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South African Youth Vulnerable To Radicalisation

The question as to whether South Africa could find itself in the hands of violent terror groups in the near future has been discussed for some time by those concerned about national security and the nexus with undocumented migration into the country. Although South Africa has had few cases involving the threats of terrorism over the years, it would be unwise to ignore the fertile ground which the country (and even the African continent as a whole) presents for radicalisation.


Mozambique has been in the headlines following a wave of Islamic terrorist attacks in Palma, Northern Cabo Delgado province, which happened on 24 March 2021, resulting in the death of dozens of workers and beheaded civilians, including a South African expatriate.

Despite South Africa’s infrequent exposure to terrorism threats in recent years, there have been past cases. Henry Okah was arrested in 2011 at Johannesburg for planning car bombings in Abuja, Nigeria; and Samantha Lewthwaite, infamously known as the “White Widow,” was wanted by Interpol and the Kenyan Authorities for her links to terror group Al-Qaeda. She lived and worked in South Africa between 2008 to 2010 with fake identity documents that were obtained through corrupt Home Affairs officials.


Radicalisation is one of the key means that terror groups use to further their ideologies. Children and young adults are often targets for recruitment and radicalisation because they tend to be impressionable and often socially and economically vulnerable. The Daesh terror group (also known as the Islamic State) have what it calls “Cubs of the Caliphate” in which young children are trained to be Jihadist extremists.

In the digital era, it has become easy for terrorists to recruit the young using social media. In 2015, a 15-year-old girl from Cape Town was stopped from taking a flight to join Daesh. She confided in her friends that she was joining Daesh and evidence was found in her bedroom showing that she had been in contact with Daesh recruiters. In reference to the case, the Muslim Judicial Council expressed their concerns about the cyber world and the influence it can have on the youth.


According to the Institute for Security Studies, several factors contribute to a state’s vulnerability to extremism including political and socio-economic variants. One of the biggest factors is government corruption, which serves as a key propaganda tool used by extremist groups to incite rebellion.

Looking at the South African context and the disruption that occurs in our political systems as well as inadequate leadership and societal instability, it would be fair to say the country’s national security is compromised with external sources seeing South Africa as a potential safe haven for strategic operations and terroristic activity. Youth unemployment is at a staggering 55.2 percent. Youth find themselves trapped in a pit of hopelessness that makes them susceptible to terrorist recruiters who offer money, an escape from poverty and dysfunctional politics, and a sense of purpose in a movement greater than anything the government can offer.


The political, cultural, and social disputes illustrated that have led to terrorism and violent extremism in other countries are disputes that bear resemblance to what we witness in South Africa today. The high crime rates, unprotected borders, government corruption, poverty, lack of education, and the unsettling racial and cultural divides warrant concern, as these are variables that can foster terroristic conditions even in a country that prides itself on stability from its well-earned democracy.

With this being said, it is important for government officials not only to update their policies in regard to national security and to study the trends of violent extremism happening in the world, but to also provide the people of South Africa a system that is not governed by corruption. If corruption continues to remain our weakness in the upcoming years not only will it weaken the country’s democracy as we obviously see today, but our youth will be used grotesquely to project our downfall.

Author: Thobeka

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