Massive student protests in South Africa in the past few years, largest since the times of the anti-apartheid struggles, raised several questions for political scientists. Are we witnessing a generational change? Or are they a sign of a broader global shift towards “assertive citizenship” present in advanced democracies and democratizing countries? To answer these questions, this paper examines the levels of political support and nature of political participation among the young generation.
The paper also points out that generational change is not immediately visible in public opinion polls but is a process of a gradual narrative construction. Protests brought with them a challenge to the founding narrative of a united Rainbow Nation and reconciliation with the past, leading to a fracture in democratic stability. For the democratic project to succeed, it is essential that the national project in South Africa does not fall apart.