by Piet Coetzer

Youth revolt

World-wide radicalisation of young people

Roland Lamola
Roland Lamola.JPG

Despite the fact that Julius Malema has been relieved of his position as president of the African National Congress’ Youth League (ANCYL), radical pronouncements and challenges to the senior leadership of the party from the league have not diminished. Developments elsewhere in the world would suggest that South Africa is not dealing with an isolated phenomenon.

The role played by alienated youth in the so-called Arab Spring, – which started with revolutionary protests in December 2010 in Tunisia, the shock waves of which are felt to this day across the Middle East – is well documented.

Youth militancy, however is not alien to developed Western societies. Last year youth riots in the United Kingdom shocked the world. And in May last year The Guardian newspaper in the UK reported that “a youth-led rebellion is spreading across southern Europe as a new generation of protesters takes possession of squares and parks ...”

In a comment piece last week in the German Der Spiegel under the headline “Euro Crisis Morphs into Generational Conflict,” David Böcking wrote: “People vs. banks, north vs. south, and rich vs. poor? While all of these conflicts may be real, one of the biggest issues of the euro crisis is rarely discussed: Older people are living at the expense of the young, and it's high time the next generation took to the streets to confront their parents.”

Arguing that the employment market collapse has hit young Europeans much harder than older generations, Böcking writes that “intergenerational equity” – measured among other things by levels of direct and hidden debts and pension entitlements – is particularly low in southern Europe.

One reason for this situation he says  is unequal employment circumstances, with older Spaniards and Italians, for example, profiting from worker protection laws while almost half of young Italians and 60% of young Spaniards are on temporary employment contracts and can easily lose their jobs.

He also points out that the generational equity gap is also growing outside the eurozone. In the United States, for example, household assets for those over 65 have increased by 42% since 1984, according to the Pew Research Centre, but those younger than 35 own 68% less than their peers did during the mid-1980s.

Similarly in South Africa the unemployment crisis of the youth is an important backdrop to militant pronouncements by young leaders such as Acting ANCYL  president Ronald Lamola who recently said: "Leadership of the ANC might be afraid to say 'nationalisation' and 'expropriation of land without compensation', but the policy conference (held by the ANC in June) has clearly demonstrated the power and the mobility of the young lions".

The youth constitutes 63% of the working population in South Africa, yet they represent 72% of the unemployed.

Böcking concluded his piece for Der Spiegel with the opinion that: “Ultimately, young Europeans will have to assert their own interests. Maybe they should resurrect a slogan from the protest movement of the 1960s: Trust no-one over 30!"

In South Africa the Judge-President of the Labour Court, Dunstan Mlambo, warned(“Unemployment article") that unless the depressing unemployment figures among the youth are turned around, “we may face yet another revolt from the youth that may lead to instability of the kind manifested by the Arab Spring revolt”.
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