The ANC Youth League is turning 74 this year. Is it time for it to retire? Or can the young lions rally their tribe and find some relevance to the youth of South Africa?
When it was established in 1944, the league was known for its militant, hypervisible and unshaken leadership.
Anton Lembede (who became the league’s first president), Nelson Mandela, Peter Mokaba, Fikile Mbalula and Julius Malema – who is now the Economic Freedom Fighters leader – are some of the leaders who have held the reins of this habitually radical structure of the ANC.
Fast-forward 74 years since its inception, and student leaders – who have looked to the organisation for guidance – have accused the organisation of having a “weak leadership” that has “detached itself from the struggles of the masses” it is meant to represent.
Being “caught up in factional politics” has seen it reduced to a shadow of what it used to be.
Even this week infighting marred the party as the secretary-general of the league, Njabulo Nzuza, led the cake-cutting ceremony on Monday.
The celebration of the organisation’s 74th anniversary also served as a sending-off for a delegation of young South Africans who were going to participate in the Asia-African Youth Festival in China from September 12 to 16.
ANCYL president Collen Maine also attended the proceedings, but at the weekend he reportedly abandoned his speech and stormed out of the league’s national executive committee after becoming irritated when some members challenged “his version” of the committee’s decisions.
ANCYL President Collen Maine at the youth leage’s 74th anniversary celebrations
Nzuza on Tuesday, however, rubbished what he called “negativity”.
He maintained that the ANCYL’s true achievement over the 74 years of its existence was its ability to remain relevant.
“The youth league continues to inject radicalism to the ANC, as demonstrated by our consistent call for economic freedom in our lifetime and the adoption of the youth league’s resolution to expropriate land without compensation by the ANC. The organisation also continues to call for the scrapping of the requirement of work experience for young people entering the workplace,” said Nzuza.
He said the league played a pivotal role in the eventual attainment of fee-free education through the South African Students Congress (Sasco) and its own leadership, which locked itself in boardrooms with the ANC leadership leading up to the announcement of free education.
But Asive Dlanjwa, the 2017-2018 president of the student representative council at the University of the Free State’s Bloemfontein Campus, said that Sasco’s association with the ANC had become more of a curse than a blessing “because Sasco continues to lose ground across most universities while its opposition, the EFF, gains seats”.
“When we conduct campaigns on campus, students are more interested in asking us about corruption within the ANC than finding out about the congress’s political stance,” said Dlanjwa.
The student politician also blamed “dismal efforts” by the ANC and its youth league to assist Sasco “both financially and through their presence” during campaign season as a factor in the ANC-affiliated student body’s loss of support.
“Take the EFF for example. During their campaign for elections at the University of the Free State the party sent their deputy president Floyd Shivambu as a sign of their intent,” said Dlanjwa.
But Nzuza maintained that Sasco’s presence was still being felt at universities across South Africa.
“We do not support students who burnt down universities. No one is beyond the law and such students should face the full might of the law. We however support students who were caught up in the protests and in the process find themselves being prosecuted,” said Nzuza.
Masses turned out at the Garden Court, OR Tambo Airport, for the 74th annivesary celebrations of the ANCYL
Fees Must Fall activist Mcebo Dlamini told City Press that he had personally not received any support from the youth league.
“There are many students who were arrested. Maybe they have received assistance from the youth league but in my personal capacity I have not received any assistance.
“The youth league seems to be detached from the masses that it is meant to be leading. We have a clear example of leaders who are leading themselves. The league’s ineffectiveness may also in part be due to the fact that these young leaders find themselves being used to fight factional battles and not the inequality, poverty and disease that young people are faced with,” said Dlamini.
The older leadership of the ANC has, according to Dlamini, turned the youth league leadership into “hungry young people who live from hand to mouth” making them “praise singers”.
But, he said, young people were rising up through “non-affiliated structures” and speaking out for other young people.
“The Fees Must Fall and the Rhodes Must Fall movements are good examples of young people stepping out of existing political structures that have been captured and making their voices heard outside these parameters. Real activism is back,” said Dlamini.
Nzuza disagreed and said the youth league was prepared to fight for young people.
“Apart from pushing for the scrapping of the requirement of work experience for young people entering the workspace, the youth league also seeks to change its own policies with regards to age. We cannot have 35 year olds being elected into leadership. By the time their term is running towards its end such individuals are close to their 40s. They cannot relate to 15 or 16 year olds, or even people in their twenties, because their realities are vastly different.
“The organisation seeks to introduce younger, radical individuals to take the youth league forward,” said Nzuza.
The youth league will continue its 74th anniversary celebrations at the Steve Tshwete Local Municipal Hall on Sunday.