The unrest that followed former president Jacob Zuma’s arrest may have exposed deep seated unresolved issues in South Africa among a section of the country’s population, but analysts say this could have happened anywhere in Africa.

They argue that high levels of unemployment have led to dwindling opportunities, desperation and anger among the youth who make up almost 60% of Africa’s population.

The world watched in disbelief recently as South Africa slipped into unrest that threatened to disrupt the country’s economy.

“The current violence and protests seeing in the streets are in large part informed by a large part of poverty, joblessness, society, social dislocation and desperation by a lot of young people, who do not see a future. So events like the arrest of Jacob Zuma provide an opportunity for them to vet out their anger,” says political analyst, Dr Hassan Khannenje.

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Experts warn that COVID-19, high rates of unemployment, political and economic exclusion create a perfect storm for unrest in Africa, where there is a youth bulge.

Khannenje says this creates both an opportunity and a challenge for the continent. “The increasing youth bulge is not proportional to economic growth and that creates disconnect.”

The analyst says the issue of politicians taking advantage of the ethnic factor to whip up emotions for political advantage is a challenge

“As long as the ethnic aspect of politics remains the most prominent there is going to be trouble not just for South Africa but also other countries neighbouring South Africa and elsewhere on the continent and that is something that the continent has to grapple with.”

The United Nations estimates that 19 out of 20 countries with the biggest number of young people in the world are in Africa and that is the continent’s defining challenge that must be dealt with, with the urgency that it deserves.

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