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The economic structure forces young people into violence

Article as it appeared in the Sowetan

The economic structure forces young people into violence

SOUTH Africa managed to steer through a potentially divisive situation with the senseless killing of Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging leader Eugène Terre’Blanche.

 At times the debate took on a “you against us” paradigm along racial lines as is often the case when the monster of “race” presents itself as the primary instigator in interpersonal clashes in this country

Some in the organised agriculture sector questioned who was going to feed the nation when farmers are getting killed. But those sympathetic to farm workers, who are predominantly black, raised questions about the ill-treatment of workers.

We do not know what the motives for Terre’Blanche’s murder were, but reports suggest that the two accused seemed to have had a pay dispute with the deceased, though there were some contradictory and confusing reports of possible sexual assault.

Our judicial system will pronounce in due course on what happened, but what interests me are the comments made by Terre’Blanche’s daughter when she admitted that the workers had not been paid since March and that her father had failed again to pay them at the Easter weekend.

This incident makes one think more broadly of what young people go through.

Young people’s actions, be they constructive or destructive, provide a lens through which to understand society’s dynamics. We must turn our attention to the question: what are the youth of this country “going through” when they use violence to achieve an end? What is the sociopolitical message that is being relayed?

The youth have been at the forefront of numerous violent incidents. They were visible during xenophobic attacks in 2008.

At recent service delivery protests they led the destruction of public property, which was saddening and cannot be condoned.

One example was that of Siyathemba community who marched on and burned down a public library in what was apparently a revolt against a mine that refused to abide by an agreements made with the community.

Commenting on this disturbing incident the Anti-Privatisation Forum stated that “residents are sick and tired of the mine’s failure to abide by an agreement with the community to provide a training centre, invest in local development and ensure employment of local residents”.

This youth rebellion, manifested through violent protests, was a cry by the Siyathemba youth signifying that South Africa had failed to hear them. Quite simply, the structure of this economy excludes and perhaps worse, is indifferent to many frustrated youths.

In the Q1 Unemployment report released by Stats SA yesterday it was revealed that 41percent of SA’s unemployed population are persons between the age of 24 and 35. These are people of an age when one is expected to ptake part fully in our economy.

What was scary was the Financial Mail report that “2,5 million young people aged 18 to 24 are neither working nor in any kind of education or training”.

Worsening this deeply entrenched unemployment is our education system, which fails to give young people basic skills to help them contribute to the economy.

It should send a chill down the spines of many parents and ordinary South Africans that of the onemillion children that start school in SA only 50percent reach matric.

It has been shown by various studies and anecdotal evidence that many young people in our school system lack basic skills of numeracy and literacy. Last year a report by HESA, though some academics whispered that it could not be relied on, showed that some of the young people at our universities cannot read and do maths functionally.

Even the young people that manage to find jobs are pushed into low- paying jobs that bind them to poor living conditions. Just like the working-class generation before them, these young people have hardly gone forward in the struggle for economic freedom.

In our Constitution we pledge that the core values of our democratic republic are: “Human dignity, the achievement of equality and the advancement of human rights and freedoms”. But with these youth realities staring us in the face we need to ask ourselves if we have advanced any true equality and freedom for young people.


Historically leaders of youth movements in SA have been powerful and in recent months have demonstrated that their voice carries significant weight in their political formations.

The ANCYL was key in delivering the ANC presidency to Jacob Zuma in 2007, paving the way for him to assume the country’s presidency in 2009. If this power could be applied more energetically to the crises facing youth education and unemployment, so much more could be achieved much quicker.

  • The writer is a youth activist working for Equal Education. He writes in his personal capacity


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Carla GoldsteinThe economic structure forces young people into violence