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Op-eds

We must pass the torch of democracy to a new generation of voters

  • JADE8617
The 2019 national and provincial elections will be yet another milestone event in the history of our country.
by JANET LOVE | Jan 24, 2019

The elections are an opportunity for citizens to reaffirm their commitment to electoral democracy, the rule of law, and the supremacy of our Constitution.

Elections are also an opportunity for us to take stock of our nation’s democratic and developmental journey, to reflect on where we have come from, and have a say in where we are going.

Our Constitution guarantees every citizen aged 18 and above the fundamental right to participate directly in the process of laying the foundation for the future. We do this by electing those to serve as representatives of the people in national and provincial legislatures for the next five years. This right to vote is enshrined in the Constitution but, in South Africa, the exercising of this right is not compulsory.

Voting is a fundamental form of direct involvement in democracy, and can lay a solid basis for monitoring and holding elected representatives to account. However, it requires a conscious decision and personal choice to participate in and fulfil these responsibilities.

South Africa is fortunate in that significant numbers of our citizens continue to understand and believe in the importance of participation in our relatively young democracy.

In each of the past five national and provincial elections and five municipal elections, we have managed to maintain registration of more than 75%. Few countries with voluntary registration and voting are able to achieve this.

For many of our citizens, the right to vote and participate in the determination of our country’s future remains the clearest break with apartheid and manifestation of freedom. But freedom needs to secure dignity, equitable access, and justice.

Elected representatives need to enable us all to fulfil the promise of our Constitution. The more informed people are about issues and the more engaged they are in factually-grounded debate, the more likely people are to vote, and to engage further once the elections are over.

This year, we celebrate the 25th anniversary of our first historic elections. There is no more appropriate way for our citizens to commemorate this milestone than to vote.

Democracy remains fragile. We must continue to nurture and sustain it at every opportunity. Recent events around the world and on our own continent have shown that democracy can quickly decline and reverse if not defended and protected.

This depends on the participation of each and every citizen: to elect those who hold office and are charged with acting on our behalf, and to hold such representatives accountable, thereby ensuring that governments retain their legitimacy.

Elections require the constant renewal and rejuvenation of the voters’ roll to include new voters so that we know our democracy remains healthy and vibrant.

That is why the upcoming final voter registration weekend scheduled for 26 and 27 January 2019 is of such vital importance. It is an opportunity to grow the voters’ roll to include all eligible voters, especially the young people of South Africa.

Voter registration is continuous – but there is a cut-off for registration for each election. The voters’ roll is sealed when the president proclaims the election. Only the voters on the voters’ roll at that point in time are allowed to vote.

It has never been easier or more convenient to register. A record number of 22 925 voting stations will open from 08:00 to 17:00 on both days of this coming weekend (26 and 27 January) to allow new voters to register close to where they live.

Statistics South Africa’s population estimates reveal that there are about nine million eligible voters who are currently not registered to vote. Of these, almost six million – or two thirds – are under 30 years of age.

In order to keep the flame of democracy burning brightly, it is vital that we convince the next generation how important it is for them to vote.

  • Janet Love is the vice chairperson of the Electoral Commission

Vital voter information: 

•     All South Africa citizens aged 16 and older in possession of an official ID document can register as voters (although only those who are at least 18 years old on voting day may vote);

•     Voters should take a copy of their bar-coded ID book, smart-card ID, or temporary ID certificate when they go to register;

•     Voters must register in the ward in which they ordinarily reside. When registering, voters need to provide their address or a description of where they live to allow the Electoral Commission to place them on the correct segment of the voters’ roll. However, documentation or proof of address is not required;

•     Voters who have two addresses – for example, students who are away from home – can choose which address to use for registration, but it should be where you think you are likely to be on election day (expected to be in May 2019). Once you are registered, you can always update your registration online if you move;

•     To find your designated voting station, enter your address in the voting station finder app on the Electoral Commission’s website at http://maps.elections.org.za/vsfinder/, or call 0800 11 8000 during working hours;

•     Voters who are already registered don’t need to visit their voting station to update and check their address details. To check or update your address, visit the “click, check and confirm” page on www.elections.org.za. Follow the link “Am I registered to vote?”). Or, you can SMS your ID number to 32810 (R1 per SMS), and it will tell you the name of the voting station where you are registered. Please wait a couple of weeks before you do this, as we need time to capture all the registration forms we receive over the weekend!

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