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Monday, June 27, 2022

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Create opportunities to avoid a ‘Youth Spring’ of discontent

Egyptian protesters run as they clash with riot police at Cairo's landmark Tahrir Square on November 19, 2011, as Egyptian police fired rubber bullets and tear gas to break up a sit-in among whose organisers were people injured during the Arab Spring which overthrew veteran president Hosni Mubarak. The June 16 revolt and the Arab Spring have many similarities, says the writer. File picture: Khaled Desouki/AFP

Egyptian protesters run as they clash with riot police at Cairo's landmark Tahrir Square on November 19, 2011, as Egyptian police fired rubber bullets and tear gas to break up a sit-in among whose organisers were people injured during the Arab Spring which overthrew veteran president Hosni Mubarak. The June 16 revolt and the Arab Spring have many similarities, says the writer. File picture: Khaled Desouki/AFP

Published Jun 11, 2022

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By Lulu White

In an article penned by Felix Kariba, he states that projections by the UN show that the world population will hit 10 billion people by 2055, with Africa accounting for 57% (1.4billion) of this growth.

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Africa is considered a youthful continent, with about 60% of the population below the age of 25. Despite this youth bulge, there is no enabling legal framework that expressly speaks to their participation in electoral and political processes, except for voting at the age of 18.

The picture is the same in South Africa. Youth face numerous challenges such as unemployment, poverty, substandard education and depression, to name a few.

Covid-19 has exacerbated the dire circumstances of our youth. Nothing has been done to improve the situation, 28 years after South Africa’s first democratic elections. People under the age of 35 are rarely found in formal leadership positions on the African continent.

The lack of youth and citizen participation in politics is prevalent in most developing countries worldwide. This is largely due to the state’s failure to construct or develop sufficient platforms that encourage meaningful participation of youth in policymaking, governance, local government and political and economic processes.

According to UN4Youth, in a third of African countries, the eligibility for national parliament starts from the age of 25 and higher. In South Africa, the average age of a politician referred to as young is between 35 and 40.

This is not in line with the aspirations of the youth of 1976. These young people took a stand on June 16 and decided to fight for what they believed in. What started as a peaceful march to Orlando Stadium in protest against apartheid education policies and the harsh, inhumane conditions black pupils had to endure, ended up in a bloodbath, with students wearing school uniforms being killed by a political system that refused to listen to their voices.

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On the continent in the early 2010s, in response to corruption and economic stagnation, a series of anti-government protests and uprisings driven by the youth spread across the Arab World. The youth galvanised support against their governments with mass demonstrations, revolts and revolutions that became known as the Arab Spring.

As a result of both of these youth demonstrations, the course of history was altered. It led, in both instances, to a breakthrough in apartheid and autocracy. The June 16 revolt and the Arab Spring have many similarities.

For the apartheid regime, the 1976 uprisings in Soweto had dire consequences. A series of images showing police firing at peacefully demonstrating students sparked a global outcry as South Africa’s brutality was exposed, while for many in North and East Africa, countries enveloped by revolts of the Arab Spring evoked regime change in countries such as Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

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It is therefore quite surprising that, in South Africa and on the continent, young people are still not adequately represented politically. Youth participation in governance and decision-making processes depend greatly on the political, socio-economic and cultural contexts of the country.

Outside of these, the youth often complain about multiple forms of discrimination against them. The fact that youth can mainly participate in governance and decision-making through political affiliation has led to a great number of young people being disenfranchised.

The active and meaningful participation of young people in their societies and democratic practices and processes is crucial to meet the needs of young people and to ensure that their basic human rights are protected.

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These engagements require that young people are given the right of expression in political party leadership in government. The government also needs to create an enabling environment wherein young people can thrive economically, socially, politically and academically.

The youth can be a positive force for development when provided with the knowledge and opportunities needed to thrive. This environment will ensure that young people find better ways of communicating their frustrations.

Currently, the youth of South Africa are a ticking time bomb because the challenges they are facing are not being addressed. There are endless dialogues about the high rate of youth unemployment, substandard levels of education, and a lack of access to business opportunities that are often perceived to be accessible only to those connected to the governing party.

These factors, and many more, led to the uprising in July 2021. While many commentators attributed the uprising to the political dynamics of the country, what was evident with the attacks on infrastructure, was that these were largely driven by many unemployed young people who felt the government had failed them. In some countries in Africa, unemployment has led young people to join insurgency movements such as al-Shabaab and Boko Haram.

With each passing June 16 anniversary, the government continues to receive criticism that its ardent disregard for the majority of the population, particularly the youth, undermines the sacrifices made by those whose lives were lost during the Struggle for freedom.

* White is the CEO at Elections Management Consulting Agency of Africa and a Thought Leader on Elections, Democracy and Governance in Africa

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