Lessons learnt from uprisings

In these anxiety-packed days that the cruel Chinese are fond of calling "interesting" I find myself asking the question South Africans were posing two decades ago: where are the lessons for us?

Back then I travelled the world locked into learning mode: Algeria, Cyprus, Israel, Palestine, Ireland, Sri Lanka.

There was hardly a conflict zone I missed in an ardent search for what we should know about transformation, reconciliation and healing.

Today's lessons are about what we should do after we have passed through those challenging and confusing phases.

There's no need to risk boarding the wide-bodied jet and turn left at the top of the stairs.

The case studies come pouring in via the internet and social media.

To make this manageable, I will select two classrooms: Turkey and Brazil.

Like South Africa, both have undergone radical political changes that have put them in step with the democratic world.

Economically they have both left South Africa trailing with success that has put them in a whole other league.

They have elevated a vast swathe of their people into the middle class.

Yet both are now experiencing social upheaval that has manifested itself in public disorder on the streets.

In Turkey and Brazil the protests have a distinctly economic root, but they are about so much more than economics.

The young people braving tear gas and worse are demanding greater political inclusion.

They're certainly not the first generation to do this. However, connectivity has enabled them to do this so much better than their parents ever dreamed they might. The social network has taken pockets of discontent and isolated demonstrations and poured them into the mainstream.

Young Turks and Brazilians have undoubtedly enjoyed far great economic upliftment than their parents.

But instead of this heaping credit on the governments as the mandarins in Ankara and Brazilia might have hoped, it has cut a rod for their backs.

Here, then, is a lesson for Pretoria. The first law of economics applies equally to politics: mankind's needs are never met. The more they get, the more they want.

Turkey, more than Brazil, provides the second lesson: democracy does not end at the ballot box.

Recep Tayipp Erdogan has been the prime minister maintaining an annual GDP growth in excess of five percent, yet he is guilty of the cardinal political crime of majoritariansim.

Between elections, he believed he could disregard, even marginalise the opposition.

The people braved broken heads, tear gas and water cannons and suffered three deaths, 4000 hospitalisations and 900 arrests to say: we will be heard.

Jean-Jacques Cornish is EWN's Africa correspondent.