The ‘Lost Born Free’ Generation

A reflection of South Africa’s May 2014 national elections and its young voters

Twenty years of freedom and democracy, a celebration for the benefactors of the new South Africa, the ‘born frees’. However, the opportunity, the freedom, only to be tarnished by negative attitudes towards the voting process. The scale of electoral apathy is severely underestimated. The youth are now perceived  as the ‘lost generation of the rainbow nation’,  make up a large proportion of voters in South Africa. Understanding their feelings towards voting could provide insight into the gains of two decades of democracy. Is it is a simple case of complacency, a disinterest in South Africa’s political landscape, or is South Africa’s born free generation one with no causes or political purpose, an apathetic generation. Some, however, have opted out of democratic processes such as elections due to the disinterest of the ruling elite in responding to their interests?

“My vote is not going to make a difference. Whichever party wins, little will change.” – 18-year-old Zukiswa Ngcobo.

Zukiswa is one of the many South Africans born after 1994 (comprising about a third of the total population) who did not register for the May 7 elections. According to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), 60 percent of citizens in their 20’s registered to vote, while 90 percent of those older than 30 had registered. South Africa has a large young population, with approximately 73 percent under the age of 39. According to Statistics South Africa, an estimated 1.5 million South Africans are between 18 or 19 years old. This totals to about 4 million potential voters showed little interest in voting and did not even register to vote for the 2014 elections. The IEC said that the low registration levels presents an on-going challenge for all South Africans to educate and encourage the youth to participate in the democratic general elections.

The irony of it all, is the inordinate expectation on born frees to relinquish the prejudices of their parents. Yet, an honest reflection of social and economic conditions for the majority of South African have not dramatically changed, if at all, since the end of the apartheid. Thabani Ngwira, spokesperson for the IEC, says that people have to take personal responsibility for registering, citizens need to understand that only participation can build a democracy. “People don’t just have a right to vote, it’s a responsibility,” he says.

Government must invest in improving the lives of the poor, especially those born post-1994. To enable our ‘lost generation of born frees’ to realize just how important participating in democratic processes is. Voting is critical to strengthening democracy, it is sad to think that the immense opportunity to influence South Africa’s future and political landscape appears grossly underestimated by our future leaders, teachers and parents, dismissed by all South Africans alike.

“At the time of his death, Biko had a wife and three children for which he left a letter that stated in one part: “I’ve devoted my life to see equality for blacks, and at the same time, I’ve denied the needs of my family. Please understand that I take these actions, not out of selfishness or arrogance, but to preserve a South Africa worth living in for blacks and whites.”
― Steve Biko



NGO Pulse –

Statistics South Africa –

Electoral Commission of South Africa –

The South African Civil Society Information Service –




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