March 5, 2024


2024 National Elections 

From Citizenship to the Ballot Box. Exploring Voting Rights.

With the 2024 National Elections upon us, South Africans are getting ready to place an X in favour of their favourite political party. South Africans are getting ready to “X”-ercise the human right that gives every adult citizen the right to vote. 

However, have you ever wondered whether it really applies to every adult citizen and whether it matters how the person got his/her citizenship? Have you also wondered about whether citizens who are not in South Africa can vote or if a person's mental state affects their constitutional right to vote? This article will discuss the influence these factors have on the right to vote. 

Who is considered an adult in order to vote?

The Constitution is clear that only adult citizens are allowed to vote. Under South African law, a person is an adult if s/he is 18 years and older. 

Although the right to vote flows from the Constitution, it is regulated by the Electoral Act 73 of 1998 which states that “any South African citizen in possession of an identity document may apply for registration as a voter”. This means that as soon as a citizen obtains an identity document, they can register to vote even if they have not yet reached the age of majority. 

However, this does not mean that just having an identity document is enough to let a citizen vote. Registration to vote does not mean that one will be able to cast a vote. A person must also be placed on the voter's roll in order to exercise the right to vote and only citizens who are 18 years old and above are placed on the roll. Interestingly, a 16-year-old can register to vote once s/he acquires an identity document, but will have to wait until s/he is 18 years old to be able to cast a vote. 

Does the type of citizenship affect the right to vote?

Although citizenship can sometimes be a complicated subject, there are three types of citizenship in South Africa: citizenship by birth, descent and naturalisation. For example, if one of a child's parents is a South African citizen and that child's birth is registered in South Africa, that child may claim citizenship. Another example is that a foreign national who meets certain requirements and who has been a permanent resident for a certain period, may apply to Home Affairs to become a citizen by naturalisation. 

The type of citizenship does not affect a citizen's right to vote. The Constitution and the Electoral Act do not limit the right to vote to a specific type of citizenship and only refers to the word citizenship.  This means that any South African citizen, irrespective of how that citizenship was acquired, may participate in the elections and exercise their right to vote. 

Can South African citizens vote if they are outside the country?

Not being in the country at the time of the elections does not affect a citizen's right to vote. A citizen who is outside the country can still register to vote (if not registered already) and cast their vote from abroad. There are specific instructions provided by the Independent Electoral Commission of South Africa (“IEC”) on how to register (if not registered already), where to vote, when the voting will take place and so on. A citizen who wants to vote abroad must take the measures to get familiarised with these instructions to avoid not being able to vote. 

It should also be noted that in addition to an identity document, a citizen voting outside of the country must also be in possession of a valid South African passport. 

Does an adult citizen's mental state affect the right to vote? 

The Electoral Act states that a person of unsound mind may not register to vote. The mental state must have been declared by the High Court or s/he must be detained under the provisions of the Mental Health Care Act 17 of 2002. 

The Constitution does not only give adult citizens the right to vote, it also gives them the freedom to choose which party they want to vote for and cast their vote in secret. It can be argued that making a choice, or rather an informed choice, requires a certain level of understanding. A person of unsound mind might not be able to meaningfully exercise their right to vote. 

Does a citizen in prison have the right to vote?

Being in prison, whether convicted and sentenced or awaiting trial, does not affect an adult citizen's right to vote. There are facilities provided in prisons to ensure that prisoners who meet the voting requirements are not deprived of their right to vote. However, a person who commits a crime of fraud in his/her voting registration will not be allowed to vote, this applies to every person regardless of being imprisoned or not. 


In conclusion, every adult citizen has a right to vote, but this right is not absolute. It is subject to the person meeting the requirements put in place, for example, registering to vote. It can also be legally limited or taken away in some instances, for example, where the person is of unsound mind. Once you place an X, it is the IEC's responsibility to count the votes and announce which political party acquired the most votes. Exercise your right and cast your vote this year. 

Did you know…A person who commits fraud in their voting registration may be disqualified from voting.