Opulence will ignite anger

2011-08-13 14:34

South African leaders’ tendency to show off their wealth, coupled with high youth unemployment levels and huge inequality make the country a tinderbox that could explode at any time – just as London did.

The British capital and key cities like Manchester and Birmingham went up in flames this week with youngsters looting and burning shops and businesses.

British writer Zoe Williams commented in The Guardian: “This is what happens when people don’t have anything, when they have their noses constantly rubbed in stuff they can’t afford, and they have no reason ever to believe that they will be able to afford it.”

In South Africa similar uprisings are imminent, according to Ntsake Mkhabela, managing director of Miyela, a youth development organisation that tutors high school learners.

“Currently all these young ­people are buying into this thing about waiting your turn. But we all know it will only happen for a small minority.

“There are those who look at the Julius Malemas and Kenny Kunenes of the world and don’t want to work or go to school, because they believe if they wait it will come.”

Mkhabela says it won’t be long before they get tired of waiting and “take it for themselves”.

“Soon they’ll start lashing out and saying we are supposed to be at our peak, and we have nothing.“It is important to understand their frustration and shape the discourse within which they operate. We need to speak positively to young people and they need to be pushed to understand what hard work means and that there is hope.

“They need to be told: ‘You’re worth it’.”

According to political analyst William Gumede, increasing job losses are impoverishing families and adding to the frustration that young people are bottling up.

“There is youth unemployment, the youth being unemployable ­because of lack of skills, and inequality that young people have to deal with. Combine this with ­seeing other people do well and if you are poor by comparison, it causes an even bigger problem.

“And increasing job losses and families losing their income is an element that provides for real ­danger,” he says.

The combination of the middle class feeling the pinch because of job losses and a disaffected youth is what sparked the protests in North Africa, says Gumede, and a similar response cannot be ruled out in South Africa.

ANC Youth League leader and MP Mduduzi Manana believes young people in South Africa ­undoubtedly have the capacity to take to the streets like their peers in London.

“They’re sitting on the street corners doing nothing, so they have the time and the energy. They don’t even need to find weapons somewhere, they will just use whatever they have.”

But University of Johannesburg sociology lecturer Mariam Seedat-Khan believes the chances that South Africa will see riots like those in London are slim because family values have not eroded to the same extent as in Britain.

“Family values are the basis of how South African society has survived apartheid – we take care of each other,” she says.

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