Over 13 million eligible voters in South Africa not registered for the 2024 elections

 ·7 Mar 2024

While South Africa has registered around 1 million more voters for the 2024 elections, there are millions more who are eligible but opting to sit it out.

On May 29th, South Africa will see its seventh democratic general election – however, given a consistent decline in eligible people voting, a major talking point is whether voters will actually show up in their numbers to make their mark at the polls.

In 1994, there were 22.709 million registered voters, with an impressive turnout of 86.87%.

The voters roll has continued to grow across elections, with 26.757 million registered to vote in 2019, and preliminary data from the Electoral Commission (IEC) showing that there are a record-high 27.67 million registered voters for 2024.

However, while the voters roll has increased, this needs to be considered in terms of the voting-age population (VAP), which is not reported by the IEC.

According to researcher Gareth van Onselen, South Africa’s VAP is not officially tracked – not even by Statistics South Africa, which reports ages in ranges, and the 18-year-old voting age is considered as part of the 15-19-year range.

While Stats SA has data on individual age groups, the estimates for 2023 and 2024 are not yet available, Van Onselen said.

However, using data sourced from Stats SA on the growth of this particular age group between 2018 and 2022 and projecting this forward, Van Onselen determined an estimated VAP of 41.4 million people in 2024.

Considering these estimates, this would imply that not only is the registration rate among the eligible voting population continuing to decline, there are also 13.7 million eligible voters not taking part in the 2024 election.

Election yearRegistered VotersEligible VotersRegistration RateNot registered
201425.3 million31.4 million80.5%~6.1 million
201926.8 million38.9 million74.5%~9.2 million
202427.67 million41.4 million*66.8%*~13.7 million*
2014 and 2019: GroundUp | *2024 Estimates, Gareth v Onselen, Inside Politics

Also, despite increases in voter registrations, proportional voter turnout has been on a consistent decline since the 2009 elections – with the 2019 national and provincial elections seeing a 20% lower national turnout than in 1994.

General elections voter turnout by Seth Thorne

Looking at the most recent elections, although local government elections do typically garner a smaller turnout than the general elections, the height of discontent was seen when the turnout of registered voters at the 2021 municipal elections sat at a mere 45.86%.

The 2021 elections did take place during the Covid-19 pandemic, which could account for the low number.

According to a report by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, the turnout decline since 1994 is not unique, but is still concerning as it indicates an increasing population discontent with the status quo of the political system.

The bigger picture – the turnout is technically worse

Preliminary data from the Electoral Commission (IEC) shows that there are a record-high 27.73 million registered voters for the 2024 elections – and the proportion of which are going to vote is still very much up in the air.

Although the turnout for the 2019 elections was recorded at 66.05%, a report by Konrad Adenauer Stiftung revealed that “for the first time since the founding democratic elections in 1994, less than half (49%) of all eligible South Africans cast a vote in 2019.”

To put this into perspective, the director at Rivonia Circle, Tessa Dooms, said that “in the 2019 national and provincial South African elections, 17 million people turned out to vote – 10 million of those people voted for the African National Congress, which with 58% became the largest party elected into parliament.”

“If the 14 million unregistered voters in South Africa today decided to register and vote for one party or person in 2024, they would collectively have the power to unseat the largest political party,” said Dooms.

General election provincial turnout

In the last twenty years, there has been a significant decline in voter turnout percentages across all provinces, dropping by 20% to just over 30%, depending on the province.

Limpopo has seen the biggest drop – having the titles of both best (1999) and worst (2019) voter turnout in the country.

The youth are largely not making their mark

Voter apathy among the youth has long been a cause of concern in South African politics.

According to Statistics South Africa’s 2018 population estimates, there were approximately 11.7 million eligible voters in the 18 – 29 age group for the 2019 elections (around one-third of the electorate).

Of the 11.7 million 18 – 29 year olds, only 5.6 million registered to vote.

Of that 5.6 million, voter turnout for the age group was a meagre 46%.

According to a survey study by the Human Science Research Council (HSRC), South Africa’s youth are not apathetic but rather stay away from the polls due to their dissatisfaction with government performance, choice of political parties and democracy in general.

The study found that many young people boycott elections due to their belief that their individual vote does not make a difference, the lack of trust in politicians who are perceived as uncaring, and poor socio-economic conditions.

Read: Political parties rake in R160 million ahead of the 2024 elections – this is who’s funding them

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