Human Rights Day 2024: Voting Is A Human Right

SAFMH News Room

Voting is a human right, including for mental health care users.

Research shows that if you have a disability or mental health condition, you are less likely to vote compared to the general population.

Shayni Geffen, Project Leader for Advocacy at the South African Federation for Mental Health says “this Human Rights Day, we urge everyone to realise their right to vote in the 29 May elections. We know citizens with mental health conditions, intellectual disabilities and psychosocial disabilities are especially vulnerable of being excluded from political processes, and we need to address this.”

Sections 8(2)(c) and 8(2)(d) of the Electoral Act of 1998, still state that psychiatric patients and people ‘of unsound mind’ (a grossly outdated term from a human rights perspective) are not able to vote, despite considerable efforts to overturn this. Community-based mental health organisations across the country are working to ensure that mental health care users living in the community can realise their right to vote. 

Mpumalanga Mental Health Society Deputy Director, Edward Moutlana, gives a message of support during the IEC training promoting voter literacy and human rights for people with disabilities.

In Mpumalanga, Mpumalanga Mental Health Society collaborated with the Steve Tshwete Disability Forum, Steve Tshwete Local Municipality and the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) to offer training to their services users. This training was organised after it was identified that during voting times, different political parties would take advantage of people with physical, psychosocial, or intellectual disabilities in return for their votes. The training aimed to challenge the idea that people with disabilities can just be given t-shirts and food parcels in return for their votes (a practice that has frequently occurred in the past). Service users have been trained and empowered with the knowledge that voting is their right, while being encouraged to vote for the change that they want to see in the country. Attendees were also registered on the IEC database and transport was provided for the event, thereby increasing accessibility.

In the Eastern Cape, Indlela Mental Health’s Masakhane Youth Skills Development programme hosted discussion groups with their learning partners (service users) to explore the barriers to voting and ways to overcome these. During the discussions, many people shared that they chose not to vote as they are not properly informed and felt that there was no “honest” support offered. Some people also shared that they feared manipulation by political parties as they are not always aware of their rights to be able to choose.



People from Indlela Mental Health’s Masakhane Youth Skills Development Programme share their thoughts about voting and human rights

Limeez Botha, Director of Indelela Mental Health, shares: “We would like to see an apolitical designated person who understands intellectual disability available at the election polls to be available to offer support to voters. People with Intellectual Disabilities have rights, they can make a difference, all people need to be treated with dignity and respect. People with intellectual disability have the right to vote and be heard.”

Indlela Mental Health has approached the IEC for a training workshop to increase voter literacy ahead of the 2024 elections, including regarding the qualifications for special voting. 

In the Western Cape, Cape Mental Health has been working with their service users and trainees about their right to vote and the importance of having a say in our country’s governance. This includes offering support for voter registration, providing information on the right to vote and running workshops on how to vote.

Sonia Peters, Senior Instructor of Cape Mental Health’s Athlone Training Workshops Unlimited, says: “We have created makeshift voting stations and have used them as examples to practically show trainees how to vote.”

Peters says that in the past Cape Mental Health has reached out to the IEC to arrange for additional training sessions and requested special voting stations for their users, but they have not received a response to date. Peters says: “It would be our dream if the IEC would make special provisions for our members to vote.”

In addition to voter education, the UN Partnership on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has identified these other interventions to increase the political participation of persons with intellectual or psychosocial disabilities:

  • Ensuring that registration and administration of special votes are accessible.
  • Providing clear and Easy-to-Read information to voters with intellectual disabilities and their support persons on how to vote, including provisions for persons with disabilities.
  • Ensuring that the voting poll stations are calm and safe. People who assist a person with a disability should be welcomed and security personnel should behave in a way that helps promote convenient and safe registration for everyone.

Vote on 29 May 2024 to uphold human rights and wellbeing in South Africa.  


For media enquiries, please contact: 

Shayni Geffen – Project Leader: Advocacy & Awareness 

CELL: +27 (0)79 159 8356


Notes to editors : SAFMH is a South African-based non-profit organisation. We believe access to quality mental health care is a human right and strive to make this happen through our advocacy.  Are you interested in shifting attitudes towards mental health and mental health care? Please reach out if you are interested in covering more positive messaging around mental health and community-based mental health care in South Africa.  

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