While voter turnout was low, new numbers show there was massive online interest in the elections

Business Insider SA
News24's front page (screenshot)
News24's front page (screenshot)
  • Voter turnout in the 2019 general elections was the lowest in South Africa's democratic history. 
  • But there was little sign of apathy among South Africans with access to the internet. 
  • News24 received a whopping 10.3 million unique browsers in the week of the election - three times more than its competitors. 
  • For more stories, go to Business Insider SA.

Voter turnout in this year's elections was the lowest since the dawn of democracy. 

Despite a 5.48% increase in the number of registered voters, only 17.6 million South Africans cast their ballots in 2019 compared to 18.6 million in 2014

A total of 65.99% of the 26.7 million registered voters voted in the general elections - 10% lower than 2014's 73.48% voter turnout. 

But there was little sign of apathy among South Africans with access to the internet. 

On election day, May 8, over half a million South Africans searched for the term "elections" on Google.

Of the political parties, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) was the most popular search subject - with 20,000 searches. 

Also read: The IEC made R16.7 million for SA from the massacre of minor parties in the 2019 elections

News24 - South Africa’s largest digital news publication - received an unprecedented 2.16 million unique browsers the day following general elections. 

In total, the publication had 10.3 million unique browsers in election week - three times more than its closest competitors, TimesLive (3.3 million), the Citizen (3.1 million) and The South African (2.9 million).

The News24 app alone, the most downloaded news app in South Africa, served 2.8 million unique browsers. 

Adriaan Basson, News24 editor in chief, described the 2019 elections a “proud moment” in the history of News24 which was founded in 1998.

News24 had real-time election projections based on Independent Election Commission (IEC) results. 

Also read: Investors were eerily accurate in predicting the election results

Developed by elections analyst Dawie Scholtz, the News24 mathematical model used shifts in voter patterns to accurately project the election results. It, for example, claimed victory for the ANC in Gauteng while official counting reflected that the political party was still below 50%. 

Basson said live video streaming with commentary, analysis and interviews with top pundits and politicians from the results centre added to News24’s well-received election coverage.

Afrikaans digital publication Netwerk24, the digital home of popular publications such as Die Burger, Beeld and Rapport, saw a traffic spike of more than 250,000 unique browsers on May 9.

“This was no mean feat given the relatively small Afrikaans market and the fact we’re a paywall site,” Netwerk24 editor-in-chief Henriëtte Loubser said.

Netwerk24's front page (screenshot)
Netwerk24's front page (screenshot)

“We did live blogging for 85 hours straight, from 7:00 on election day when polling stations opened until 20:00 on Saturday when the official results were proclaimed.” 

Social media

Much of the electioneering took place on social media this year.

Also read: This is how election posters changed in South Africa over the past 25 years

Support for the EFF skyrocketed during the elections, with roughly 100,000 more people following it on Twitter compared to the ANC. 

If the elections were based on social media following (Twitter and Facebook combined), the ANC would've received 30.75% of the vote, the EFF 30.68% and the DA 27.27%.

EFF leader Julius Malema is the seventh-most followed South African Twitter account, with 2.4 million followers. President Cyril Ramaphosa's was one of the top-five fasted growing accounts, and reached 534,000 followers this week.

Also read: If Twitter was a country, the EFF would have beaten the ANC in the elections

South Africa's vibrant political scene on social media convinced the Independent Election Commission (IEC) to become one of the first electoral bodies in the world to engage directly with Facebook and Twitter to combat fake news. 

Kate Bapela, IEC spokesperson, said both platforms implemented initiatives to counter disinformation. Initiatives include the culling of robot twitter accounts, and reporting functions when users spot misinformation.

Facebook also partnered with fact-checking agency Africa Check to scrutinize information shared on social media. 

In addition, the IEC also implemented protocols to report misinformation and disinformation on Twitter and Facebook, and the entities agreed to have a rapid response mechanism, Bapela told Business Insider South Africa. 

News24 and Netwerk24 are publications, along with Business Insider South Africa. 

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