20 years and born frees: towards an informed citizenry of South Africa’s electorate

Bernadine Jones

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


South Africa will celebrate 20 years of democracy in 2014. For the first time the “born frees” (South Africans born after 1994, under democracy) will be voting in this fifth free general election. These “born frees” find themselves in a society still divided by the history of Apartheid – the digital divide grows daily, while socio-economic issues are deeply inherent in society. Much of the Western world is solidly in Age 3 of the political communication phases, defined by Blumler and Kavanagh (1999:213) as a multi-media “hydra-headed beast”, with media ubiquity and celerity. South Africa, however, is still stuck at the end of Age 2, with heavy reliance on television and radio for political communication, open-minded citizens but fed an empty diet of party political discourse (ibid). How could liberal democracy, something the South African constitution idealises, function under a divided society that has little access to adequate information or media plurality? Identity politics, as described by Friedman (2005:4), defines South African democracy. Even though the ruling African National Congress (ANC), frequently called the “struggle” party, offered the poor the least to gain pre-2009, the poor still voted for the party, simply because the ANC presents itself as “the party for the people”. Friedman (2005:5) develops this terminology, in that “identity” does not mean racial, primitive, irrational, or ethnic, but is instead a “social self-definition”. This form of voting can weaken democracy as identity loyalties could ensure that the government secures votes regardless of its performance. Friedman concedes that this is the system under which South Africans have been voting for at least a decade. With South Africa’s existent digital and educational divide, informed citizenry is difficult without media plurality and access to non-partisan information. InkuluFreeHeid (abbreviated to IFH) is a youth-led, non-partisan national organisation that uses new media combined with community outreach programmes to unite South Africans and organisations in encouraging freedom and access of information. IFH hosts South Africa’s first party political comparison website, combining this Age 3 media with community-led and owned soapbox rallies of Age 2 to encourage democratic engagement. This paper thus begins a theoretical and critical discussion of South Africa’s regional democracy and of liberal democratic theory in the third age frame of political communication (Blumler & Kavanagh 1999, Friedman 2005, Piombo 2005, Gouws & De Beer 2008). Discussion then moves to barriers of informed citizenry in a still-divisive society such as South Africa, but also in relation to other third world / BRICS nations. Finally, the paper uses the presence of a non-governmental organisation, InkuluFreeHeid, as a case study for using new media combined with community development to encourage informed citizenry. The paper concludes by discussing the implementation of similar NGO activities to other Western non-Western countries.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2014
EventInternational Association of Media and Communication Research 2014: Region as frame: politics, presence, practice - Hyderabad, India
Duration: 15 Jul 201419 Jul 2014


ConferenceInternational Association of Media and Communication Research 2014
Abbreviated titleIAMCR 2014
Internet address


  • south african democracy
  • Political Communication
  • Democratic government
  • Post-apartheid era
  • South Africa

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Political Science and International Relations


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  • DST/NRF Innovation Scholarship

    Jones, Bernadine (Recipient), 2014

    Prize: Fellowship awarded competitively

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