
“If we want a say in how the country is run then we should vote and to make sure the majority rule is not an overriding rule and there are certain voices in parliament that can help.”
[pullquote]“As the youth, we are smarter than people in power right now so we know how to think about things and implement them, so if we are not going to vote we are not going to remove these people with authority.”[/pullquote]
The “born-free” vote
Born-frees (the term used to describe people born in democratic South Africa), make up 25% of all registered voters. Voting holds a certain responsibility and this figure could make a substantial difference to electoral outcomes. But it is unclear if those of the 25% who have registered will actually cast their vote.
BA student, Kenny said he was registered to vote but does not plan on voting as he has no interest in politics.
Vutu Mapodi, 2nd year BA, said “It’s a nice activity to do, you feel part of something and not left out.”
Ayanda Mgete, 2nd year BA, said that the problem, with South African politics lies in leadership. “As the youth, we are smarter than people in power right now so we know how to think about things and implement them, so if we are not going to vote we are not going to remove these people with authority,” said Magete
On 7 May South Africans will line up at the voting polls to make their mark. Born-frees will cast their votes for the first time making this election a momentous one in the history of the country.