Youth Politics: Waiting and Envy in a South African Informal Settlement

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44 Citations (Scopus)


From the mid 2000s, militant local political protests have been widespread in poor townships and shack settlements across South Africa, recalling mobilisations of a previous decade. Youth have been at the forefront of these protests, as the weight of the job and housing crisis has fallen disproportionately on those under 35. Similarly to the 1980s, this has created fears over a youth-led rebellion, with youth portrayed as militant, angry, disillusioned and available for direct action. Significantly, very little research has captured the role of youth in these urban uprisings from the perspective of youth themselves. This paper provides insight into the lives of a number of youth who participated in the 2011 protests in Zandspruit informal settlement, on the outskirts of Johannesburg. Situating the protests within a larger context allows an exploration of the complex web of structural factors which motivate youth involvement, and the ways in which youth actively shape and transform their social reality. This includes an understanding of the nature of youth unemployment, the politicisation of access to resources and services, and the relationship between leaders and youth. Through an analysis of the shared grievances and frustrated aspirations of youth within a context of perverse social inequality and intense competition for power and access to resources, the motivations of youth are analysed through two key concepts: waiting and envy. This paper draws attention to the changing nature of political action among youth and the implications for broader politics and society in South Africa.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)861-882
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Southern African Studies
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science


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