Could South Africa Be on the Brink of Another Uprising?

Could South Africa Be on the Brink of Another Uprising?

More than 30 years after the nation’s famous anti-apartheid youth revolt, high employment could fuel a similar uprising, according to one official.

Published July 27, 2011

It’s been about 35 years since South Africa’s youth revolt against apartheid, the racial segregation system that served to oppress the nation’s Black majority. But now, South Africa could be facing another uprising, this time due to high levels of youth unemployment, according to one of South Africa’s top union officials.


In fact, during the recent interview with CNN, Zwelinzima Vavi, general secretary of the Congress of South African trade unions, also likened such a rebellion to the Arab spring from earlier this year (which saw longtime leaders from Egypt and Tunisia get booted), warning that the nation could stand to become the “new Egypt.”


“If we don’t do something urgent enough with the crisis of youth unemployment in South Africa we will be in Tunisia and Egypt very soon,” he said during the interview.


And on apartheid he drew further comparisons.


“I've participated in the struggle and I know what type of aspirations and hopes all of us carried throughout those many dark years of struggle against apartheid.... I'm only pointing out that after 17 years of all that democracy in the country we've seen little change when it comes to economic freedom,” he said.


“We have unemployment ... at 36.6%, with 48% of our people living in poverty. We're now number one in the world when it comes to inequalities.” According to U.S. statistics, unemployment in the nation sits at a little over 23 percent.


He later added that 73 percent of all of the nation’s unemployed are under the age of 35, calling it a youth revolt waiting to happen.


On the whole, South Africa is the continent’s brightest economic success story. Seen as a gateway to Africa for foreign investors, the nation was the first to host the World Cup Games and was recently considering an Olympic bid. Wal-Mart’s landmark majority purchase of a South African retailer back in May was also, on its face, a step forward for the nation in terms of international business.


However the purchase has been highly criticized by union officials, and many in South Africa worry that the U.S.-based mega-retailer’s foreign imports could hurt local manufacturers and cause more job loss.


But does that mean the nation’s unions are anti-foreign investment? Not necessarily.


 “I'm a realist,” Vavi told CNN. “I know that 80% of all people employed in the economy of South Africa are employed in the private sector and that demonstrates the extent of the role of the markets, of the private sector, in the South African economy. I wish that was not true, but that is true.”


But without a “growth path” to “absorb large numbers of youth into employment” the nation’s unemployment problem won’t get better, he said.


And South Africa may be running out of time.


Written by Hortense M. Barber


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