South Africa: Voter registration

Updated April 2011

For a comprehensive treatment of voter registration see: Alan Wall 2010 "South Africa" IN Astrid Evrensel (ed) Voter Registration in Africa: A Comparative Analysis [PDF document], EISA, 317-354.

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, 405-406.

Voter registration was only introduced in South Africa for the 1999 national elections. In the period since 1999, the size of the voters' roll has increased by 27.6 per cent. During the 1994 elections there was no voter registration requirement; voters simply had to present a prescribed identity document. If a voter did not possess an official South African ID document, s/he could apply for a temporary voting card, issued by the Department of Home Affairs on proof of official identity. This resolved the problematic issue of voters without any official documentation, as well as voters with documentation issued by the former homeland governments. In total, 3.5 million temporary voter's cards were issued, including a number of such cards to underage voters (although the exact number is not known). These cards were made available two months before the elections. Furthermore, 500 000 foreign residents, 90 000 expatriates and 100 000 prisoners were permitted to vote in the 1994 elections.

In the subsequent elections in 1999, the Electoral Act No. 73 of 1998 tightened voter eligibility requirements significantly. Voters were now required to present an official South African identity document to register, and only South African citizens were permitted to vote. The identity document had to include a unique bar-code; these ID books had first been issued in 1985. These requirements saw a late run on Home Affairs departments throughout South Africa, causing a spike in demand just prior to the 1999 elections. A Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) survey, conducted in August 1998, estimated that as many as 5.3 million citizens might not have been in possession of this type of ID book, and the issue became a political hot potato (Knowledge System Group 1998). The ANC government defended this requirement, contesting the HSRC's figures, ultimately asserting that only 1.3 million eligible voters had failed to acquire these documents, and that these voters had been given ample opportunity to apply for and receive their bar-coded identity documents. Voter registration for the 18 million eligible voters took place over four weekends: 27-29 November and 3-5 December 1998, and 29-31 January and 5-7 March 1999 (IEC 1998). Eligible voters were also able to register at their appropriate municipal offices from March 1999. The voters' roll was closed on 15 March 1999, to allow for two and a half months to verify the voters' register, remove double and fraudulent registrations and to correct errors on the voters' roll, such as incorrect registration details. During this process, approximately 4 per cent of the names on the voters' roll were removed, primarily those of deceased voters and foreign residents.

The 2004 and 2009 voter registration processes remained largely similar to that of 1999, although voters who had previously registered were not required to re-register. In addition, during the registration periods returning voters were able to verify their details on the voters' roll without having to complete the registration process again. It was possible for voters to call a toll-free telephone number or visit the IEC's website to check whether and where they were registered. In total, the IEC registered and/or verified the details of 21 million eligible voters for the 2004 elections, out of an estimated 28 million citizens of voting age. In 2004, the IEC set itself a target of registering the estimated 9.5 million eligible voters that had not previously registered with the IEC (Kabemba 2004). Of the 20.9 million registered voters in 2004, 11.5 million were women, and 9.4 million men (IEC 2004). Through a number of dedicated special voter education and registration drives from 1-2 November 2008 and 7-8 February 2009, the total electorate for Election 2009 reached 23.1 million. Of South Africa's 2009 total of 23 143 240 registered voters, 12 703 643 (or 55 per cent) were women and 10 439 597 men (see 2009 Voter registration - proportion of women to men by province). Although the integrity of the voters' roll was widely accepted, it was also noted that the role needed a definitive 'clearing out' to ensure the removal of all deceased voters.


ELECTORAL ACT 73 1998, includes amendments of 2000 and 2003, [www] [PDF document, opens new window] (accessed 7 Feb 2011).

INDEPENDENT ELECTORAL COMMISSION (IEC) 2004 "Overview of Delimitation and Voting Stations"[www] (offline 11 Feb 2011).

INDEPENDENT ELECTORAL COMMISSION 1998 "Statement by the Independent Electoral Commission in response to the HSRC Survey", [www] (offline 11 Feb 2011).

KABEMBA, K 2004 "The launch of party manifestos and election campaigns", Election Update 2004: South Africa No 2 [PDF document], 16 February, EISA.

KNOWLEDGE SYSTEM GROUP 1998 Identity documents and registration to vote, Socio-Economic Surveys Unit of the Knowledge System Group, Human Sciences Research Council, Pretoria.