South Africa: Civic and voter education

Updated March 2011

Extracted from: Susan Booysen & Grant Masterson 2009 "Chapter 11: South Africa" IN Denis Kadima and Susan Booysen (eds) Compendium of Elections in Southern Africa 1989-2009: 20 Years of Multiparty Democracy, EISA, Johannesburg, 412-414).

Voter education is a legislated IEC function, although it has historically been undertaken primarily by NGOs, who respond to an IEC tender to develop and deliver voter education programmes during a pre-election period. The IEC reported that 108 voter education programmes had been certified and coordinated in 1994 and that its unit had reached 85 per cent of the population, although at most 20 per cent had received direct voter education as opposed to programmes published or broadcast in the national media (Independent Electoral Commission 1994). The IEC pointed to the low percentage of spoilt ballots (0.97 per cent) as proof of the impact of these programmes. However, alternate surveys suggest that as little as 9 per cent of the population perceived voter education as an important source of electoral information (Independent Electoral Commission 1994).

For the 1999 elections, resources were far more limited than in the 1994 elections. The IEC reserved R7 million of its own budget for voter education, but it subsequently cancelled the tender process. Instead, it distributed donated funds to the agencies that met certain certification requirements, including non-partisan content and an adherence to a code of conduct published by the IEC in November 1998. A large proportion of the IEC's voter education budget was expended on its own publicity in the form of newspaper advertising addressing voters. It was not a mandatory requirement for voter education programmes to register with the IEC, although registration made it easier to secure funding.

In 2004, the IEC again took charge of a concerted awareness campaign, with advertising placed in newspapers and broadcast on public and community radio and television media. Several NGOs also conducted voter education programmes and initiatives ahead of the elections, including EISA. Subsequent to the 2004 elections, the IEC maintained its voter education programmes, and targeted institutions of higher learning in a bid to encourage more young people to vote in the 2009 elections. Analysis of the voting age distribution of voters in the 2004 elections suggested that the majority of the 7 million eligible voters who did not register to vote were young voters below the age of 35. The IEC in 2009 undertook a range of initiatives to promote youth involvement. The success or failure of this ongoing IEC voter education campaign would mainly be assessed after the 2009 elections, yet there was tentative evidence that youth voter registration had corrected previous under-registration by this age group. In addition, election observers remarked positively on voter education outcomes. The declaration by EISA (2009) serves as an illustration:

The mission took positive note of various voter education and information programmes undertaken throughout the country in order to enhance participation and encourage voters to make an informed choice. We commend the excellent work done by the IEC and various civil society organizations in mounting civic and voter education programmes which went a long way in empowering the electorate.

References

INDEPENDENT ELECTORAL COMMISSION 1994 Report on South Africa's 1994 Elections.

EISA 2009 Interim Statement: EISA Observer Mission to the 2009 South African National & Provincial Elections.