Youth Watch

A rumbling in the jungle

Jackson Mthembu’s shooting illustrates youths' cry for help
Jackson Mthembu.jpg

With increasing violence and alarming vigour, the South African (SA) youth is demanding attention especially from those who occupy the corridors of power. (Read more)

Through the barrel of the gun the youth instil fear to society; with knives and pangas they mercilessly slaughter members of the community; with their penises and punanis they terrorise the whole of society demanding attention from those that pontificate from on high making all sorts of empty promises. The youth is demanding the amelioration of its dire economic condition and fast!

In a different context facing largely the same challenges, the SA youth did the same in 1976 when they challenged the then trigger happy apartheid regime that treated the black youth as less than living organisms. They dared gun powder carrying only stones and demanded attention from the powers that be.

As the youth generation of 1976 waged a relentless struggle for attention from the apartheid government, the whole world took note and listened. South Africa was never to be the same again!

In South Africa today the youth is demanding attention from the current government, albeit in a different context using a combination of old and new methods. The youth is demanding that government addresses its failure to reconfigure apartheid economic relations. Worryingly but justifiably so, the current youth is very sceptical and distrusting of the prevailing disempowering political system.

They particularly distrust the political organisations whose leaders seem to focus on enriching themselves, their immediate families and their cronies. This youth is weary of youth organisations whose sole mission seems to be speaking a lot of meaningless English as a stepping ladder to positions of power and wealth for the connected few.

Accordingly and as an alternative, a parallel social movement of marauding criminal gangs offers attractive social protection and promise for a better life for this youth. It is this social movement of criminals that has become a powerful voice for the youth than all of the political youth formations combined. This is so because when this social movement of criminals strikes, the whole country reverberates and pays attention.

Of crucial importance is that in this particular type of social movement - unlike in leadership-dominated-political formations - rewards are guaranteed for all its participants. In many instances the participants in this social movement of criminals become their own bosses. They do not have to account to anyone, including the tax man himself!

In this connection, the anger is quite visible and tangible in this brand of South African youth. They know the police will unleash lethal force to stem out the activities of their social criminal movement, but the youth are ready for them. This youth know that to live is to dare, otherwise you don't have to live at all!

The youth have been shot and killed in their many confrontations with police. They have been shot and killed when they protested for what is due to them. They have been shot and killed so many times before that death is just a crucial part of their modus operandi in demanding attention.

This youth is very angry also because they are being criminalised by the justice system when they are barely out of their teens. They have become hardened criminals at 15 years of age because the diversionary programmes offered by Social Development and Department of Justice are discontinued at the slightest sight of default by the participant, with the latter re-arraigned for a criminal trial.

As if a child of 13 - 16 years of age can concentrate for the whole duration of these not-so-child-friendly programmes without defaulting.

Shockingly, our own government gives up on these children when they still wet themselves. The many prosecutors in the magistrate courts lack the necessary social consciousness and are very eager to reinstate charges against these children when they default on these diversionary programmes.

These prosecutors have no appreciation of the social consequences and the calamity they breed through their actions. Small wonder these children become more attracted to this parallel social movement of criminals.

Curiously, the activities of this parallel criminal movement have become more embedded and all encompassing. Gone are the days that those living in the high society could not be bothered by the criminal activities of this criminal social movement.

The recent shooting by this movement of the ANC MP, Jackson Mthembu, and murder of Senzo Meyiwa, illustrate this point. It has brought into sharp focus the need by government actually to listen and respond to the youth's demand for attention.

Further, the recent spate of armed robberies in the plush malls of high society; the housebreakings and robberies in cushy suburbs of high society including farm armed robberies and cash in transit heists are the youth's alternative way of registering their demand for socio-economic justice. These separate but similar incidents also indicate to all of us that freedom for a few is no freedom at all
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For as long as many SA youth remain in economic bondage, the activities of this criminal social movement are set to continue with increasing radius and brutality.

The high society cannot have a good time when the rest of the down-trodden suffers. The high society enjoys the wealth it has at the expense of the down-trodden. They can wax lyrically until they turn blue in the face about how hard they have worked for what they have.


The fact remains: the high society enjoys the luxury of this wealth whilst standing on the exhausted shoulders of the down-trodden that constitute the majority of the population. Such is the anomaly of our current reality in South Africa and something will have to give soon.

The death of Senzo Meyiwa through the violent actions of this criminal social movement should serve as a wake-up call to the government, the high society, the soccer fraternity and society at large to start responding seriously and attentively to the demand for socio-economic emancipation of the youth.

We need to start taking the problem of youth disempowerment seriously in this country. The soccer fraternity that makes millions of rand each year should start playing a meaningful role in the fight not only against crime, but also against socio-economic depravation of the South African youth in general.

Our resolve should be to counter, weaken and ultimately destroy this social movement of criminals. The way to start doing that is by offering alternative and real economic programmes that truly empower the youth in general. That is going to need bold action from our dithering government seriously to tilt the economic scale to favour the youth especially.

In taking bold action to address the economic disempowerment of the SA youth, government will have to re-examine its numbing commitment to the economic dogma of the previous Century. The fact is that currently and whilst government seems inflicted with inertia, about 35% or more of South Africans are without employment and the majority of this number is youth.

Government's commitment to economic dogma of the South African left organisations, whilst in practice perpetuating the capitalist economy, sends confusing signals and will not solve the SA youth economic disempowerment.

As government navigates its way through to resolve this challenge, the high society and the so called left groupings should be warned that any intransigency on their part will only serve to feed into the agenda of this parallel criminal movement.

They should be warned that their sectorial interests can no longer be sustainably protected for as long as the economic position of the SA youth remains as it were under apartheid. Otherwise we ignore the rumblings of the youth when they demand attention at our own peril!

                                                                                                                                                                                  by Mzukisi Makatse

(Mzukisi Makatse is a member of the ANC and also works within the Criminal Justice System. He writes in his personal capacity and the article first appeared on the Politicsweb website)



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